Orange County Make the Shelter Your Last Resort


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Can’t keep your pet? OC Shelter Partners can help.

Imagine you’re 85 years old and your dog is the only one keeping you company day and night, always by your side. You love your dog and he loves you— you’re a perfect team, totally in tune with each other. But recently, you’ve been noticing that it’s getting harder to take care of both yourself and the dog. You begin to worry about how long you’ll be able to take care of your dog, as you rely more and more on other people to help you with your own daily, routine activities. Will you have to turn your best friend over to a shelter?

Every year, 6.5 million companion animals enter animal shelters, reports the ASPCA, many for this very reason: people get older and sometimes sick, and they become dependent on others for their own care. They believe they have no choice but to relinquish their beloved pets to the local animal shelter or rescue mission.

Luckily, people like Liz Hueg know that the best place for a dog is with its owner, and no one can take better care of Fido than his own family. And if that’s not a possibility, then rehoming is the next best thing. That’s why San Clemente resident Hueg founded OC Shelter Partners in 2015—she made it her mission to help keep pets together with people, especially their original owners. In her first 12 months, she saved more than 1,000 pets from the county shelter and, since then, OC Shelter Partners, a 501(c) (3) charity, has helped countless others stay where they belong: at home. Staffed 100 percent by volunteers, every penny the organization receives goes toward helping pets in need and keeping them at home with loving families.

“You’d be surprised by how many pet owners come to the shelter out of desperation, either because of economic issues or a lack of knowledge about available options,” Hueg says. “Quite often, the problems that brought them to the shelter are easily solved.”

Liz Hueg at work

These problems can include a lack of training, lifestyle changes, health issues, a move to a new home, insufficient time or energy for the pet, and many other complicated issues. OC Shelter Partners addresses all these problems, and they find solutions. Where necessary, the organization can direct pet owners to partners who can provide free or discounted food, veterinary care, flea treatments, training, and spay and neuter services. The staff at OC Shelter Partners analyzes each pet owner’s situation and finds a way to turn it around, connecting their partners with the people who wish to keep their furry friends at home.

Hueg has met many people who thought taking their pets to the shelter was their only option. One client felt he had to give up his dogs, because he traveled a lot for work. Hueg found a partner who could offer low-cost doggie day care, and the pet owner was able to keep his pets.

Hueg told the story of an 11-month-old pit bull’s owner who spent thousands of dollars trying to cure his dog’s severe mange. Hueg recommended a specialist, an OC Shelter Partner, who provided services at a discount. It only took three months of medication to restore the dog to health.

“On any given day, sitting in that room with these families, you see the best of the best and the worst of the worst,” she told the Orange County Register. “You see people who are surrendering pets they desperately love because they know something is wrong and they can’t afford the care. When we can help them … it’s amazing.”

Another client was moving to an area known for its coyote population—he didn’t feel he could bring his two cherished dogs to such a place, so keeping his pets wasn’t an option. Hueg offered to find a foster home for his dogs, and the client agreed. Through a partner, she found the dogs a loving home, and the pet owner was relieved, knowing his dogs were together, receiving care and affection.

“Our program is equal parts reward and challenge,” Hueg reveals. “We face thankfully, our core group of volunteers has the experience and depth of knowledge to turn them around. It isn’t easy but, then again, nothing worthwhile ever is.”

She looks forward to a day when she can expand her operation to other shelters. “I would love to have a bigger network of volunteers so that we can go around to other shelters and help them put intervention programs in place,” says Hueg.

Whether you’re having issues with taking care of your pets or moving them to a new place with you, it’s comforting to know that you have other options besides surrendering them to the authorities.

And if you’re looking for a way to volunteer or give back, consider volunteering for OC Shelter Partners’ kitten bottle feeding foster program, which gives young shelter kittens their only chance to live. Since the foster program started three years ago, more than 750 kittens have been saved through the tireless efforts of volunteer bottle feeders.

Remember, leaving your pet at a shelter isn’t the only solution. Make it your last resort!

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