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Happy Endings and Forever Homes

By Jeannie Howard

A forever home is something many humans often take for granted, but for so many dogs and cats the comfort that comes with a forever home is only a dream. Animals in the shelter and rescue system face the reality of an uncertain future on a daily basis. “It’s a big, complicated, and emotional issue,” said Cheryl Nickerson, executive director of the Contra Costa Humane Society, an independent animal rescue organization.

While spaying and neutering the pets we currently have as well as participating in and supporting catch and release programs certainly helps to ease the growth of this problem, it is but one piece of the larger issue. Overcrowding is a common struggle for many shelters. When these facilities run out of space an unfortunate result is often the unnecessary euthanasia of healthy dogs and cats. Adoption is by far the best way to help the dogs and cats that are already in this world.

Organizations like the Contra Costa Humane Society and the Tony La Russa Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) help to alleviate some of the overcrowding by partnering with shelters locally and throughout the state to rescue animals from those facilities. “We try to go to some of the shelters that have higher populations by rescuing from those shelters that have higher intakes,” described Wendy Taylor-Tanielian, marketing manager for ARF. “We are out on rescue runs every week bringing.” Through these continuous efforts, countless dogs and cats have been given another chance at finding a home.

Both of these organizations are deeply rooted in caring for not only the physical health of the animals but also the emotional health while they await their forever families. All dogs and cats are fully vaccinated, spayed or neutered, and microchipped prior to being available for adoption. “We have an onsite clinic and a trained behaviorist so that we can take care of any needs the animals may have, all so they can put their best paws forward,” said Taylor-Tanielian. “This is truly where happy endings begin.”

Socialization with other animals as well as loving humans is an important factor to the adoptable dogs and cats being ready for their new homes. To ensure this, a majority of the animals at both organizations are cared for by foster families. Those that are not with a foster family live on site where they receive around the clock care by volunteers. “In our Pleasant Hill location, we have our Kitty Corner, which is essentially a free-roam cat shelter where volunteers care for and socialize the cats,” described Nickerson. “We also have a new endeavor with Pet Food Express in Danville where we have adoptable cats living in cat condos.”

Because, just like humans, every dog and cat has a unique personality, the Contra Costa Humane Society and ARF make sure to provide personality profiles for each of their adoptable animals as wells as any information they have regarding each animal’s backstory. These profiles help to find the perfect family for each animal. “It’s all about matchmaking and facilitating,” said Nickerson. “When someone is interested in an animal we do what is called a meet and greet so the potential adopter can meet the animal.” During this meet and greet the human and animal will be able know if they have a connection. Because it is all about finding forever homes, as Taylor-Tanielian said, there has to be a connection felt by both the animal and human. “We know that the right person is out there so there is no timeline on these animals,” added Taylor-Tanielian. “Our goal is to home every animal and we will work until we find that perfect home for each.”

The animals are not the only ones to benefit; humans receive countless benefits from animal companionship, according to Nickerson and Taylor-Tanielian. “Our motto at ARF is ‘People Rescuing Animals….Animals Rescuing People,’” said Taylor-Tanielian. “So we look at the relationship between animals and people and how being around an animal can improve someone’s life; the animals rescuing people part.” This belief can be seen in the community programs at ARF, such as the Pets and Vets program that saves both ends of the leash by connecting veterans in need with service dogs that were originally shelter dogs, or the All Ears Reading program, which pairs young readers with therapy dogs for a judgment-free reading environment.

“Regardless if the animal is a pure breed or comes from a shelter, every pet gives us unconditional love,” Nickerson said in full agreement. “Even if they had a rough start in life, they deserve to have a human companion that will love them unconditionally and, believe me, you will receive that love back ten-fold.”

Even though ARF and the Contra Costa Humane Society are separate organizations, they are both fighting for the same cause. “Our goal is not a competition of who gets credit for how many dogs and cats get rescued. Our goal is to make sure these animals find their forever homes,” Taylor-Tanielian said. “We don’t care who you adopt from as long as these animals find loving homes and that the people get the benefit of companionship from the animals.”

To meet the variety of adoptable cats and dogs to find your connection and be a forever home visit one of the rescue and shelter facilities in the county:

Contra Costa County Animal Services

4800 Imhoff Pl., Martinez (925) 608-8400.

Adoption hours: Tuesday-Friday 9:30 a.m. - 4 p.m. (closed between noon and 1 p.m.)

910 San Pablo Ave., Pinole (510) 942-4530.

Adoptions hours: Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m. – 5 p.m.,

Wednesday 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Check out their website for dates and location of the mobile adoption services.

Fees: Cats $104-147; Dogs $129-284. Fees include adoption fee, microchip, spay/neuter, and rabies vaccination.

Contra Costa Humane Society

Kitty Corner: 171 Mayhew Way, Pleasant Hill

(925) 279-2247. Adoption hours: Monday noon - 7 p.m.; Tuesday 3 p.m. - 7 p.m.; Friday noon – 3 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Pet Food Express: 609 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Danville. Adoption hours: Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday

4p.m. - 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Fees: Cats $90-130; Dogs $225-275. Fees include adoption, microchip, and all age appropriate vaccinations.

Tony La Russa Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF)

2890 Mitchell Dr., Walnut Creek (925) 256-1ARF (1273). Adoption hours: Wednesday and Thursday noon-6 p.m.; Friday noon-7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday noon-6 p.m.

Visit their website for mobile adoption locations and dates,

Fees: Cats $90-125; Dogs $250-300. Fees include adoption, microchip, and all age appropriate vaccinations.

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