The Moving Source of Our Adoptables

Sep 6, 2022

In the early dark hours of a Sunday morning,

when most of Checotah, Oklahoma was still asleep, the parking lot at Happy Paws Animal Shelter was abuzz. People in Happy Paws and Anderson Humane t-shirts were loading crates onto a few vans, the puppies and dogs inside the crates occasionally barking or whining in protest.

Little did they know what a great thing was about to happen.

Kate, the owner of Happy Paws, was the calm center of this bustling operation. Carrying a roll of duct tape and a sharpie marker, she labeled each crate as dogs from inside the building were put into them. She and her staff members checked paperwork carefully before each crate was loaded onto one of the vans.

The numbers tell you everything you need to know about Kate. She’s 65 years old, works 80 hours a week, and has 25 dogs. “If I didn’t have 25 dogs at home, I’d take him,” she said, pointing to a large black dog forlornly watching the hubbub from the fenced field next to the shelter. “I say that a lot.” She laughed.

A big, black pickup truck pulled into the gravel parking lot and a tiny blonde woman emerged, drawling her greeting to Kate and many of the others working to load the trucks for transport. In her truck were several dogs she rescued from a pound in the next town. By day she works a desk job in a government office; on her off hours she petitions that same government for more humane treatment of the dogs they capture. “I get in their way,” she said with a sweet-faced ferocity. She’s one of many locals who operate their own rescue mission and bring their animals to Happy Paws.

A Throw-Away Mentality

Checotah, Oklahoma, a town with less than 4,000 residents, is located in one of the poorest parts of the country. When you can barely afford to put food on the table for your family, taking care of your pet isn’t a high priority. But it goes deeper than that, said Beth Foster, Anderson Humane President and CEO, after a recent trip to Checotah.

“If you ask Kate and her team why so many people want to give away their pets, why dogs are frequently found dumped by the side of the road or picked up by animal control agencies wandering the streets, why so many dogs are chained to dog houses in backyards away from all human contact and provided with very little food or water and no veterinary care, they’ll tell you that people down there just don’t care,” Beth said.

“Oh, there are wonderful pet owners in Oklahoma too, but on the whole, there’s a throw-away mentality when it comes to pets,” she said. “There are so many homeless animals that people no longer see their suffering. They’ve lost their empathy and therefore their compassion and respect for life.”

A Real Solution

Kate was a farmer – she and her husband still have 50 head of cattle – when she discovered this problem as well as the existence of the local pound. “They kill most of them,” she said of the animals at the pound, adding that sometimes those killings are done by target practice or letting the dogs freeze to death outside in winter. Somebody needed to do something, and Kate is a doer. So Happy Paws was born.

Since the local community didn’t provide the demand for the growing supply of animals she took in, she soon partnered with shelters in other states, transporting the animals to areas of the country with more potential adopters. “We’ve had the opportunity to transport more than 8,000 animals since 2014,” Kate said. Anderson Humane is now one of Happy Paws’ primary partners.

Early on, Kate realized another problem: the animals were having litters and multiplying the overpopulation problem faster than she could address it. So she built a spay/neuter clinic in a converted garage on the Happy Paws property. A vet who lives an hour and a half away comes every Thursday to spay or neuter roughly 80 animals in one day. “The spay/neuter clinic keeps me going,” Kate said. “It’s a real solution to the pet overpopulation here.”

An Immeasurable Amount of Good

The other solution is partnerships with shelters in other states, like Anderson Humane. Every two weeks their team meets our transport team in St. Louis, Missouri, transferring the crated dogs and cats from one set of vehicles to another, before our team drives straight back to our South Elgin shelter. A group of dedicated volunteers greets the vans that evening, walking the dogs, giving them food and a little interaction, and eventually putting them in kennels for the night. Last year alone, we accepted 956 of Happy Paws’ dogs and cats and found nearly every single one a loving home.

In partnership with the ASPCA, we have a similar arrangement with 3 Girls Animal Rescue in Poteau, Oklahoma, a town with poverty and pet overpopulation similar to that in Checotah. The 3 Girls team rescues animals from local shelters that euthanize animals when they are over capacity, but they, too, lack enough potential adopters in their area. Through transports every two weeks, last year we took in nearly 700 of their dogs.

When the transport vans were all packed and ready to make their return trip that early, still-dark Sunday morning in the Happy Paws parking lot, Kate stood in front of her shelter to wish them luck and wave goodbye. They would do it all again in two weeks. When the vans were out of sight, Kate walked back into her shelter, a small woman in a small building doing a herculean amount of good for the homeless animals of Oklahoma – and those in the South Elgin area eager to give them a loving home.

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