A Narrative History of the Organization Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary
For the better part of two years, this stalwart group of volunteers rescued one dog after another, housing them in private barns, sheds, and garages until they could be moved into foster homes or adopted. In March of 2004, four of the volunteers pooled their money to make a down payment on a 27-acre parcel of property on the outskirts of Colville. The facilities were austere at first, consisting of open-air kennels under tarps supported by poles. An on-site caretaker kept watch over the animals 24 hours a day.
Despite the makeshift quarters, by the fall of 2004--barely two and a half years after the group's inception--over 600 dogs had been rescued and placed in adoptive homes.
The trials endured by the organization during those early years were tremendous. Water had to be hauled in buckets from one area of the property to another. Winters were harsh, and just keeping the dogs warm and dry was a 24-hour-a-day job. Straw bales protected the animals from the frigid wind that whipped mercilessly through the kennels. During the winter, snow and slush had to be raked from the tarps three times a day. Medical procedures, including spays and neuters, were performed by volunteer veterinarians in the caretaker's livingroom. The caretaker's kitchen doubled as a dispensary, and her extra bedroom as an infirmary.
In late 2004, a balloon payment on the property came due, and the organization, unable to qualify for bank financing, was forced to mothball its dream of owning the property and to settle for a lease under which it became obligated for a crushing $1,000 a month in rent, taxes, and insurance. On a shoestring budget derived nearly entirely from donations and community fundraising events, the organization struggled, month after month, to meet that obligation and to buy food, medicine, and supplies for the animals. On more occasions than could possibly be counted, the volunteers reached deep into their own pockets to make up the difference.
The organization's mission rapidly expanded as it began taking in animals from the community, from as far away as the neighboring counties of Ferry and Pend Oreille. Around that time, a subset of the original volunteer group split off from the organization to return exclusively to the work of rescuing dogs from the pound. The remainder of the group, now known as the "Colville Pet Refuge", turned its attention to the daunting task of becoming the safety net, the "buck stops here" resource, for the forgotten animals of Stevens County.
In April 2005, in response to the pressing need for a more adequate housing for the animals, a pole barn roof was erected over the original outdoor kennels. The structure lacked walls and had only the bare ground for a floor, but for the first time there was an actual building in which the animals could reside. Over 500 volunteer hours later, the structure was wired for electricity and plumbed for a water spigot. It would be two more years before the organization's finances would allow walls to be added.
In 2007, an old log cabin on the property was restored for use as an accessory kennel for puppies and other more fragile animals. Hardly more than a dilapidated log shell with a collapsed roof, the group spent many hundreds of hours working to make it habitable--raising and mending the roof, chinking the logs by stuffing the spaces with insulation, and fashioning interior walls out of plastic sheeting and plywood. A donated wood stove was installed, and the "puppy cabin" was born.
For the next several years, the group continued the work of rescuing dogs from the city pound while straining to find room for the rapidly increasing number of abandoned and owner-surrendered animals that were being brought to the shelter from within the community. As word spread that there was a shelter in town, the organization was beset by calls requesting help for homeless animals all over the county. Many of these animals were abandoned--dumped in the woods, dropped off at rest stops, left tied to a tree at a campground, or left behind in empty houses when the owners moved out. Many others were relinquished by members of the community who, due to the loss of a job or to other circumstances, could no longer afford to keep them. The all-volunteer organization was rapidly becoming the de facto humane society for Stevens County.
Year after year, the organization took in and adopted out hundreds of dogs while operating hand-to-mouth under gruellingly primitive conditions. The little wood stove in the puppy cabin had to be filled and stoked every few hours through the night. During the winter, the dog's water buckets would freeze solid and had to be hauled by hand through the snow to the puppy cabin, where they would be defrosted by the wood stove. Just getting inside the door of the cabin in the morning often required shoveling snow and chipping at ice for nearly an hour.
On many occasions the organization's directors sought assistance from the county, but no commitment of support--or even collaboration--was ever forthcoming. The reason given was simple: Stevens County is a poor rural county with a very limited tax base, and animal welfare simply is not a priority.
Early in the year 2010, Stevens County Cat Care (which up to that time had been the county's only rescue organization for cats) made the decision to focus its efforts on low-cost spay/neuter clinics and to drastically scale back its involvement in rescuing, fostering, and adoption. Some of the founding members of that organization approached the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary about expanding its shelter-based program to include cats. Due to a generous and unexpected bequest from the Marie Holt Trust, the Sanctuary was able to say "yes". The daylight basement of the caretaker's residence was converted to a cattery, replete with a sun room, laundry and storage facilities, and isolation rooms. An experienced cat team from Stevens County Cat Care joined the organization's core group of volunteers. Amazingly, 203 cats were saved that first year.
During the years 2010 and 2011, the organization experienced phenomenal growth. Its organizational structure was revised, and its name changed for the second and final time to the "Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary". The organization's base of core volunteers expanded significantly, and a volunteer veterinarian began regularly donating time at the shelter. A number of new programs were added, including a foster program, a TNR program through which hundreds of feral and semi-feral cats were spayed or neutered, and a community outreach program through which dozens of very low income members of the community were able to obtain spay/neuter services free of charge, as well as assistance with transportation, pet food, and veterinary care. Shortly thereafter, the organization instituted a long-distance transport program through which selected animals could be transferred to partner shelters in more populated areas of the state, thereby giving them greatly enhanced opportunities for adoption.
