The Humane Society of Utah (HSU) was first established in 1960. Originally a branch of the Humane Society of the United States, HSU was incorporated as a private nonprofit in 1972. This means that HSU is an independent, local, private nonprofit that does not receive any ongoing support from any national organization. Instead, they work hard to raise every dollar they require through generous donations—donations that allow them to care for the needs of countless animals.
“Our main goal has always been to get animals into homes, keep animals in homes, and prevent the unnecessary destruction of animals,” says Vaughn Maurice, executive director of HSU. And while most people think of HSU as an animal shelter, the organization goes far beyond rescuing animals, implementing programs that help prevent the need for animals to come to a shelter in the first place.
More Than a Shelter
“Our main focus is to act as what we like to call a pet resource center,” Maurice explains. “This includes helping people keep their pets healthy, helping people keep their pets in their homes, and helping people rehome or surrender their pets if the need arises.”
Spaying, Neutering, and Vaccinating
A big part of the Humane Society of Utah’s mission is to offer low-cost spay or neuter surgeries. “We are able to do between 7,000 to 10,000 surgeries a year,” says Maurice. “We also provide low-cost vaccinations to the public that we can subsidize through donations, and we do about 130,000 vaccinations each year. This keeps pets healthy and out of the veterinarian’s office.” HSU has two spay/neuter and vaccine clinics, located in Murray and St. George.
Pet Retention, Rehoming, and Surrender
The Humane Society of Utah is also dedicated to working with pet owners who are experiencing hardship. “It’s heartbreaking to see people leaving our admissions office crying because they just had to part with their beloved family member,” says Deann Shepherd, director of marketing and communications at HSU. “If we can keep pets with their families, then that’s what we want to do. We can provide resources to help people find pet-friendly housing. We can help them with a pet deposit if that’s a hurdle that they’re facing. We can help them with pet food and supplies. If it’s a medical situation and the owner can’t afford to treat their pet, we’ll help with a lower-cost payment plan and work with them to get the animal treated so they can keep their pet and not have to surrender it.”
HSU also offers a private pet rehoming service that helps keep animals out of the shelter. “We can provide resources so that the animal can stay in their home and then go directly to someone else’s home,” Shepherd explains. “That reduces the stress on the animal because they aren’t coming into a shelter.” But if surrendering the pet becomes necessary, HSU will assist pet owners through that process as well.
“A lot of the animals that come to us are owner surrendered,” says Shepherd. “The owners have allergies, they’re moving, or they just don’t have the means to care for their animal. And we [do] not villainize these people, because they’re thinking about their pet’s needs first and turning to us for help as opposed to just abandoning the animal. We want to work with these people and not make them feel guilty for what they’re doing.”
Shepherd also emphasizes, “We do not euthanize any healthy or treatable animal. An animal can stay with us as long as it takes to find a home.”
Partnering with Other Shelters
The Humane Society of Utah’s animal shelter provides top quality care and has an outstanding adoption rate. In fact, on average, dogs are adopted within four days, and cats are adopted within seven days. That’s why HSU partners with municipal shelters throughout Utah as well as in neighboring states including Idaho, Wyoming, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and Texas.
“It’s so important for us to help these municipal shelters,” Shepherd says. “We’re a nonprofit and depend on donations to help these animals, but municipal shelters are even funded more poorly. They have space and time limitations. That’s why we transfer animals at risk of being euthanized from those shelters to our facility. It’s very important to us to work together as a community with the other municipal shelters to save more animals than we could just by ourselves.”
At the heart of HSU’s operations are its dedicated volunteers—those who do everything from greeting visitors to walking dogs to transferring animals from other shelters. HSU receives approximately 22,000 volunteer hours annually, with the number of recurring volunteers ranging from 150 to 200.
Barbara Rattle is one such volunteer. She has been dedicated to serving at HSU since her retirement in 2013. “I absolutely love animals, and I decided that’s where I could spend my time helping,” she says. Rattle performs a range of tasks such as doing laundry and washing dishes. “There’s never nothing to do,” she says, “but working with the shy cats is my absolute favorite.”
