The Animal Protection Society-Friday Harbor’s Executive Director, Cristin Felso and Shelter Manager, Beth Anderson were invited to join a team of animal welfare champions on a special, private airplane trip across the North Central Region of Washington State, including cities of Omak, Okanogan, Cashmere, and Wenatchee. The goal of the trip was to visit with local animal welfare leaders and tour facilities. The trip was organized by San Juan Island resident Cindy Koch, in a continued effort to address gaps in animal welfare services and identify potential solutions to decrease overpopulation and the number of unwanted pets in the region.   

Members of the touring team included Cindy Koch, Jill Servais (Mariners), Mia Shepard (San Juan Island resident), and Founding Board Member, Yolanda Morris and Executive Director, Jenny Fraley, of Pawsitive Alliance; located in Bellevue.

There are many factors at play in Washington’s North Central Region that create a challenging animal welfare environment including large, rural land areas that are geographically isolated, a high rate of poverty that presents barriers to accessibility and affordability of pet-care services (21.7% whereas the weighted average for the region is 17.6%), and few available resources to address the prevalence of animal overpopulation such as consistent and low-cost spay/neuter services, accessible animal shelters, and availability of other shelter/rescue partners to accept animals from the region through transport and transfer.

During the tour of the North Central Region of Washington, the group visited four organizations struggling to do all they can do for an overwhelming number of homeless and abandoned animals in a severely under-served and under-resourced region. 

First was a tour of Okanogan Regional Humane in Omak. This is a beautiful brand-new clinic, completed in 2021, that provides the space for high volume/high-quality spay and neuter procedures. Okanogan Regional Humane is struggling to maintain the funding required to keep up consistent services that are desperately needed to help reduce pet overpopulation and provide the community with reliable access to the services it needs. 

Next was The Cat House in Okanogan. The focus of the cat house is to provide as close to a “home” experience as possible for cats that have been overlooked for a very long time at the shelter. At the Cat House, cats live cage free and have access to the outside in their Catio space.  They are cared for daily by volunteers that make up the “Cat Crew”. For many of the cats this will likely be their forever home, but they continue to do all they can to get them adopted. Currently, there are 24 cats residing there, but they have had as many as 31. 

The third location was the Okanogan County Animal Foster Care Cat Shelter. This is a non-profit, no-kill cat shelter dedicated to providing a haven for cats until they can find a home. They operate at full capacity year-round while focusing on transferring out most of their cats to partner organizations.  Last year alone, around one thousand cats were transferred to The NOAH Center in Stanwood.  It is incredible to see all they are accomplishing with very limited resources. 

After a quick stop and information gathering conversation with the city of Omak Animal Control Officer, the group headed onto Cashmere to visit Okandogs. There are no funded Humane Societies or shelters for Okanogan County dogs and no public funding available, therefore nearly all dogs in the region in need of assistance are referred to Okandogs. Okandogs, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, was started in 2014 by a husband-and-wife duo, Tom and Jan Short, and operates out of their beautiful, spacious home.  Predominantly filled with litters of puppies, they house as many as 60 dogs at any given time. Almost 6,400 dogs have been saved since 2014 through their rapid response to dogs in need 

Back at the Wenatchee airport, a representative of ARFS (Animal Rescue Friends Society of Grant County) was waiting to load up and send back to San Juan County with us eight (7 girls and one boy) darling pug, chihuahua mix puppies that will soon be available for adoption at both APS-FH and Orcas APS. 

It was clear that the entire North Central Region needs access to sustained, low-cost spay/neuter (including TNR) and veterinary services via clinic and/or mobile units, and efforts should be made to increase public awareness regarding the importance of spaying/neutering owned animals. Finally, transport and relocation programs with shelters throughout the state are critical to shelters in this area. So how does APS-FH fit into this puzzle? We are in the early learning stage of identifying ways we can support this region. We are working with shelters/rescues in the area to set transfer parameters that will allow us to accept animals more readily from the region. And, excitedly, our very own Shelter Vet, Dr. Merriss Waters, will lead a team of vets and other animal medical personnel during a large-scale high quality, high volume spay/neuter, vaccination, and ID event taking place at Okanogan Regional Humane in Omak October 21 – 23rd. At least 200 animals will receive services through this collaboration put together by Okanogan Regional Humane, Animal Balance, and Pawsitive Alliance of Bellevue (Funds raised for the event by Paws With Cause and other dedicated individuals).