During these years, the physical facility was improved and expanded, a notable addition being the construction (again through all-volunteer labor) of a 12x24-foot bungalow that would come to serve as an overflow cattery and cat isolation area. The organization entered into an informal mentorship relationship with the Spokane Humane Society, as a result of which it received valuable advice and guidance on everything from organizational development and budgeting to volunteer recruitment and fundraising. The organization developed and galvanized partnerships with a number of other animal welfare organizations, including the Spokane Humane Society, Seattle Humane Society, NOAH, SCRAPS, SpokAnimal, PetSavers, Purrfect Pals, and Homeward Pet, to name just a few.
By this point, the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary was shouldering a burden equivalent to that carried by many county-supported humane societies, but with no governmental support whatsoever. Its statistics bear this out: In the 18 months between January 2010 and July 2011, the Sanctuary sheltered a total of 556 animals, consisting of 402 cats and 154 dogs. During that same period, 495 animals were adopted, more than half of them directly through the Sanctuary's doors. A total of 445 animals were spayed or neutered, 128 of them in-house. Significantly, these outcomes were achieved by an entirely volunteer staff and with virtually no administrative overhead. During year 2010 alone, the organization's volunteers logged well over 14,000 hours, representing slightly more than seven full-time equivalents.
In November of 2011, the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary experienced a major setback when a devastating fire caused the puppy cabin to burn to the ground and three precious animal lives were lost. Although the pain of that event is still with us, the tragedy was, we think, not without a greater purpose. It was a "make it or break it" moment which toughened the organization and strengthened our resolve to succeed. For the first time, the community rallied around us, and help and encouragement came from places as far away as the European continent.
It was not long thereafter that the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary was the unexpected beneficiary of a generous bequest of a residential property located in the town of Colville from a local animal advocate by the name of Wendell Miles. Over a period of many months, teams of volunteers devoted their weekends repairing and updating the property for use as a rental. By the following year, the property was being occupied by two tenants who together were providing a consistent source of rental income for the organization.
The year 2012 was another year of amazing growth. That year marked the beginning of the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary's headlong launch into the world of web-based technology and social media--a move that dramatically increased the organization's visibility and connectedness to the community. As a result, the organization's support base rapidly expanded, and it witnessed a corresponding exponential increase in the number of crisis calls and other pleas for assistance to which the organization was able to respond. Amazingly, a total of 766 animals (consisting of 147 dogs and 619 cats) were sheltered in 2012 alone. Seven hundred fifty-nine (759) animals were spayed or neutered.
At this point, the cats and kittens being taken in each month was far exceeding the number that could possibly be placed for adoption in Stevens County. As if by destiny, a new and extremely valuable partnership with the Seattle Humane Society came into existence to meet that need. By year's end, Seattle Humane was successfully finding homes for large numbers of Stevens County animals, and the Sanctuary was regularly transporting animals to that facility. A donated SUV vehicle and a full-size van greatly invigorated the Sanctuary's transport program, allowing trips to the west side of the state to occur as often as every two weeks.
Another important achievement during the year 2012 was the completion of the newly rebuilt puppy cabin--the culmination of nearly a year's worth of weekend labor by volunteers. The structure was redesigned as a multi-purpose building that would not only be capable of housing puppies and other more fragile animals, but that could also be used as an on-site spay/neuter clinic.
The highlight of 2012, however, was a gift from the estate of a remarkable woman by the name of Martha Litchford. That gift allowed the organization to finally realize what up to that point had never been more than a dream: to own the property on which the shelter is located. In the spring of 2013, the Sanctuary bought the 27-acre parcel that it had been leasing for over a decade. The purchase not only relieved the Sanctuary of a significant financial burden, it allowed the organization to finally move forward with the task of building a proper shelter facility. Through a new partnership with Habitat for Humanity, the organization began making concrete plans for the construction of a fully insulated, indoor dog kennel.
The year 2013 witnessed a continuation of the exponential growth that had occurred during the preceding three years, and as a result the organization was compelled to take the step of hiring its first employee. Two additional employees were added on a temporary basis to assist in dealing with an unprecedented influx of animals and the concomitant need for improved medical management and infection control protocols. A significant development in the area of recordkeeping was the implementation of a computerized database and on-line shelter management system.
In July of 2013, the newly rebuilt puppy cabin/medical facility was christened with the holding of an on-site spay/neuter clinic in which 66 cats and 14 dogs were spayed and neutered in one day. The resounding success of that event spurred the organization on to begin planning for additional spay/neuter clinics to be held on-site on at least a quarterly basis.
A surprising highlight of the year 2013 was to be chosen by the Microsoft Corporation as the "poster organization" for its 2014 cat calendar--and as the recipient of the proceeds of the calendar's sales. Recently, a team of Microsoft executives traveled from Bellevue to Colville to tour the facility. Our anxiety over our humble facilities gave way to elation when we received the most sincere and meaningful comment that we could have ever received: "You guys are the real thing!"
At the present time, the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary continues, as a nearly all-volunteer organization, to serve as the only dedicated full-service animal shelter in Stevens County. Although the principal focus of the organization is the sheltering and adopting out of animals, it provides a wide variety of other services; spaying/neutering of all shelter cats and dogs, help for low income families with spay/neuter when CVAS has received grant monies directed for this. Medical care, which is sometimes extensive, is provided to shelter animals, foster care, rehabilitation of animals with histories of abuse and neglect, long-distance transports, feral cat management (TNR), and community outreach.
The work that the Sanctuary performs is especially critical because of the unique economic, cultural and demographic factors that have caused Stevens County to become a mecca for irresponsible breeders and a haven for animal abuse and neglect. In this largely rural community, animals are allowed to breed with abandon, resulting in a disproportionately large number of unwanted, "throw away" animals. It is for this reason that the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary has embraced, with such vigor, the effort to reduce the number of unwanted animals in Stevens County.