Like all California cities that are required by law to provide animal services, Alameda has an “open intake” shelter. This means we are required to accept all animals — strays, those impounded by the police, and owner-surrendered pets from Alameda residents. Unlike private humane societies, SPCAs, and rescues groups, we don’t have the luxury of picking and choosing which animals we take.
Thanks to an innovative public-private partnership that began in 2012 when the city of Alameda first contracted with the nonprofit organization Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter, or FAAS, to manage the shelter, life on the thriving island city of 70,000 people has gotten much better for the 1,100-plus animals who come through our doors each year. Today, in partnership with the city of Alameda and members of the community, FAAS is working hard to change the concept of “open intake” to “open heart.”
That means ensuring that every animal is treated with compassion and respect, and that all of our adoptable animals are given a second chance to find that perfect forever home. “Open heart” means we never euthanize for time or space, instead depending on a network of volunteers, fosters, community supporters, and partner organizations to save over 95 percent of the animals we serve.
Animals like our little miracle puppy, Starfish, whose story was shared in the January Bay Woof Nose for News section.
An adorable German Shepherd puppy, she was only a few weeks old when Animal Control Officer Alaina Onesko found her abandoned, left in a cardboard box on an Alameda beach. Officer Onesko realized immediately that something was terribly wrong. This beautiful dog could not stand. She simply flopped on her chest, spread eagle like a little “starfish.”
An emergency vet said that X-rays showed serious birth defects. The puppy’s ribcage and some organs were deformed. Nothing more could be done for this dog, we were told. She would never walk. She couldn’t be saved. All of us at FAAS felt devastated. We already loved this fragile “Starfish.” She was sweet and trusting. We could not bring ourselves to betray that trust. So with support from the Angel Fund, our emergency medical fund that has helped save the lives of more than 200 animals at FAAS, we were able to get a second opinion from a specialist. This time Starfish was correctly diagnosed with “swimmer’s syndrome,” a rare condition seen in puppies raised on hard, slippery surfaces. It’s completely reversible if caught early and, as the case with Starfish, can cause otherwise healthy organs to appear deformed in X-rays. The Angel Fund paid for her leg braces, physical therapy sessions, and a hernia operation.
Fast forward to today. Starfish sits, walks, and runs! She is bringing joy to a lucky adopter, her foster family. Without the “open heart” philosophy of FAAS, her story would not have had a happy ending.
Like most animal welfare organizations, FAAS struggles with resources; there is never enough money and human capital to implement all we aspire to. We also have facility challenges. Our current building was opened in 1984 and lacks many of the features now considered standard for animal shelters, including kennels designed to reduce stress and help animals thrive, and space for expanded volunteer and humane education programs.
To maintain our current level of service and the programs that help FAAS operate like a private humane society, we must raise an additional $500,000 of cash and in-kind support each year to supplement the city’s contract which reimburses us for basic animal care services.
But in spite of those challenges, FAAS, the city of Alameda, the community, and our supporters — on the island and beyond — are committed to our long-term mission. By working collaboratively through a shared understanding that a vibrant community takes care of its people and its animals, we are continuing to make great progress. The animals in our community, and the people who love them, deserve nothing less.
John L. Lipp is the executive director of FAAS and an advocate for the power of the human-animal bond and animal welfare.
Shelter Zone is written every month by a representative of a San Francisco Bay Area rescue or shelter organization. If you’re interested, email Editor@BayWoof.com.
Doggie in the Window
Boxer and American Staffordshire mix, male.
I love people and running! Leash me up, and I’ll give your FitBit a workout! I’d love to be your only dog. I’m 4 years old and my adoption fee has been waived.
Patterdale terrier, male
At 8, I’m a calm, inquisitive guy looking for someone who can appreciate my low-key personality and affection. They say the flecks of gray in my rich brown coat just make me look more distinguished. My adoption fee is waived!
American Staffordshire terrier, female
I’m an athletic 3-year-old who would love to join an active family that hikes and goes to the beach. At home I’ll lie in your lap and gaze up lovingly with my big brown eyes. A nice supporter has already paid my adoption fee!
American Pit Bull mix, female
I love people and only want to be in their company – on your lap if you’ll let me! I like to play and cuddle, but I need to be the only dog in the house. I’m 7 and my adoption fee is waived.
American Staffordshire terrier and bulldog mix, male.
Main article photo by: Photo of Starfish and family by Donald Dutran courtesy FAAS