Helping out man's best friend and a few other pals

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By Kirsten Laskey

It can be heart-breaking to see a stray animal meandering alongside the road. You wonder what will happen to that dog or cat?


You think, “Will they make it home safe?” It is comforting, at least in Los Alamos, to know that there is an organization that has these misplaced animals’ backs.


Whatever the obstacle, the Friends of the Shelter (FOS), make sure that every animal finds its way to a home.


FOS was started in 1997 and is under the umbrella of the Companion Animal Alliance of Northern New Mexico. Nancy Brownlee established the original organization.


Other driving forces behind the organization are Wendee Brunish and Sally Wilkins.


They founded FOS with the primary task of supporting the animals at Los Alamos County Shelter.


Supporting the animals means working with them to make them adoptable, said Leslie Hansen, FOS board member and Dog Jog registrar.


Volunteers go to the shelter to exercise the resident dogs and cats, as well as socialize them and help them find good adopted homes, Brunish said.


FOS’ offers support to animals in other ways, too.


The organization provides a spay/neuter program to help reduce the number of animals at the shelter and it offers an emergency medical fund to assist pet owners who can not afford care for their pet.


Last year, FOS spent more than $35,000. Of that, $21,000 was used to spay/neuter dogs and cats and the remaining money was used to help pet owners who could not afford their vet bills.


FOS stays pretty busy throughout the year. In 2008, 298 animals passed through the shelter. The number of dogs and cats was roughly equal.


Of that amount, pet owners claimed 177 animals and 121 were surrendered to the shelter or were unclaimed roamers. Los Alamos residents adopted 88 pets and 33 were adopted outside the county.


“Since its (FOS) involvement, pretty much all adoptable animals find homes,” Hansen said. “Volunteers are very dedicated, not only to finding homes but the right homes.”


While 75 percent of the animals are adopted in Los Alamos, volunteers will look elsewhere to find the right home.


“We cast a very wide net for any of the animals who come to the shelter,” Hansen said.


It’s not always cats and dogs that volunteers focus their attention on, Hansen said. One time rabbits found their way to the shelter and ducks at Ashley Pond were temporary residents when the pond froze over one winter.


Although the volunteers have a vital role in finding these animals home, Brunish credits the support of the community, county and police department for FOS’ success.


“The support of the county and the police department in letting us work with the animals is one reason. And the other is the dedication for the volunteers – they work really hard to get to know the animals (to make a good fit between the animals and the pet owners).”


She added, “We’ve had tons of support from the community, county council and police department so we really appreciate that.”


One way the community supports FOS is through the Dog Jog.  The Dog Jog is one of two major fundraisers the organization holds every year.


The other fundraiser is the shelter alumni calendars that are sold in the fall.


This year, the Dog Jog will start at 9 a.m. April 18 at Chamisa Elementary School.


Besides FOS, the event is coordinated by the Los Alamos Dog Obedience Club, Mountain Canine Corps and the Atomic City Roadrunners.


The event draws between 300-350 people and raises $10,000-$12,000.


There is a race and fun walk for participants.


Henson describes the fundraiser as festive. “It’s just fun,” she said.


As rewards for people’s and pets’ efforts, numerous prizes are distributed.


Owning a dog is not a requirement. Dogs for rent will be available.


It’s not all fun and games, one of the objectives of the Dog Jog is to provide information on how to be responsible pet owners, as well as information about homeless pets, Hansen said.


Many different agencies contribute to successfully achieving these goals.


“We have really appreciated not only the people who have signed up for the Dog Jog, but the businesses that have supported the Dog Jog,” Hansen said. “We have businesses that sponsor the Dog Jog every year.”


Brunish encourages people to come to the Dog Jog for several reasons.


“One, to help support us and help support homeless animals and the second reason is because we have lots of prizes for dogs and humans. The third one is it’s just a lot of fun,” she said.


Hansen added, “It’s for a good cause, sets a great example for the kids and the people and the animals all have a great time.”


To register for the Dog Jog or for more information, go to www.lafos.org/dogjog or call 672-2089.