Homeless animals find help

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Haven of the Ozarks, which is located between Cassville and Exeter, has cared for homeless animals since 1995. Today, the shelter is working to increase adoptions to make room for abandoned animals that are awaiting housing at the facility.

"It's not just us," said Barbara Williams, Haven of the Ozarks president. "All of the shelters are full right now."

Although humane societies located in Springfield and Joplin will accept pets from individuals who are no longer able to care for them, Haven of the Ozarks is dedicated to caring for stray and abandoned animals.

"We don't accept pets from individuals," said Williams. "We feel like people can find a place for their pets. We only take strays and abandoned animals, as we have room."

Haven of the Ozarks maintains a waiting list for animals that will be accepted at the shelter as soon as other dogs and cats are adopted. Some of the animals currently on the list were added around two months ago.

"When people call and say that they have a stray, we ask them to care for the animal until we have room," said Williams. "Whoever is first on the waiting list will be called first when we have an opening."

The Haven of the Ozarks' waiting list policy is a necessity, because the facility is operated as a no-kill shelter, but the procedure also helps some strays and abandoned animals find homes more quickly.

"We have had several people who we have called and said that we have room for the animal now and they have told us that they have decided to keep the dog or cat," said Williams. "The list really helps a lot of these animals."

Although Haven of the Ozarks has a lower adoption rate and a slower animal turnover than many of the larger humane society facilities, the local shelter is able to find homes for 300 to 400 animals per year. Dogs and cats can be adopted from Haven of the Ozarks by visiting haven.petfinder.com or adoptapet.com.

"We have people adopt our pets from all over the country," said Williams. "Plus, we are open seven days a week for adoptions. People are welcome to come over and see the animals every day."

Haven of the Ozarks houses around 140 dogs and 60 cats. Several of the animals are showcased at adoption events that are held at pet stores in Fayetteville, Ark., Springfield, Joplin and Neosho.

"The adoption events help us promote the Haven," said Williams. "We are able to tell people who we are and what we do. It is strictly by the goodness of people's hearts that we are able to do what we do."

Haven of the Ozarks operates using funds that are collected through fundraisers and donations that are received from individuals and businesses. The recent economic recession has severely affected the number of donations that the shelter receives.

"Donations are always welcome and very appreciated," said Williams. "If groups are interested in doing fundraisers for us that is great too. We always need dry dog food, and we need donations to pay for our veterinary bills, which are pretty high."

Haven of the Ozarks spays or neuters and microchips all dogs that will be added to the shelter's adoption list. Animals also receive all recommended shots.

In order to keep operating costs low, the Haven utilizes volunteers to care for the animals, perform receptionist duties and spend time socializing with the dogs and cats. Currently, nine volunteers assist at the shelter.

"Most of the volunteers work one or two days a week," said Williams. "We also have volunteers who help at the off-site adoption events, and we get some community service, but not much. We can always use more volunteers."

Individuals who enjoy spending time with animals but are unable to own a dog or cat are also invited to visit the Haven to spend time with the animals. The shelter maintains a 2,400-square-foot play area where visitors can socialize with the dogs.

Haven of the Ozarks' play areas can also be utilized when selecting a new companion for a family pet.

"We are always available to help individuals select the pet that is right for them if they would like advice," said Williams. "We encourage people to spend time with a dog they are interested in adopting before they take the animal home."

Adopters must complete a Haven of the Ozarks adoption form in order to adopt a pet. The form includes a 30-day return policy and states that if for any reason an adopter is unable to care for the animal, the animal must be returned to the Haven instead of taken to a kill shelter.

"Our adoption fees are very reasonable," said Williams. "Our fees are based on the age of the animal instead of the money that we have put into caring for the animal."

Haven of the Ozarks is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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