Couple Dedicates Lives to Save Dogs in Rural Eastern Washington
If you’ve ever questioned whether one person (or two) can really make a difference in this world, look no further than Tom and Jan Short of Cashmere, Wash. Over the past few years, the big-hearted couple have saved the lives of nearly 3,000 dogs in a rural part of Washington State through their nonprofit Okanogan Dogs Adoption Coordinators, or Okandogs.
After moving to their farming community about five years ago, the pair started volunteering at the local Humane Society shelter in the nearby town of Wenatchee.
“I’m not a golfer, so I was looking for something to do,” Tom quipped.
Tom quickly realized that the real need was to the north of them, where there were no shelters for dogs anywhere from their community all the way to the Canadian border, a distance of about 200 miles or an area larger than Connecticut. Like many rural areas, the number of homeless pets far outstrips the number of local people to adopt them, so the goal was to get them the needed vet care, spay and neuter, microchip, find foster homes and work with other groups that transport homeless pets into areas where they are more likely to be adopted.
So in 2014, using their own funds, the Shorts started building a home shelter with about 12 kennels and formed Okandogs, a 501c3 charity. They put the word out that they were accepting dogs, partnered with groups that transport pets and started recruiting volunteers to foster. It didn’t take long for the calls to start pouring in – they have taken in about 625 dogs a year, most of them puppies. Since then, they obtained a van that they use to pick up the pups, and it also serves as a rolling advertisement.
“If we don’t help the dogs, who will?” Jan said. “It is one thing to talk about it, but it is way more important to actually do something about it.”
They’ve been successful because of a willingness to respond anytime they are called and their efforts to build trusting relationships with communities and other dog lovers. They boast a near 100 percent adoption rate, with only a few aggressive dogs being turned away, said Tom, a retired airline pilot. Even some of the unadoptable dogs have been saved – the Shorts now have 18 dogs of their own that couldn’t be adopted out because of aggression or disabilities – one is a blind pit bull, for example. Almost everyone who works in the vet office where they take the dogs has also adopted one of the rescues.
“We’re a real mom and pop operation,” Tom said. “We’re open 365 days a year and 24 hours a day. Every time we think we’re going to get out of the business, the phone rings and we have to go. Oftentimes, it literally is a life or death situation for these dogs.”
The Shorts have done all this by relying on private donations and volunteers, as well as their own savings. Just the vet bill alone was $43,000 last year and Tom Short expects to exceed that this year.
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Most of their dogs end up in north or southwest Washington, Hood River and Walla Walla, as the Shorts have partnered with rescue groups active in those areas. One of their main partners is the NOAH Center in Stanwood, Wash., about 50 miles north of Seattle. They have also recently been contracted by the nearby town of Brewster to manage their homeless dog population.
Typical of their rescues was one this summer where they got a call from a good Samaritan who had found four puppies left alone in an orchard. The pups had apparently ingested something toxic and two of them were having seizures. Tom picked them up and took them to a veterinarian in Brewster. Their blood chemistry was out of whack and the pups were given IV fluids. Three days later, they seemed to have recovered and were taken to NOAH to be placed in foster care. The pups were not out of the woods as they continued to have seizures, but the NOAH staff cared for them until they improved to full health. On one Saturday in August, all four of the puppies were adopted out.
The Shorts plan to continue to educate people about the importance of spaying and neutering and raise awareness about the plight of homeless dogs. As they have become better known, the number of volunteers is steadily increasing, as is their presence on social media.
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