AlternativeHumane Society seeks to save lives of strays

Published on Thu, Aug 11, 2005 by ack Kintner

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Alternative Humane Society
seeks to save lives of strays

By Jack Kintner

The first thing that Sue Atchison of Blaine wants you to know about the Alternative Humane Society (AHS) of Whatcom County is that she needs help housing stray cats and dogs.

“We get from five to a dozen calls each day,” Atchison said recently, “and while we cooperate with other area agencies, we have a huge need for foster homes, people willing to take a lost or abandoned animal in and care for it as if it were their own until it can be placed.”

The next thing she wants people in Blaine and Birch Bay to know is the total number of foster households available in our area. “One,” said her husband Paul, a former executive with Nabisco. “The one in Blaine is for dogs, and there’s one in the Custer area, too, but we’d like to get more in this area if we could.”

The AHS recently celebrated 28 years with an informal birthday party in Bellingham. The agency does not practice euthanasia, the killing of unwanted or abandoned cats and dogs, so when an animal is referred to them they try to find what they call a foster placement, a householder willing to accommodate a dog or cat for a few days to a few months until adopted into a new home.

Dangerous or seriously injured animals are referred to other agencies, such as the Whatcom County Humane Society with whom Atchison’s group works. “We have a good relationship with them,” she said, “because we each serve our purposes.”

Even though the non-profit agency covers all medical costs and further supports foster households by helping out with food and litter expenses, the lack of people who can provide temporary placement is the factor that most often limits their ability to deal with a stray or lost pet.

The Atchisons moved to Semiahmoo three years ago from Issaquah after Sue ended a career in the marketing department of Nordstrom’s. She became involved with the Alternative Humane Society and has been its president for the last two years. In that time, the AHS has adopted out 627 animals and has paid for spaying or neutering 1,153 cats and dogs.

“When we get a call,” Atchison said, “we try to identify the animal by looking for collars or microchips and by running classified ads for at least three days. The animals are checked by a vet and if unclaimed are also spayed or neutered.”

“They have a tough job,” said local veterinarian Jack Schuman, “especially dealing with all the cats that need to be neutered, both domestic ones and the large population of feral cats in the area.” Schuman, who has served on the board for the Whatcom County Humane Society, said that the two agencies work together well. “The dangerous or badly injured animals go to the county facility, where they belong,” Schuman said.

The animals often come with heart-wrenching stories. “A family in the county found a small, very thin, friendly and sweet stray Calico near their home,” Atchison said, “and outside of the neighbor across the street, the nearest neighbor is five miles away. The family checked with their neighbors and no one knew this kitty. In all likelihood she had been dumped to fend for herself. She was extremely hungry and thirsty. The family took her in and started caring for her, calling AHS for assistance. One of our foster homes just had their foster cat adopted and upon hearing about Chloe, instantly said they would take her in. Well, Chloe was vet checked and instead of being a kitten as all thought because of her size, it turned out she was actually two years old. Chloe is now being pampered in her foster home, while waiting to be adopted.”

Atchison told other stories that were tougher to hear, accounts of people throwing animals out of moving vehicles or disposing of unwanted animals in sealed containers. On the other hand, many animals come to the AHS from people no longer able to care for them and need a way to pass them on to someone else responsibly, she said.

To become a foster home for pets, Atchison said that potential volunteers are screened with a home visit, and may or may not have other pets. Usually a home will host either cats or dogs.

Volunteers unable to provide a space in their house for fostering can help as intake workers and can help supervise, or “coach,” foster caregivers in caring for animals. Currently the agency has about 45 volunteers “but we can always use more,” Atchison said.

The AHS, which has no connection with a similarly named agency operated out of a private home in Bellingham, is best known as the group that shows adoptable animals at the Bellingham Petsmart store at 4379 Guide Meridian, near Costco. It’s a good time to talk to volunteers about becoming involved. Hours are Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday 12:30 to 5 p.m. and the first and third Mondays of each month from noon until 4 p.m. For more information call 360/671-7445 or go to the AHS website at