Even the youngest of people have the ability to make a difference in their community, said Wendy Kang, executive director for Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center.
Melrose Elementary student Shelby Atterbury, 8, recently led a coin drive at her school, which raised $290 for Saving Grace. Atterbury has also used money from past birthdays to purchase more than $300 worth of pet supplies for the center.
Atterbury became enthralled with caring for cats and dogs in need after she attended summer camps at the center. She has become an effective local advocate for shelter animals, according to Saving Grace staff. She is responsible for find three cats homes after she convinced family members to adopt them. Atterbury’s advocacy coincides with an increase in pet adoptions at the center.
“She’s one of those kids that comes into class every morning with a smile on her face and gives you a big hug,” said Trina Wheeldon, who leads the summer camps Atterbury attends.
“She was very enthusiastic about learning about the animals, how to care for them and how to go out into the community and talk to other kids about responsible pet ownership,”she said.
Wheeldon said Atterbury’s motivation to help the animals and the shelter is remarkable.
“We work with a lot of youth with a similar mentality about helping the animals, but she really has taken it one step further,” Wheeldon said.
Shelby’s mother, Stephanie Atterbury, said that her daughter’s initiative started when Melrose encouraged students and their parents to raise holiday donations for local causes. School staff suggested people give clothing to homeless shelters or raise money for Saving Grace.
Atterbury’s summer experiences at the center made it an easy choice, her mother said.
“She’s very passionate about animals,” Stephanie said. “She told me that when she gets older she wants to have am animal sanctuary of her own.”
She added that her daughter would take in all the animals at the shelter right now if she could. For now, she’ll settle for the pets she already has.
“We have one dog, two cats, we’re about ready to get another, a bunny rabbit and one fish,” Atterbury said.
She said seeing animals in need motivated her to help.
“Some of these animals are hurt and sick,” Atterbury said. “They need homes and it just makes me so sad to see a hurt animal. It makes me feel good to help them.”
Kang said the summer camps Atterbury attended not only teach children about how to humanely care for animals, but the animals can also comfort children.
“Maybe especially for kids who don’t have someone looking out for them, they can learn that kind of strength when they are able to take care of something that is more dependent than they are,” Kang said.
The center’s outreach has been paying off, she said. Pet adoptions have substantially increased in 2018.
With only a couple of adoption days left in the year, 1,211 pets have been adopted so far, representing nearly a 10% increase over 2017.
Saving Grace also returned 350 lost pets to their owners and transferred 488 pets, primarily cats and kittens, to other organizations in areas with greater adoption demand.
During the summer, Saving Grace initiated Return-to-Field, a nationally-recognized program for stray cats.
The program is similar to Trap-Neuter-Return programs for feral cats and Return-to-Field for individual stray cats, feral or tame, brought to Saving Grace by individuals.
If the cat is a healthy weight and appropriate age, spayed or neutered, vaccinated and ear tipped, it is returned to the area where it was found.
Return-to-Field is billed as giving healthy cats their best chance at returning home, and makes sure they will not be having litters of kittens. Already 182 cats have been returned to their home locations.
The nationally recognized benchmark for communities to be considered no-kill is 90 percent.
With the expansion of Saving Grace’s foster care program, transfer partnerships and the addition of Return-to-Field this summer, Saving Grace’s live outcome rate is approaching this benchmark.
She said with the support of a generous community, they can now achieve the kinds of outcomes they’ve been working for.
2018 also saw expansion of Operation Fix ‘Em, Saving Grace’s trap-neuter-return program for feral cats. Trap-Neuter-Return, which involves humanely trapping stray and feral cats and having them spayed/neutered before returning them to their outdoor home, is the only effective method of stabilizing outdoor cat colonies.
There have been 913 cats spayed or neutered through Operation Fix ‘Em since the program began in 2016, preventing the births of thousands of kittens.
“Adopt … donate … volunteer. These are the three things people can do that the animals need the most,” Kang said.
Shelter fees cover only 25 percent of the operating budget and the county contract provides only 15 percent, to help care for strays. The balance needed must be raised through donations, grants and fundraising efforts.