Pets Without Partners in Redding
By Kimberly Boney
Story by Kimberly Bonéy
Photos by Alexis LeClair
THE LITTLE BOY looked at the sweet mass of rumpled fur and doe eyes with equal parts wonder and trepidation. He hesitated. The woman, sensing that there was something the little boy wasn’t quite able to articulate, said something profound: “I know you and your family lost your dog last year and I know how hard that must have been for you guys. I’m really sorry about that, buddy,” she said. “Do you think you have room in your heart to love another dog – this dog?” He looked at the dog for a moment, her sweet eyes peering through wiry golden strands, meeting his and flooding them with love. He nodded his head at the woman, looking up at her as his confidence mounted and a wide smile spread across his face.
This is the moment that Sarah Walton looks for when she is searching for the right home for an animal. She calls it the human-to-animal connection. “If you don’t have a person that is fully committed to that animal, you end up with an animal that will have to go through more changes – and that’s the last thing we want for them. Many people are qualified on paper, but until we see that connection, a person is not an official adopter. We don’t mind being picky because we know that, no matter what, that dog will always have a home with us,” Walton says.
Walton is the new chief financial officer of Pets Without Partners, a role she took over in August 2018 from the nonprofit organization’s founders, Laura and Wayne Rathe. She had been a volunteer for two years.
“Knowing that I had young children and recognizing that it might be a challenge, Laura knew I had the business sense to run the organization and had an established rapport with the other volunteers. We were in the middle of devastation from the Carr Fire. The thought of losing another positive thing about our community right after the fire didn’t sit well with me. Being able to provide animals for families with love and compassion – especially at that time when the community needed it so much – was a huge part of the motivation to keep it going,” says Walton.
With the support of her husband, George, her three children, Robert (13), Lexi (12) and Josh (9), in addition to a team of nine volunteers she says she “simply couldn’t do this without,” Walton took on the all-encompassing job of running Pets Without Partners. Everyone has a role to play in taking the best care of the animals.
Board President Paula Carpenter made a special connection with Walton when she first began volunteering with the organization. “I saw a dog that looked like the one I had just lost – and I was in tears. Paula put her hand on my shoulder and said to me, ‘You know, she could use a good home.’ If she hadn’t done that, I don’t know that I would be doing this,” says Walton.
Adoptions Coordinator Sam Pollard brings her deft organizational skills to the table. Walton insists that Pollard keeps her afloat. Volunteer Coordinator Tawny Sotelo brings knowledge and experience thanks to 12 years working as both a volunteer and a foster. The foster families that commit to loving these dogs through their sometimes-difficult circumstances round out the team of volunteers at Pets Without Partners.
George Walton took a month off from work to build an addition onto the back of their home to ensure there was a proper space to care for the animals – at least until the family can find a home that would accommodate more dogs and their family comfortably. “My kids provide emotional support for the animals. They are a huge part of the reason why these animals can go from severely traumatized to trusting people again. I always tell parents to get their kids involved in rescue, even if it is only to foster for a little while. Teaching empathy to our children is a nearly impossible task. They have to learn it by feeling it for something else.”
Walton acknowledges that the most difficult struggle for anyone who works in animal rescue is finding the balance between their family, their friends and caring for the animals: “It’s a constant job – one that often pulls you away from those who need you most. It weighs on us emotionally. It’s a hard place to be in. That’s why acknowledgement goes such a long way.”
“I grew up with a mom who rescued anything and everything. I always wanted to be a veterinarian. It just didn’t happen for me. Where I grew up in Campbell, near San Jose, there was always a huge problem with puppy mills. I never felt that those were a ‘normal’ thing. I knew early that puppies needed to be spayed or neutered. I’ve known since then that I wanted to make a difference.”
Taking in an estimated 40 animals a month, the team at Pets Without Partners specializes in special needs dogs, including pregnant moms, small breed dogs with babies, older dogs, those with cancer and owner surrenders. The organization takes in 50 percent of the animals from shelter-pulls throughout the state, including Haven Humane Society in Redding, ResQ Paws in Yuba City and Visalia Animal Services. The other 50 percent come from owner surrenders.
Pregnant moms and dogs with puppies are most vulnerable to euthanasia, as any dog that cannot be spayed or neutered is not viewed as adoptable. That’s why it’s hardest to find fosters willing to make the eight- to 10-week commitment to care for 10 dogs simultaneously – and why the Watson family has set up a kind of maternity ward for pregnant moms and those who have recently delivered at their home.
Pets Without Partners helps owners find options for pets they can’t care for any longer. “Our goal is never to judge – only to support people in caring for their animals. We invest in behavioral training and will help to re-home animals if there is no other option,” Walton says.
Pets Without Partners receives donations from community members, in addition to Costco and PetSmart. Each dog from Pets Without Partners is spayed or neutered, microchipped, has current vaccinations and comes with a bag of dog food. Adoption fees cover these costs, and any overages are put toward the care of other animals that come to the organization with major health needs.
“When you pay an adoption fee, you aren’t just taking care of one dog – you are saving two. Those fees help us to take care of cherry eye removal surgery and dental cleaning, amongst other more pressing medical needs for the animals that come to us,” says Walton.
While Walton acknowledges that even small donations make a huge difference for the animals, what is needed most are families willing to adopt, partnerships with local businesses to meet the needs of the organization and for people to do their part to encourage those around them to spay or neuter whenever possible. “Reach out to your neighbors and ask how you can help. Go to your vet and sponsor a spay or neuter for an animal. We need people to take the initiative to make a difference in their own communities. Overpopulation is more than an issue – it’s an epidemic.”
“Feed it, pet it and provide shelter for it and a dog will love you for a lifetime,” says Walton. “You might not be ready, but these animals certainly are. They need us.” •