The Vest Says It All
Kauai Humane Society’s novel Field Trip Program allows people to take a dog or two out for a day of fun, and it often results in an adoption. It’s just one service the society performs for the people and animals of the Garden Isle
You can’t help but notice the dozens of hopeful eyes peering at you from metal cages at Kauai Humane Society — they belong to the many cats and dogs awaiting their forever home.
“Definitely get your animals spayed and neutered because it really helps in the long run,” says Benjamin Osorno, animal-control officer at KHS.
One of the main problems the island faces when it comes to animals is that pet owners neglect to do just that. Failing to curtail population growth contributes to the increase in population at the animal-welfare shelter. The good news is that there are programs attempting to alleviate this issue. Field Trip and Shelter Pet Transfer Programs have increased the chances of animals finding homes in recent years.
“Being on an island, there are only so many people and so many homes that can take in more animals,” says Dawn Ushio, KHS’s longtime staff veterinarian.
The Pet Transfer Program or “Aloha Escorts” works in partnership with Alaska Airlines. Travelers can volunteer to escort a dog or cat on a flight to the Mainland, where the animals are transferred to an affiliate shelter in order to gain exposure and increase their odds of adoption. The cost to bring the animal on the flight is absorbed by the airline. More than 350 animals were transferred during the 2015 fiscal year, and the program continues to grow.
Also boosting adoption rates is the Field Trip Program. Visitors can take a shelter dog (or two) on a field trip for a day to accompany them on adventures like trekking mountains or playing at the beach. Not only do the dogs get to stretch their legs, socialize and just plain have fun, but visitors get to enjoy the companionship of a dog while they’re on vacation. The best part about the program is that some people end up bringing dogs home with them.
When asked about the best part of his job, Osorno replies, “Finding a better outcome for an animal that’s been living in a horrible situation.”
Even though there can be fairy tale endings, problems still abound when it comes to animal neglect and abuse on the island.
“The animal situation here is kind of crazy,” says Osorno.
He’s had to face plenty of unpleasant circumstances where animals were treated unfairly.
“The animals don’t have voices,” says Osorno, who enjoys his a role of speaking up for them.
Despite coming across some unfavorable conditions, he tries to take everything in stride.
“I like the moments where you can deal with cruelty and neglect, and turn those situations into something positive,” says the Kauai High School grad.
Jason Oune, also an animal-control officer at KHS, agrees.
“I like the job and it’s to help. That’s the main reason I came back,” says the Kauai native, who recently returned to work at KHS after many years. One of the best parts of his job is returning lost animals to their rightful owners. He makes sure to remind people that the only way this is possible is if pets have identifying microchips. Without them, owners might not have a chance at being reunited with their pets.
These qualities of the job are why Oune and Osorno consider themselves “case workers” for animals. Some pets are happily reunited with their owners, while others are rescued from neglectful and abusive owners.
“With this job, you never really know what’s going to happen next, especially being on call,” says Osorno, whose shifts can last up to 24 hours. “You never know what the day will bring.”
But whatever the case may be, he says, “It’s for the animals.”
Ushio agrees regarding her role as a veterinarian.
“It’s a very meaningful job,” she says. “You’re doing something for the community, for people. It’s always rewarding to see that you’re helping not just the individual animals, but the people.”
There are new projects on the horizon at KHS that will continue to help firm the bond between human and animal. For example, its spay and neuter program will expand, along with the pet food pantries on the South Shore and Westside. A long-term goal is to have a low-income wellness clinic that can provide basic veterinary care to those in need.
Still, the most meaningful way for employees to provide aid to animals at KHS seems to be universal.
“The best part is finding a human match for them,” says Ushio.
Visit kauaihumane.org for more information.