Eagle Valley Human Society offers adoptions, disaster relief and abuse investigations for pets.
By Phil Lindeman
Over the past year, a disturbing trend has caught the attention of Char Quinn. As local families continue to struggle with a harrowing economy, the executive director of the Eagle Valley Humane Society has seen pets get lost in the swirl of salary cuts, job losses and home foreclosures. In an average year, she deals with roughly 100 cases of reported animal cruelty, most involving pets that aren’t fed properly or simply abandoned. But since last summer, that number has been close to 200, and she expects to handle more before the end of the year.
At her job with the nonprofit, Quinn wears many hats, including animal trainer, adoption coordinator and lead fundraiser – a ‘50s prom event at Route 6 Café in EagleVail this Saturday is one of dozens held throughout the year. But the cruelty investigations have become worrisome enough that one of her part-time employees, Michelle Teeters, recently became a certified agent with the Bureau of Animal Protection. The local case load was too much for Quinn to handle – until this summer, she was the only agent in the area – and although the trend is frightening, she believes the Humane Society and concerned residents are taking the necessary steps to help area pets.
“In the past 12 months, we’ve seen a definite increase in the number of investigations – people are aware of us and, more importantly, feel comfortable calling,” Quinn says. “I always tell people there’s nothing wrong with a false alarm. Even if you’re unsure, it’s always smart to call.”
Although Quinn occasionally goes to court as an expert witness, she is quick to note that the majority of cases aren’t extreme. Most involve an animal – usually a horse – that is left unattended, which attracts the attention of concerned neighbors. But the law is clear-cut when it comes to criminal cruelty, and most owners simply need to be reminded of the proper way to care for an animal. Of the 200 cases, only a handful resulted in criminal charges.
When Quinn receives a call about a mistreated pet, she follows a strict protocol: She makes a house call, interviews the owners, investigates the animal’s environment and, if she believes the situation is dire enough, works with the Eagle County Sheriff’s Department to remove the animal. Like Teeters, Quinn also went through a federal training program, which is commissioned by the Department of Agriculture. Unlike many counties across the state, where agents are part of a governmental body, Eagle County only has Quinn and Teeters at the nonprofit. This gives them a unique angle on the problem, and helps Quinn handle situations more delicately for the benefit of the animal and owner.
“A lot of the time, people just need a bit of education,” Quinn says. “It doesn’t always involve a criminal charge or seizing the animals – it can be something as simple as a warning.”
A full-service organization
Although the cruelty investigations have eaten more time than in years past, the Humane Society is breaking new ground with a plethora of other services. Adoptions are still Quinn’s primary concern, working with a core group of volunteers to house dogs and cats as they wait for new owners. The society uses foster homes for all of the canines it takes in throughout the year, but it operates one of the area’s only cat-specific shelters. This service recently moved to a new, larger space near Pazzo’s in Eagle – perfect for energetic animals that love to roam – and Quinn hopes increased visibility will help the 22 abandoned cats quickly find homes.
“We’ve learned over the years that when cats are in foster homes, they think they’re actually home. They get very attached,” Quinn says. “People who are looking to adopt want to see them all together because they can easily see the differences. It’s better for the cats and people.”
Like many animal organizations, the humane society offers affordable spay and neuter services for adopted pets. Quinn says the program has been “very effective,” but notes that the county isn’t a hotbed for large, unwanted litters. The majority of animals up for adoption are adults with struggling owners – as with the cruelty cases, when people can barely afford food, pets often get forgotten.
Outside of adoptions and investigations, Quinn also leads the local branch of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Reserve Corps. The organization is like a Red Cross for animals, with veterinarians, vet techs and volunteers who travel to devastated communities in the wake of natural disasters. This summer alone, members of the corps have visited the Springer fire outside Denver and Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs to set up relief stations. In these emergencies, Quinn and others care for lost animals, giving the animals food, shelter and water until they can be reunited with their owners.
“With disaster relief, you need a lot of resources,” says Quinn, who became unit coordinator for the corps in February. “You have humane societies all over, but they can get crowded. What we do is not always easy, but it’s a disaster – those situations can be very stressful for animals.”
The fires in June and July made this summer particularly hectic, but Quinn was glad for the opportunity to help. She has been involved with disaster relief for several years, deploying nearly 20 times for major disasters, including tornadoes and floods outside of Colorado.
But Quinn’s job isn’t always weighty, and one of her favorite community activities is obedience training. She has visited the Minturn Market and other events to lead “Canine Good Citizen” programs, a course developed by the American Kennel Club to help owners as much as pets. As with everything the Humane Society does, the program is about education, not scolding.
“We really stress the owner/pet relationship,” says Quinn, who owns three dogs. “In fact, I really don’t like the word ‘obedience’ – I treat them more like kids and it works well.”