Make the difference
MINOT – It can be difficult working with animals, but Souris Valley Animal Shelter seems to have found a way to help several animals in the Minot area.
SVAS Executive Director Shelby Waters, of Enid, Oklahoma, said when she moved to Minot in late 2018 and started working for SVAS, she wanted to turn the shelter into a completely fearless animal shelter. , clean and safe for both the animals inside and the people entering.
When Waters moved to Minot, she said the building was closed and the office was in a small temporary shelter with no air conditioning while the current shelter was renovated.
When COVID-19 made all shelter staff distancing, they were able to develop new software and technology that made distancing easier.
“We didn’t need everything on paper anymore, everything was electronic,” Waters said. “It worked wonderfully. We’ve gotten really, really good at it.
Waters’ husband, who was in the Air Force, was stationed at Minot in 2018, and Waters became the shelter’s executive director at the end of that year.
“This entire building was created in my vision, from floor to ceiling,” Waters said. “My design. Ackerman Estvold brought it to life for us. I literally collected every penny to build this building.
The original building was worth around $60,000, and after the renovation is now worth $3.8 million, according to SVAS media coordinator Siri Aponte.
Waters said that after the renovation, her husband had the option of returning to Oklahoma, where they both are from, for pilot training, and that she planned to just leave the shelter permanently, until the board asked her to be the Executive Director at a distance due to her experience, references and contacts with donors.
There are benefits to being remote, says Waters, which includes the ability to focus on her exact job and not be dragged into other jobs if she lived in Minot.
“Before, I was constantly in the back doing things,” Waters said. “There are a lot of distractions in animal shelters. I still exercise all the functions of a general manager. Most CEOs in a leadership role in a multi-million dollar organization focus on finance, data, all that paperwork, so I’ve never been an executive in the field.
Waters was able to showcase the building’s model nationwide, and she says it has become the gold standard for fearless shelters, which many shelters are copying across the country.
The process of modifying the shelter involved developing a floor plan and attempting to obtain initial donations from committed donors.
“It was a really tough start,” Waters said.
Waters designed the building to be an open space allowing the animals to roam more freely.
“It makes them happier, which makes them healthier, which makes them
easier to adopt them,” Waters explained. “We have separate air intake systems so if you’re allergic to cats and you go into the dog area you won’t know. We have North Dakota’s first indoor dog park. We have a full-time medical team and a clinic.
Dogs come from different backgrounds, but many of them come from owners who just can’t handle them.
“80% of our animals don’t have any medical or behavioral issues,” Waters explained. “We take 20% who do. We always help animals that are difficult to place, we just do it on a smaller scale.
The shelter pays attention to the number of animals it takes in so as not to overload the system. However, this results in a waiting list for animals with medical issues. Many of these animals are rescued from shelters that would otherwise have euthanized them. After their rescue, they are often placed in the foster program.
“We have over 200 people in our host program,” Waters said.
The shelter has several teams, including the animal care team, the adoption team, the medical team and the operations team.
“Where we’re different from all the other shelters in town is that we use the Animal Shelter Manager, which is an online software,” Waters said. “I have an app that shows me everything. Their medical records, who they are, what kind of enrichment they got.
The shelter can house up to 86 animals, including those in the foster care program. Waters said the shelter is always looking for more adoptive volunteers.
“What care ability means is that every animal we care for can have our full attention,” Waters explained. “Where the bottleneck occurs is our medical team. When you have 86 animals, that’s a lot of medical care and we only have three people.
Waters said the shelter is looking to hire anyone, whether or not they have medical expertise.
For those looking to buy an animal, Waters says adoption is a better deal than buying an animal from the pet store, and the animal from that shelter would also be better cared for.
“A St. Bernard in a pet store costs $1,900,” Waters explained. “We get at least 10 St Bernards a year that are purebred, just owner surrender or from a case of neglect. You pay $200 to an animal shelter, and they do their medical, it’s vaccines, it’s microchipped. At a pet store, for $1,900, you get none of that.
These cost reductions come from grants often from private companies, and sometimes from individuals, although no funding comes from the government.
Waters said the Minot Pound is the last high-mortality shelter in the state and is the reason North Dakota is not a kill-free state.
“A kill-free state means 90 percent of the animals are saved in your state,” Waters said. “Only 10% are euthanized. Minot Pound does not have a good save rate. They do not allow adoptions or for us to shoot animals. If you are an animal there, I hope your owner comes to pick you up, because legally they only keep you for three days and you are euthanized. There is no law prohibiting SVAS from shooting animals, they just make that choice. I guess they find it embarrassing.
Waters said that as the Minot Pound wants to become a no-kill facility, SVAS has hundreds of thousands of grant dollars they could receive to physically enter and help them.
“National organizations that really want North Dakota to be a kill-free state have a program where I could literally go do their finances for them or I could help them download the animal shelter manager,” Waters said. “It would be really easy, they just don’t want to do it.”
Waters said if North Dakota went no-kill, it would be the fourth state to do so.
SVAS was created to be a “fearless” facility.
“We’re literally practicing things that don’t scare the animal,” Waters said. “Our cat kennels are plastic on metal, so when you close the door it doesn’t ring in the cat’s ear. When people say you mean you designed this floor to ceiling, I have I literally designed these custom doors. I scoured 40 different terrains to find the best one for the dog park. I had hundreds of sample tiles to choose the right color from. So I literally thought of everything.
Waters said Fear Free is a national organization in which every SVAS employee is certified.
Waters doesn’t just do this for the animals, as she says the animal shelter is a matter of public safety to keep diseases, bacteria, and parasites from spreading even to humans. She also said all other animal shelters in Minot were running out of homes, and she said it was unhealthy for the animals and those who housed them.
“We always ask ourselves as we work, is this fear free? Am I practicing without fear? said Aponte. “That’s why we separate dogs and cats, because mixing them is not without fear.”
Waters said SVAS has a great relationship with Turtle Mountain Animal Rescue.
“They’re famous and really cool,” Waters said. “He comes out of a house, but they built a carport for”
Waters said Turtle Mountain used to fight disease, but Waters offered to pay staff to come for free and change their shelter to be healthier for the animals.
“Now he’s building his own shelter and using our floor plans,” Waters said. “It’s really a great relationship. He’s really famous. We are nationally recognized, but Keith is famous for his emergency response. Financially we are bigger, but in terms of animals and popularity, Keith beats us.
Waters said the shelter is always looking for donations, including cat food, Hills Pet Nutrition dog food, unscented cat litter, paper towels, trash bags, stamps, computer paper.
“You name it, we probably need it,” Waters said. The shelter still uses the same brand of dog food because Waters said it could cause the dog pain.
“We learned about different cats’ meows, and when it sounds different, we’re like, ‘That doesn’t sound like him,'” Aponte said.
More information about Souris Valley Animal Shelter can be found here.