SARA Links Animals to Chance of Survival 

by Randi Bjornstad

To a dog confined in a 4-by-12-foot pen, facing death in as little as three days if the shelter gets too full, the arrival of Diana Robertson has got to be the canine equivalent of winning the lottery.

For the past two years, Robertson has been springing unwanted dogs and cats from the Lane County Animal Regulation Authority's shelter and shuttling them to humane societies where they stand a better chance of finding adoptive homes.

"I really can't say enough about what she does," agency manager Mike Wellington said. "It's great - Diana comes in nearly every day to see who we've gotten in and if she can find a place for them."

Since she started SARA - the nonprofit Shelter Animal Resource Alliance - two years ago, Robertson and her cadre of volunteers have saved the lives of 400 dogs and nearly 100 cats that otherwise would have been put to death in Lane County.

A former volunteer at both Lane County and the local Greenhill Humane Society shelters, Robertson said she saw a need for another group to help them both by transferring animals to shelters that most likely could find them homes.

SARA shuttles animals from the county to Greenhill or the Oregon Humane Society in Portland for placement. Sometime, Robertson takes Greenhill's animals to the Portland shelter. Often, she finds them foster homes until one of the shelters has room.

She faces the harsh reality that for every animal she saves, several more inevitably die, but that's a reality animal resucuers learn to confront, Robertson said.

"It's hard emotionally," she said, "but we know we can only do the best we can. Given the backgrounds many of these animals come out of, we have to conclude that if they are euthanized, they're still better off than living the way they were. And then we think about all the ones we do save."

This past Wednesday, Robertson and two SARA volunteers, Sally Gregory and Laura Holley, paid one of their routine visits to the pound to give eligible dogs the "temperament test" necessary to be accepted at the Oregon Humane Society.

First they checked the dates penned on the intake information posted on each kennel. By law, the public shelter must hold stray animals for three days, after which it may release them for adoption or euthanize them if no one has come forward to claim them or the kennel becomes too full to keep them any longer.

Wellington's agency does everything it can to save dogs, but by law it's an enforcement agency, not a humane society, and SARA provides a needed link between the two, he said.

Three dogs qualified for temperanment testing on Wednesday - a sleek and lively black Labrador-pit bull female; a larger, shaggier and shyer black male of unknown breed; and an obedient and attentive shepherd mix.

Holley stepped into the run with the lab-pit mix and gave the bright-eyed dog a couple of commands, following the Oregon Humane Society guidelines for testing.

"We've got 'sit' and 'lie down', now let's see how she responds to taking a treat, great, very gentle," Holley said, as Robertson ticked off boxes on a checklist.

"The temperament test tries to replicate what a dog would encounter in a family situation," Robertson said. For instance, the volunteer might startle the dog by dropping keys to see if they respond with agression or fear or try to take food away as a young child might do.

Occasionally a dog doesn't pass the test, but if SARA believes its behavior may have been affected by health issues or the stress of being removed from its previous home, it may take custody of it anyway.

"If we come across a dog like that and we have space, we place it in one of our volunteer foster homes," Robertson said. "We want these dogs to have every chance to find a new home."

On Wednesday, all three dogs passed the test. Robertson headed for the office to call Greenhill Humane Society to see if it had room for more dogs and arranged for one to go to a foster home until Tuesday's trip to Portland.

"We could leave them here until then, but LCAS's fairly full, and if they suddenly get several strays in one day, which by law they must hold onto, these dogs would have to be euthanized," Robertson said.

Humane societies generally have as many cats as they can accommodate, so SARA takes cats out of the county facility only if enough foster homes can be provided for them.

That often means going to Holley's house, where she and her fiance, Kris McLaren, maintain one room entirely devoted to fostering cats.

On Thursday, Holley took four 9-week-old kittens she'd fostered from birth from her home to SARA's Treasures, a secondhand store Robertson opened to support the organization's animal rescue efforts.

Shy at first, Cyrus, Sylvester, Faith and Onyx soon began exploring their new surroundings, hopping up on display shelves or scooting under racks of clothing.

Located at 871 River Road, the store's entire inventory - clothing, books, jewelry, art works, toys and knick-knacks - has been donated by people in the community.

Proceeds from the shop, help cover SARA's veterinary bills, spay/neuter fees, rent and wages for Robertson and store manager Robin Loving. In addition, SARA receives donations of money and pet supplies from individuals and businesses in the community.

The store's new "spokeskittens" almost certainly would have been put down along with their pregnant mother if SARA hadn't intervened, Robertson said, but she doesn't want people to blame the county for euthanizing so many of the animals turned in to them.

"They do everything they can, but they don't have the financial or community support they need - we need everybody to be advocating on LCAS's behalf," Robertson said. "This is important - we need to give animals the (maximum) chance to be reclaimed or adopted."

The Register-Guard, Eugene, Oregon June 8, 2003. pg. A.1

Copyright 2003 The Register-Guard.

All right reserved.Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction or distribution is prohibited without permission.