In fact, Shepherd says that an important part of volunteering is interacting with the animals at the shelter—everything from dogs, cats, and rabbits to guinea pigs, hamsters, and mice. “We want to get the dogs out of their kennels throughout the day for potty breaks as well as to have enrichment time spent with people. And we want to make sure that all animals here have enrichment time,” she explains. “Their mental well-being is just as important as their physical well-being.”
HSU also depends on volunteers who are willing to temporarily care for animals in their homes.
Foster homes are needed to provide a quiet, loving space for animals as they recover from a surgery or an illness. Orphaned kittens and puppies that need to be bottle fed also need foster homes where they can be cared for until they are old enough to be adopted. And animals that need extra socialization need fostering as well.
“There are some animals that we can’t provide everything they need in the shelter environment here at our facility,” says Shepherd. “Sometimes they’re just so scared that being here in the shelters is too stressful for them. They need to go into a home where they can have a quiet place to stay until they’re adopted.”
Colleen Fons is a foster volunteer who has been working with HSU for the past year. She chooses to foster dogs with severe behavioral issues—something that many people aren’t willing to do.
“I knew that I could really help with the dogs that have behavioral issues that a lot of people find difficult to handle and don’t feel safe doing so,” she says. “That’s really where my niche is—where I can make a real impact.”
She continues, “To watch something broken heal is quite amazing. Sometimes you can tell that an animal has been abused. So, to watch them want so desperately to just be loved and to be willing to trust you and respond to your affection—you can just see the gratitude. And then to be able to put that dog in a situation where you know that they’re never going to be abused again is honestly the most rewarding and fulfilling thing that I’ve ever done.”
To date, Fons has fostered 25 dogs. But how does she foster so many dogs without wanting to keep them all? “I know that if I keep them then I can’t save the next one,” she says. “There are so many fantastic dogs that just need a little time and patience and direction. I wish more people would give them a chance.”
Behavior and Training
At HSU, some volunteers help the shelter animals with behavior and training. They work closely with the behavior manager to learn how to clicker-train dogs and cats to improve obedience and to teach them some tricks as well. And all training is based on positive reinforcement.
“When we can train dogs and cats to follow basic commands like ‘sit’ and ‘stay,’ they become more appealing to an adopter,” Shepherd says.
Jet Goodson has worked as part of HSU’s behavior team for the past few years. “I moved to Salt Lake City in 2017, and when I came here, it was much easier to find housing that didn’t allow pets,” he says. “I decided that I wanted more dog in my life, so I figured that I’d volunteer at the Humane Society to hang out with some dogs, get a little more exercise, and maybe get better at working with dogs.”
Goodson shadowed HSU’s behavior manager for a while and then did some one-on-one training. Then he was able to work with the shelter animals by himself.
“A lot of my successes have been with dogs that are afraid of men,” he says. “I just sit with them for a while, toss them treats, and get them comfortable with me. Eventually, we get to the point where we’re buddies.”
Once Goodson has gained an animal’s trust, then the training begins. “The first thing we try to do is teach them what the clicker means. Then I’ll start working on behaviors like ‘loose leash’ and ‘four on the floor,’ he says. “If the dogs have been here longer, we will teach them ‘doggy parkour,’ where they learn to go up ramps and jump on benches.”
Goodson says that some animals need a bit more attention or have more energy, “but with a little bit of training, we can help them find the good life.”
Adopt, Don’t Shop
The Humane Society of Utah has dozens of loving pets in need of a forever home. And Shepherd wants people to understand that the vast majority of animals there have not been abused. “They are not damaged goods,” she says. “They are here through no fault of their own, which is why we want to spread the message to adopt, don’t shop. We don’t need to produce any more puppies or kittens to sell. You can find plenty of them in a shelter, including several purebreds, so think adoption first.”
She adds, “When you come to us, you’re going to find a dog that’s already housetrained and has had obedience training. It’s already been spayed or neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped—it’s actually a better deal when you compare the adoption fee to buying a pet and having to pay all that on your own. Most of all, these are great pets that just need a second chance.”
To adopt, volunteer, donate, or get help, visit utahhumane.org.