There is space for 75 cats at SAS.
There is space for 75 cats at SAS.
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The Seattle Animal Shelter has been operating in the same Interbay facility since 1982. It has managed to operate there for nearly 40 years by being creative with its existing space, reducing its intake through education and spaying and neutering programs, loyal volunteers and a boost in private funding through the Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation.

Ann Graves started at SAS as an animal care officer in 2000, then a field officer, and later as an enforcement supervisor and manager. She was tabbed as the shelter’s executive director in late 2017, after nearly a year serving in the role in the interim.

“You never know what’s going to happen,” Graves said about working at SAS. “Every day is different.”

The City of Seattle and King County formed their own animal control divisions in 1972, the first SAS facility opening further south on Elliott Avenue.

Fewer people were spaying and neutering their pets then, Graves said, and the population had peaked. Regional Animal Services of King County (RASKC) was also formed at that time, and the Seattle Humane Society relocated to Bellevue.

By the time the new shelter opened in 1982, SAS was taking in around 15,000 animals a year.

“The dogs that were in the kennels weren’t here very long,” Graves said.

Through better education and offering low-cost spaying and neutering, annual intake was hovering between 6,000 and 8,000 animals when Graves arrived at SAS in 2000.

There is no mandate in Washington to compel municipalities to provide animal control and shelters, Graves said, and the City of Seattle has supported SAS since 1972. But that funding does fluctuate, depending on economic factors and competing needs, she said, covering basic operations and staffing.

What has allowed SAS to be more progressive in its mission is the Seattle Animal Shelter Foundation, Graves said, which raises funds for equipment, programs and facility improvements.

“Because they laid the groundwork, it’s been able to really grow and expand,” said SASF president Sue Boivin of the volunteers that started the foundation seven years ago.

SASF hit its $1 million mark for foundational gifts to the shelter this year.

“The things that we help construct, just beyond the programs, there’s been a lot of physical improvements,” Boivin said.

The foundation provided funding to replace chain-link kennels with walls and glass doors, some of which are frosted on the bottom to reduce stress; pumping in classical music also helps. National Veterinary Association volunteers created scenic paintings on the backs of the kennels.

Several kennels were empty on April 25, which Graves said was a good thing.

SASF provided the funding to renovate the shelter’s cat and critter rooms in 2015.

The cat adoption room was relocated and transformed from rows of cages to larger shelter spaces with windows instead of bars. Where the adoption room used to be there is now one of two cat-roaming rooms with climbing structures.

“Literally, on this wall was a rack of stainless-steel cages,” Graves said. “This is the next and best thing to being in a house.”

The added space has helped reduce stress for the cats, she said, and the shelter has seen a decrease in upper respiratory problems.

That same year SASF also provided funding to create a veterinary exam room.

“This used to be our euthanasia room,” Graves said.

SAS does still euthanize certain animals, but it’s usually due to behavioral issues or when an animal comes in with severe injuries, Graves said. A municipal shelter, SAS conducts numerous animal cruelty investigations every year.

Before someone surrenders an animal to SAS, it’s usually the first question they ask.

“The term ‘no-kill’ is a loaded term,” Graves said. “It’s a term that I think was weaponized in its early days, in its early uses.”

SAS has an 90 percent average live-release rate, and its intake is now around 3,500 to 4,000 animals each year, Graves said, which is half what it was when she started at the shelter 19 years ago.

The shelter has 40 dogs runs and capacity for 75 cats. The amount of critters — birds, rodents and reptiles — depends on the species.

While spaying and neutering has helped lower the population of animals coming into SAS, fostering has helped save lives and provide more time for them to be rehabilitated and socialized, Graves said. When the shelter gets too full, SAS puts out a plea to its volunteers.

“If the animal is showing any kind of shelter stress, we send in the foster parents,” Boivin said. “These foster parents, they are the unsung heroes.”

Boivin said the foundation has helped save 180 animals from being euthanized since its inception.

“Sometimes it might take two weeks,” she said. “Sometimes it might take six months but, whatever it takes, we are dedicated to making sure these animals get into the right homes.”

The foundation’s last major gift was a digital X-ray machine in 2017. An old closet became the X-ray room. It saves time when an injured animal comes in, and is also more cost-effective than taking the injured dog or cat to a private clinic.

“We investigate animal cruelty,” Graves said, “and a significant part of an animal cruelty investigation is going to include X-rays.”

The X-ray room was named in honor or Ziva, a recently retired Seattle Police K-9 officer. She and partner Officer Mark Wong were strong supporters of SAS, Graves said, helping to raise funds for the shelter over the years. Ziva now lives with Wong, who has a new K-9 partner, Katniss.

Boivin said the reason the foundation has been so successful in the last seven years is due in part to its board members bringing their own skill sets to the table — a marketer, attorney, recruiter and financial expert, to name a few.

“We’re boots on the ground. We actually do the work ourselves,” Boivin said, “and that helps with not spending our donors’ money, because we do it on a volunteer basis.”

SAS has been around for nearly 50 years, but its volunteer program didn’t start until 1997. SAS logged 62,890 volunteer hours in 2018.

“It was hard work to get it in place, and it’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” Graves said.

SASF is taking over the organization of this year’s Furry 5-K on Sunday, June 9, at Seward Park. This is the fun run/walk’s 20th anniversary, and it consistently brings in around $60,000 to $70,000 for the shelter’s Healthy Animals Fund.

“We’re very lean here,” Graves said, “so it takes a lot to organize and produce an event like that.”

“It’s a huge dog fest,” Boivin said. “It’s everyone here you’d want to meet, because everyone loves animals.”

Because this year’s event is not being organized by the city, the Furry 5-K will have a beer garden, Boivin said, which is being sponsored by Tito’s Vodka.

There will be donor opportunities and an open registration that day, which is where the event receives most of its profits, Boivin said. People can register now at furry5k.com.

When the Seattle Animal Shelter opened at 2061 15th Ave. W., Interbay was a quieter neighborhood.

“The area has definitely developed at a very fast clip,” Graves said.

The increase in activity has created more visibility for SAS, she said, which helps getting people in the door and animals adopted. It also makes it harder to walk the dogs. The once quiet alleyway behind the shelter is now more of a roadway, so additional safety measures have been put in place over the years.

There are volunteers like Carla Kotila who would like to see the city explore replacing the 37-year-old facility with a new shelter.

“It’s fine for the cats and critters,” Kotila said, “but the dogs could use more space.”

Kotila would like to see some of the Washington Army National Guard’s 26-acre armory site — south of SAS — dedicated for a new facility. Planning for the property’s future — should the National Guard relocate to North Bend — started last September.

“I’ve already sent in my blurb,” Kotila said of the Washington State Department of Commerce’s request for ideas. “I don’t really have a distinct proposal for it other than it would be a great place for the animal shelter.”

That decision would ultimately have to be made by the City of Seattle. Seattle Humane’s new 57,000-square-foot facility cost $28.5 million, and was all privately funded.

“The board is a separate entity,” Boivin said, “and we work together on figuring out how to grant funds, but the shelter usually initiates the cause.”

While not something that’s being looked at seriously at the moment, the facility’s future is an ongoing conversation, Graves said.

“We can only remodel so many times in so many ways.”

Find more information about SAS, visit seattle.gov/animalshelter. Find out more about SASF and ways to support the shelter at seattleanimalshelterfoundation.org.