Cooper is a happy little guy. The white toy poodle is about 6 years old and, in mid-November, looks festive in a red-and-green sweater. The best part: His eyes shine brightly and his stubby tail waves madly when he spots his favorite humans.
It was a vastly different story just eight days before. When kids found the stray wandering in a creekbed near Highway 85/87, his infected eyes were clogged with pus, his coat was matted, and he was severely malnourished. Fortunately, he ended up at the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region.
After a lot of TLC from the staff, he was ready to be adopted just 12 days later.
"The level of care that we provide here is just really amazing," says Julie Crosby, veterinary services manager. "The people that work here are so invested in this on a daily basis. I think that shows, and the animals can feel it."
Cooper's miraculous makeover is just one of the many that happen with the help of donors.
In its fourth year in the Give! campaign, the 64-year-old organization is focusing on raising funds to ensure every animal under its roof receives whatever it needs to be adoptable. For instance, $25 pays for vaccinations for a litter of puppies or kittens; $100 pays for a catheter, intravenous fluids and pain medications for an injured animal; $1,000 pays for two emergency surgeries.
"There are times when an animal may come in and not be spayed and neutered, so obviously we try to have everybody go out sterilized," says president and CEO Jan McHugh-Smith, who came on board in April 2010. "The animals get vaccinated the moment they walk in the door."
To the (fire) rescue
McHugh-Smith succeeded Dr. Wes Metzler, who led the nonprofit for almost 20 years and, in 2000, oversaw its move into a new 44,000-square-foot building off South Eighth Street. But the tidal wave of animals in need just keeps rising — the Humane Society served more than 25,000 last year, including 449 pets sheltered during the Waldo Canyon Fire.
Of course, that effort turned out to be a rehearsal for the next disaster.
Just one day before the Black Forest Fire started, HSPPR signed a Community Animal Response Team agreement with the city and county to provide volunteers to help animals during emergencies. So when the fire raged through mid-June, the shelter fielded 2,221 calls for help and rescued 672 animals from the evacuation zone; volunteers put in 3,300 hours, while staff logged 2,175 hours.
In total, McHugh-Smith says, "We took in 1,200 animals from the Black Forest Fire. The majority of those were livestock, including llamas, alpacas, goats, pigs and 500 chickens, along with a lot of dogs and cats and guinea pigs."
During the fire, HSPPR ran shelters at the main location, for pets; the El Paso County Fairgrounds, for livestock; Norris-Penrose Events Center, for horses and other large animals; and Palmer Ridge High School, for displaced families with pets in collaboration with the Red Cross.
But even in more ordinary times, HSPPR maintains "campuses" in Pueblo, Castle Rock and Centennial. The total staff of 149 includes full-time veterinarians and officers pursuing cruelty investigations.
The staff also focuses on sterilizing animals, many through the Snipster mobile clinic; some donations subsidize sterilizations if owners can't afford them. They run a trap-neuter-release program to reduce feral cat populations, and another effort that helps seniors adopt companion animals.
"Our long-term business is to raise the level of care for animals in our community," McHugh-Smith says.
The HSPPR is not funded by the national Humane Society, making volunteers especially crucial to its success. An army of around 1,300 volunteers worked 78,000 hours in 2012, equivalent to 36.5 full-timers.
Some dog lovers regularly walk furry friends in the shelter's dog park, or take them out for a day of hiking. Other volunteers also temporarily house animals who aren't quite ready for adoption. Foster care coordinator Andie Armbrust coordinates more than 100 foster homes and recently had more than 40 puppies in foster care, a higher than usual number.
Volunteers also help with the Feline-ality program, devised by an ASPCA veterinarian to improve cat-adoption rates. Staff and volunteers observe cats and assign them to categories that include "private investigators" for the shyer cats, "leader of the band" for the outgoing ones, and "personal assistant" for in-betweens.
McHugh-Smith is a big fan of the categorizing system, since "a lot of adopters come in with a preconceived notion of what they're looking for. Maybe not even consciously, but it's in there."
In late November, HSPPR also had turtles, rabbits, mice and chickens available for adoption. Which might pique your interest ... unless you just can't stop thinking about Cooper. Well, on Nov. 25, he joined his new family. But rest assured, there are plenty more animals waiting to fit into your heart and home.