Bike Mike, an orange tabby cat greets you at Hayward Animal Shelter’s front door. The shelter is home. In 2014, Hayward Animal Shelter rescued him and nurtured him to health as he recovered from a broken leg and dealt with Feline Immunodeficiency Virus.
Hayward Animal Shelter, the city of Hayward’s public animal shelter, rescued 2,854 animals in 2017, many of them strays, like Big Mike. The government agency stretches its $2.1 million budget to protect the roughly 159,000 people in Hayward from animal safety hazards; shelters strays and surrendered animals; as well as provides surgeries, dental and lab work, and adoption services. Jennie Comstock, administrator of Hayward Animal Shelter, said the work at Hayward Animal Shelter is physically and emotionally demanding.
“You see animals that come in and are neglected,” Comstock said. “The staff wants to do the best that they can for these animals.”
The staff members smile through the difficult cases they see. Comstock commends the high level of customer service the shelter provides. It is a team effort, she said, to change the stigma associated with public shelters. She arms her animal control officers, for example, with toys and treats to give owners out walking their pets. She prides her shelter on the customer service they provide, as it is “giving people that positive image of animal control, instead of the pound.”
“We don’t want anybody leaving here saying they had a bad experience, because we need people to come here,” she said. “We’re here working for the animals.”
The public shelter goes above and beyond to match their animals with the right families, requiring potential owners to fill out a three-page application that details the personality type of the pet they want. Applicants must also bring in any other pets they own to ensure they get along with the potential adoptee.
Hayward Animal Shelter goes to great lengths to make its animals adoptable providing them the surgical, dental, and lab work they need. It’s a huge job for the public shelter, as it is required by law to accept any and all animals that come through its doors.
“This is a societal problem,” Allison Lundquist, CEO and president of East Bay SPCA, said, “They’re stuck with cleaning it up.”
The burden becomes heavier to bear in kitten season, which runs from early spring to late fall. A look through the many kennels at Hayward Animal Shelter showed the amount of kittens that have flooded the shelter this kitten season. Though the shelter tries to limit the amount of kittens in each kennel to two, Comstock said the shelter’s limited resources force it to put three to four kittens in some kennels.
These limited resources forces Hayward Animal Shelter to refer its customers to other organizations for some services. The Nine Lives Foundation in Redwood City, for example, offers Hayward’s cat owners an affordable spay and neuter clinic.
“The Bay Area in general is really lucky to have really great organizations that they can go to for resources and references,” Comstock added.
The shelter also operates for just 20 hours a week. In spite of these limitations, Hayward Animal Shelter offers programs to provide a high level of service to its animals. Hayward Animal Shelter offers a simple reading class, in which shy children read to shelter animals to improve their reading skills. Volunteers help run these programs, as well as many other essential functions of the shelter.
“A lot of what gets done at the shelter is due to volunteers helping out, because they don’t have all the resources to get everything done,” said Heather Schrader, a volunteer at Hayward Animal Shelter.
Volunteers at Hayward Animal Shelter walk the animals, clean their kennels, help out at events, and plug any holes in the shelter’s operation. The unsung heroes, volunteers, exemplify the love and devotion that characterize private and public animal welfare groups.
“It’s a lot of care and love that goes into it,” Schrader said.
The mural that adorns the front of Hayward Animal Shelter depicts two smiling dogs, a cat, a bird, a rabbit, and a golden ball of yarn spread across a turquoise background. Funded by the city of Hayward’s Mural Program, it exemplifies the care and love that run through this organization, from management to volunteers.
Comstock is often asked whether she will find Big Mike a home, to which she always replies, “He has a home. He lives here.”
Main article photo by: courtesy Hayward Animal Shelter