For 50 years, Harbor Humane Society has cared for and found homes for stray and surrendered cats, dogs, and other domestic animals. The West Olive shelter’s contract with Ottawa County to provide those services covers 10 to 15 percent of its $2 million budget. It vaccinates, neuters, and microchips animals before releasing them for adoption (and cats are always “buy one get one free”). On a typical day, close to 200 animals are in residence, an equal number may be in temporary foster homes, and 40 people — staff and volunteers — keep things humming. The agency plans to launch a capital campaign in 2024 to expand the facility.
Jen Self-Aulgur, Executive Director of Harbor Humane Society provided us with some answers as to what what the agency does and how community members can support its efforts.
Q: Traditional pet adoption isn’t the only thing you do. Tell us a bit about some of your other initiatives.
A: We want the best outcome for each individual animal. Traditional adoption may not be the path for some of our animals. We’ve been able to create a “return to field” program for cats that have been loose in a town; we figure out if they’ve been living outside, and if they have, they’re neutered and released outside. Our working cat program helps cats that don’t want to be house cats — they want to go catch mice. [Harbor Humane places them in settings such as barns, nurseries, and warehouses that offer shelter and a job to do.] Before, those animals would have been euthanized, and that’s not fair to them.
We have a foster program — it’s moms with kittens, mostly, especially in spring and summer. [In July, about 200 were in foster homes. They’re returned to the shelter when the kittens are old enough to be offered for adoption.] And all the puppies go into a home for two weeks to help them acclimate to a home and make sure the animals are healthy.
We also have a full-time community outreach coordinator, on a two-year grant from the Grand Haven Area Community Foundation and the Community Foundation of the Holland/Zeeland Area. She’s a social worker. A big part of her job is to support people who are facing either being unsheltered or crises of some sort, to help them get hooked up with resources to keep their animals. It includes a safe haven foster program; if they find themselves homeless for a short amount of time or are trying to leave a domestic violence situation, we can take their animal into a foster home, so they don’t lose the animal, and have time to figure things out. If people are having trouble with money for vaccines or food, they can reach out to us, because we have a number of programs whose intent is to keep pets in their homes.
Q: What trends do you see nationally, and what’s the situation at Harbor Humane?
A: I don’t like to use the term “no kill shelter,” because it makes a shelter out to be a bad guy. There are, unfortunately, shelters that are forced to euthanize due to time and space. Luckily, Harbor Humane isn’t one of those. We’ve come a long way. I’ve been in sheltering for 20 years and we definitely have seen a huge increase in live release by adoption or a return to the owner.
Nationwide, shelters are experiencing large populations of dogs, especially large breed dogs, which can be harder to place. 2020, during the pandemic, was a record adoption year for us — everyone was home, so everyone wanted a pet. We haven’t seen those pets being returned, but we have seen the amount of strays increase, and the number of people who want to surrender pets for various reasons.
Q: How can people support Harbor Humane Society’s work?
A: What I love about this community is we put a need out and it’s answered. People come through in force and that support is amazing to see.
Adoption, obviously. And our volunteers are critical. The fulltime staff don’t have the capacity do all the fun things with the animals; we need volunteers to really give them attention and some love, like take dogs for walks and play with the cats.
We also always need donations, both monetary and of items: cat and dog food, wet and dry — gently used blankets and towels — paper towels — even empty medication bottles. We reuse them for animals’ medications.
Q: What would you most like people to know about shelter animals?
A: They aren’t broken. They are victims of circumstances and have ended up in a shelter for reasons beyond their control, typically — and they are wanting families. They are loving family members and just need someone to take a chance on them.