On a recent Friday morning, the lobby of the Berkeley-East Bay Humane Society in West Berkeley was missing the noisy barking and pitter-patter of tiny paws that has greeted visitors for the last five decades.
The lack of noise is not because there is a dearth of animals to take care of at this private nonprofit shelter.
On the contrary, the place is a stark reminder of how the economy has forced foreclosed home owners to give their pets up for adoption or simply abandon them.
Staff at the Berkeley Humane Society are working twice as hard to take care of these abandoned animals, but most of the action is happening very quietly at the back, away from the public eye.
The shelter, which can house up to 50 dogs and cats at a time, closed its veterinary hospital to private clients on Feb. 1 partly because it was losing money and partly because it wanted to focus on its own animals, shelter spokesperson Katherine S. O’Donnell told the Daily Planet.
“We want to treat our animals and get them adopted more quickly,” O’Donnell said. “We found that the shelter wasn’t making any money from private clients. It wasn’t cost-effective and prevented us from caring for the shelter’s cats and dogs.”
O’Donnell said that after discussing the shelter’s financial situation with private consultants, then-Executive Director Mim Carlson and the board of directors came to the conclusion that running a private veterinary hospital while trying to provide superior medical care to shelter animals was not cost-effective, and was preventing them from expanding their services to more homeless dogs and cats.
Carlson and the board president, Dr. Alan G. Shriro, who has co-owned the Berkeley Dog and Cat Hospital for 32 years, were not available for comment.
“We are taking in a lot of animals from other rescue organizations,” said Nancy Glaser, the shelter’s interim executive director. “We have a mission to take care of shelter animals, and since no one is taking care of them, they don’t have any other alternative.”
O’Donnell said that, despite the economy, the shelter hopes to fund its operations through adoption fees, private donations and grants, and to rescue as many as 1,000 animals this year.
It takes at least $600 to provide basic preventive care for each animal, she said.
The shelter, which was started more than 80 years ago out of a pool hall at the corner of Ninth and Carleton streets by three locals concerned about homeless animals in Alameda County, was originally called the “Animal Rescue Haven.”
George Denny, who later became executive director of the Animal Rescue Haven, converted the pool building—now a two-story blue glass-and-wood structure dwarfed by warehouses and industrial towers—into kennels and fed the animals food scraps donated by local merchants.
The vet hospital was added in 1957.
The shelter, which vows to find homes for all its animals regardless of their length of stay, also runs the PAWS/East Bay program, a Humane Education center and a low-cost spay-neuter clinic on Tuesdays, which is still open to the public.
Every week, shelter Program Director Sara Kersey makes a trip to the Oakland Animal Shelter to bring back animals to the Berkeley Humane Society for adoption.
“A lot of the animals in Oakland are either abandoned or surrendered these days,” she said.
“The city is currently overpopulated by small dogs. There was a big Chihuahua fad that happened last year because of Paris Hilton. People went and got more and more dogs like that and more and more dogs ended up without a home. Pet owners just can’t afford to take care of their animals anymore. They are moving out of the area because they don’t have a house anymore or have lost their job.”
Shelter Manager Marc Slater said that cats were in a worse position than dogs.
“I get all these calls from people telling me they can’t afford to feed their cats anymore,” he said. “They often ask us if we can donate tins of food for their pets.”
Kersey was busy showing a floppy-eared 18-month-old border collie–basset hound mix, from the Oakland Animal Services to a couple, during a recent meet-and-greet adoption session.
In the cat bachelor pad, Kai Mander was getting acquainted with Mr. Fancy Pants, a seven-year-old surrender cat who likes being cuddled.
“When you come to a place like this and see all these animals being taken care of so well, it’s what you want,” said Mander, who was trying to find a suitable cat for his family.
Animals stay for anywhere from five to 21 days at the shelter before they get adopted.
Michael Goldenberg, a Berkeley resident, was busy in another corner grooming Winona, a 4-month-old Shiba-Inu mix.
“I am a big dog lover, and I come here twice a week to take care of the dogs,” said Goldenberg, who adopted a golden retriever from the Golden Retriever Rescue of Northern California.
Everywhere you glance, shelter staff are busy taking care of dogs and cats. Some, like Malcolm, a lovable easy going Labrador mix, who was seized from a family by Berkeley Animal Care Services due to neglect, need special care.
“He’s going to stay here as long as it takes for him to get adopted,” said Slater. “We are a limited-admission center and can control the number of dogs and cats we take in—that way we don’t have to euthanize any animals.”
Slater pointed to Cherry, a papillon mix, who came to the shelter with a prolapsed eyelid gland, but is now recovering after a lengthy surgery, something he said would not have been possible if the doctors at the vet hospital had still been treating private clients.
“We wouldn’t have been able to take her, since we had limited resources before February,” he said. “But now we can treat more shelter animals quickly at the hospital, which will help them get adopted more easily.”
For more information on the Berkeley Humane Society, visit www.berkeleyhumane.org.