By T.L. Petersen
Observer Staff Writer
Some were sick.
Some were scared.
Some were fearful.
Some had problems requiring patience and forgiveness.
All reached out beyond language and made a connection.
While sad and tragic stories are easy to come by walking past the kennels and cat cages at the Blue Mountain Humane Societys Louise McNeely Memorial Animal Shelter south of La Grande, there is another set of stories not so easily seen.
Christine Kelly adopted a small mixed cocker spaniel at the shelter after looking for quite a while.
We had a puppy, but it died in just a week, Kelly says, but then (the shelter staff) helped us find (another dog).
Kelly said she needed to find a smaller dog, in part to help her son overcome his nervousness around dogs.
For Kelly, the adoption process went easily.
She was terrific right away, Kelly said. The dog pushed out a screen in a door, but otherwise seemed to adapt well.
While the Kelly story is a joy to hear and all is well, not every adoption goes as smoothly or easily. Most pets find themselves at the shelter looking for new homes because something hasnt worked out at the last home.
Sometimes the problem is simply a mismatch between animal and human. The puppy got too big, or got too hairy. Or the human developed an allergy to feline dandruff.
Sometimes the needs of humans and pets change. Training an active puppy became too much for the human inhabitants. A household with small children didnt fit the needs of a timid, nervous dog.
Sometimes, the right person is waiting at the shelter.
Wilma Page has seen hundreds of animals come into the shelter and go out. As a part-time receptionist, Page, a retired nurse, talks to dozens of people every week about their animals.
Living alone in a mobile home, Page avoided getting too attached to any of the animals until Reggie came along.
Unlike the majority of dogs at the shelter, Reggie came from a noble lineage, complete with American Kennel Club registration and a family tree.
But the little 9-month-old Shih Tzu came with a problem.
He wasnt housebroken. The former owners thought that perhaps something had gone wrong when Reggie was neutered, because his housebreaking seemed to disappear.
But Page, who is disabled, decided to see if she and the little dog could make a happy household with patience and some retraining.
It was a problem for a while, Page admits. There were little accidents.
But Page had patience. The accidents have just about disappeared, and Reggie has become less fearful.
Reggie no longer automatically scoots under the seat when hes in Pages car and someone walks by. Hes learning to accept people in her home.
Reggie follows Page from room-to-room now, sometimes getting in a mood to play and grabbing a piece of clothing to lure her into a game of chase.
And Reggie has proven to be a good neighbor, not starting any arguments with the dogs next door who share a fence with him.
I think hes a lover, not a fighter, Page says, cuddling Reggie close to her face.
It wasnt quite so easy to cuddle Kane when he first went home with animal control officer Becky Maddock.
Maddock knew what she was in for, taking the less than year-old German Shepherd home.
She had picked him up as a stray more than once, and watched him move through three homes.
At one home, Kane was too big and too excitable, a common problem with large-breed pups. At another, he kept getting out of the yard. One former owner told Maddock that Kane played too rough.
Then Maddock decided to take him home.
You can tell hes not loved here, jokes Charlie Maddock as Kane plops himself on top of the Maddocks son, Keith, 11, who has been trying to sleep .
Keith has turned the troublesome pup into a 100-pound champion. Working in a 4-H dog obedience group, Keith showed Kane named by Keith for a television wrestling star to an obedience championship and a reserve championship in showmanship during last Augusts Union County Fair.
In October, Keith showed his dog at the American Kennel Club dog show in Boise.
With a shove, Keith Maddock attempts to get out of bed. Move!, he demands of Kane.
With a lolling tongue, Kane moves. A little.
Sometimes adoption stories at the shelter reach out and touch hearts.
When Lori Fite of Union heard about Ginger, she knew this was one shelter resident that was coming home.
Ginger is a dairy goat, a friendly young animal who had a bit of bad fortune.
When the goat was turned over to the shelter, it was clear that something had mangled one of the animals rear legs, near the hoof.
Fite, known to some as the goat lady, came to see Ginger and quickly loaded her up in the familys club-cab pickup.
But this adoption cost more than just an adoption fee.
Ginger needed veterinary care.
That foot, when we unwrapped it I couldnt believe someone had left it like that, Fite recalls.
Most of the goats foot had to be amputated, leaving only a small stump and a sliver of hoof.
Ginger doesnt seem to mind, joining Fites three pygmy goats in nuzzling visitors fingers for a handout.
The Fites dont regret their decision to adopt and care for Ginger.
Its part of the responsibility of having animals, Fite says. You have to give them attention when they need it.
That attention can start even before animals find a new home.
Shelter volunteer Connie Kain adopted a calico cat named Tiger from the animal shelter almost two years ago.
I really enjoy her, Kain says of Tiger.
But Kain enjoys all the cats and kittens at the shelter. She usually visits the cats five days a week.
Kain gets to know the cats and kittens as individuals, playing with them on the floor of the kitten room, giving hours of human contact and grooming to the adult cats. She can tell people looking for a cat to adopt which ones might be good lap cats, or which ones have a calm temperament to deal with children.
Kains own cat, Tiger, likes to go places with me, she says, even though the relationship at first appeared to be a matter of need.
She just clung to me, Kain remembers. Now though, Tiger is defined as very loving.
Evie Bull spent more than three years before the right dog for came to the shelter.
A board member and volunteer at the shelter, Bull handled hundreds of dogs, often conducting the temperament tests to decide if a dog was adoptable.
Then came Flea.
Flea is an 18-pound solid black Schipperke, a dog breed originally from Belgium and used on canal boats as an alarm system.
Flea was picked up and brought to the shelter as a stray, found wandering beside Highway 203 between Hot Lake and the Flying J truck plaza.
The little dog had had a rough go of it. He was thin and infested with fleas, and he had kennel cough.
When Bull saw him at the shelter just before Thanksgiving, she decided to foster him at her home for the holiday and try to work on ridding him of the fleas and healing him.
Flea had found a home.
Bull made the adoption official, then spent more than $100 getting Flea back to glistening health. Bull estimates that attending to Fleas various health problems took more than a month of time, including frequent baths, medicine, good nutrition and vet care.
But Flea is perfect for us, Bull says. The dog can be indoors or outdoors and loves attention.
On their small acreage, Flea rides on the back of the four-wheeler and regularly checks all the corners of the horse barn, coming at a ground-covering dash when Bull calls for him.
For me, hes about the best dog I can imagine, says Bulls husband, Michael, who isnt a strong dog-lover.
Flea isnt young, perhaps as old as 5 to 10, but thats OK with Bull.
Sometimes Bull wonders about Fleas past. Was he a pet that got stolen? Did he escape from a traveling family and get lost?
Bull will never know, but she suspects someone somewhere is missing the little dog.
It taught her a lesson.
The only way to guarantee that youll get your pet back is to microchip it, she says. If someone steals a dog, theyll take the collar off first.
Flea, Bull says, wont be lost as long as she can do anything about it.
Flea, Ginger, Reggie, Tiger, Kane and dozens and dozens of other animals have gone home for good.