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FOTAS volunteers are dogs' (and cats') best friends

As YouTube knows, we are almost all suckers for videos of cute cats or dogs. Unfortunately, real cats and dogs, in need of homes, sometimes get less attention. But the wonderful people at Friends of the Animal Shelter (FOTAS) are doing a lot to help improve the lives of these animals. FOTAS was formed in 1990, when about five women offered to help at the shelter. The Ashland-based organization has grown to more than 300 volunteers. These volunteers donate over 22,000 hours a year in direct service to the shelter animals plus additional time in outreach and fundraising.

What do volunteers do in direct service? At the county shelter, just north of Talent on Highway 99, they walk the dogs and take them out to the agility yard, sometimes followed by a stop at the “cuddle room” for the animal to calm down before going back to its shelter space. Thanks to FOTAS volunteers, every dog gets walked and focused play time every day. Volunteers also provide human interaction for the cats; watch the cats that get some time to play with each other in the kitty corner; and (true service) clean the kitty litter boxes. And they help care for the occasional less-standard animal — there were two rabbits when I visited and they have also had ferrets.

Volunteers help prepare the animals to make them more adoptable, through enrichment programs at the shelter. FOTAS also supports, with volunteer time and funding for the animals’ food and medical care, a foster-care program. The dogs and cats are placed in a foster home where they can receive more focused human interaction and training in basic obedience. When they are brought back, they are “adoption ready.”

Meanwhile, trained volunteers take a dog or two out of the shelter environment for several hours and observe their behavior. This helps the staff have information on each adoptable animal that helps make a better match between the animal and a prospective adoptive home.

The FOTAS approach is to seek to find homes for as many of the animals brought to the shelter that cannot be reunited with their human families. Since the shelter takes all “comers,” it cannot be a “no-kill” shelter. However, with FOTAS’ help, its “live release rate” has risen in recent years form roughly 57 percent to almost 85 percent. It also seeks to control the population of unwanted animals proactively through spaying and neutering, though that aspect of the mission has been taken on by the wonderfully named SNYP (Spay/Neuter Your Pet), a now legally separate nonprofit that was spun off from FOTAS.

FOTAS also, through the money it raises, has provided better facilities for the animals while they are in the shelter. Every dog has a spacious cage, many with an off-floor bed and a comfortable chair to curl up on, with or without a human. Volunteers help make toys for the dogs. And FOTAS built and furnished a large “cat condominium” where a number of cats can sleep or play and can move from inside to outside and back. FOTAS volunteers take animals to events in the community where people can see some of the animals that can be adopted and the organization does outreach on traditional and social media about adopting shelter animals.

FOTAS funds help facilitate adoption through such programs as the Two Fur One Cat adoption program where the person adopting two cats or kittens only pays the fee for one, with FOTAS paying the second fee to the county, and by subsidizing part of the fees for older or hard-to-place dogs.

Fundraising is an important aspect of FOTAS’ work, including two major fundraising events each year: the Puss ’n’ Boots Ball in October and the new Paws to Celebrate dinner event in June. Last year these events raised over $85,000.

As the FOTAS president, Peggy Moore, told me as she gave me a tour of the facility, their missions are prevention, adoption, fostering and donating. Those volunteers who help support all these missions get rewarded in the obvious pleasure they get in interacting with the animals and the joy I saw on their faces when one of those animals finds a new home. If you are interested in volunteering, or learning more, go to the website, www.fotas.org (or call Volunteer Services Coordinator Susan Meyerott at 541-944-2021).

— Mary I. Coombs’ column on local nonprofit organizations appears every three weeks. Email questions and suggestions to betling@dailytidings.com.