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La Plata County Humane Society celebrates 50 years

Renovations and an adoption drive mark the shelter’s anniversary
Aidan Distasio with La Plata County Humane Society walks Peru on Wednesday through the shelter’s chain-link kennels, which will be replaced during a complete renovation of the facility. The renovation will improve the health and safety of the shelter’s pets, while also improving the experiences of those looking to adopt animals, said Emily Phillips, marketing and development manager for the Humane Society. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

For decades, La Plata County Humane Society has served homeless animals and families, offering adoptions and low-cost pet care to residents of La Plata County and Southwest Colorado.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary, the Humane Society aims to strengthen that legacy.

The shelter is set to host its biggest adoption drive of the year on Friday and Saturday, marking its first “Adopt-a-Thon” since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The nonprofit’s facility is also undergoing extensive renovations to make the shelter healthier and less stressful for both animals and those seeking to adopt.

While much has changed in the last five decades, the Humane Society is using its 50-year milestone to rededicate its work and meet the challenges created by the pandemic.

“The beginning of June is always our little kickoff point to our biggest season, which is summer, so we just thought it’d be a really good time to celebrate our work, celebrate the animals (and) push these adoptions to loving homes,” said Emily Phillips, marketing and development manager for the Humane Society.

Berry Crisp, a 2-month-old shepherd mix at the La Plata County Humane Society, is available for adoption. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, La Plata County Humane Society is holding its first Adopt-a-Thon since the COVID-19 pandemic, with the goal of adopting 50 animals over two days. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Humane Society’s annual Adopt-a-Thon will run Friday and Saturday with reduced adoption fees, sales at its thrift store and food and entertainment. It is the nonprofit’s first Adopt-a-Thon in three years.

In addition to its usual concession stand, the Humane Society will introduce “Yappy Hour,” which will feature cocktails and mocktails for sale from Thirsty Rooster Trailer Bar. All proceeds, along with those from the concession stand, will go to the Humane Society. The adoption drive will also have a raffle and lawn games, as well as live music on Saturday.

To commemorate its 50th anniversary, the Humane Society has set a goal of 50 adoptions.

The shelter was full as of last week and had approximately 100 animals in its care with about 60 dogs and 40 cats, Phillips said.

If you go

La Plata County Humane Society’s Adopt-a-Thon will take place from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Thirsty Rooster Trailer Bar will host “Yappy Hour” from 4 to 7 p.m. both days and the band Flyin Dirty will perform from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Saturday.

Dogs and cats are $20 and puppies and kittens are $40.

“We’re trying to make it a fun party but also really push the adoptions, which is what the event is about,” she said.

With its 50 adoption benchmark, the Humane Society wants to help homeless pets find families, but the nonprofit is also motivated by renovations at the shelter, which it has needed for more than a decade.

The Humane Society has spent half of its 50-year history at the shelter and thrift store located near Walmart in south Durango. It has renovated the facility twice before to expand capacity, but with a roof in need of replacement, decades-old kennels and a failing air-conditioning and heating system requiring staff members to wear jackets inside during the winter, the nonprofit decided it was time to redo much of the shelter.

“For the animals’ welfare, for the staff’s welfare, for visitors (and) volunteers, it was just time to pull the trigger and get this renovation done,” said Chris Nelson, director of animal services for the Humane Society.

The about $1.2 million project will fix the maintenance issues of the aging shelter while improving health and safety for the pets, staff members and prospective adopters.

The shelter’s concrete and tile floors will be replaced with epoxy that will be easier to clean and will look nicer. All of the kennels, which have become so old and worn that they have begun to cause injuries to the dogs, will be replaced with modern kennels, including new “quiet cottages” for puppies and small dogs, Nelson said.

Chris Nelson, director of animal services for La Plata County Humane Society, checks on a dog on Wednesday. The Humane Society is replacing the shelter’s concrete and tile floors with a new epoxy finish that will make the facility easier to clean and better for the animals in its care. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

“It’s showing the community that we’re reinvesting all the fundraising back into the shelter,” Phillips said. “... It’s just going to make the experience for both the animal and the adopter more enjoyable.”

Renovations will finish in August, but construction on the kennels will begin in July, at which point the Humane Society will have to move animals to other shelters until the work is done.

The Humane Society’s 50 pets for 50 years Adopt-a-Thon goal, as well as the nonprofit’s efforts to boost fostering over the two months, will help the shelter to transition more seamlessly into and out of construction.

Nelson’s hope is that the Humane Society will emerge with an updated shelter that helps the organization meet its mission.

“All of those things will help us just refocus back on our main task, which is taking care of the animals and providing as much help and support to the community as we can,” he said.

In the nearly 20 years that he has worked for the Humane Society, Nelson has watched and been a part of the shelter making progress toward that goal.

Chris Nelson, director of animal services for La Plata County Humane Society, walks through the shelter’s main entrance and reception area with new flooring on Wednesday. The Humane Society has made significant progress in reducing La Plata County’s animal population through its low-cost spay and neuter program. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

After its formation in 1971, La Plata County Humane Society went about 29 years before it had a veterinarian. The shelter now has a full-time veterinarian on staff who provides medical care for the animals and who helps to spay and neuter pets.

Over the last two decades, the Humane Society has strengthened its spay and neuter efforts, filling a void in low-cost services.

In the early 2000s, the shelter saw about 3,300 to 3,500 animals per year. But with the Humane Society’s work, that number is now down to about 2,500 animals per year, Nelson said.

With La Plata County’s animal population stretching the shelter’s resources less, euthanasias have also gone down.

“When I started back in the early 2000s, we were euthanizing 30% plus of the animals and now it’s less than 2%,” Nelson said. “We have no-kill status now because we have done the hard work.”

The Humane Society now offers low-cost vaccinations in addition to its low-cost spay and neuter services, as well as behavioral specialists who work with dogs after adoption and volunteers who serve as cat specialists.

Josh Godfrey spreads epoxy as Hezekiah Martin, both with Commercial Floor Services, holds the door open on Wednesday at the La Plata County Humane Society. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a setback for the Humane Society, but between its 50th anniversary and much needed renovations, the nonprofit aims to better serve homeless pets and families of La Plata County. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

But while the Humane Society has made progress over the last two decades, the pandemic has served as a major setback. The pandemic disrupted the shelter’s spay and neuter services, resulting in a large influx of animals this year, Nelson said.

“That’s what was so disappointing about COVID. A lot of the ground we made up in those 20 years was lost from one summer,” he said.

Amid the renewed challenge, the Humane Society’s 50th anniversary, the shelter’s renovations and celebrations like Adopt-a-Thon will serve as an opportunity for the nonprofit to rededicate its efforts and showcase its work.

“We’ve been doing this for over 50 years,” Phillips said. “This is what we want to continue to do to support the community.”


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