Over the past 50 years, Gastineau Humane Society has seen a lot of animals in all kinds of conditions come into its facilities and leave for new homes.
50 years of adoptions, care 012313 NEWS 1 Capital City Weekly Over the past 50 years, Gastineau Humane Society has seen a lot of animals in all kinds of conditions come into its facilities and leave for new homes.

Photo By Dale E. Smith / Capital City Weekly

A dog gives the camera a big stare down at Gastineau Humane Society's 50th anniversary open house.

Photo By Dale E. Smith / Capital City Weekly

Gastineau Humane Society celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Photo By Dale E. Smith / Capital City Weekly

A dog looks suspiciously at a camera while visiting Gastineau Humane Society for its 50th anniversary open house on Saturday, Jan. 19.

Photo By Dale E. Smith / Capital City Weekly

Harriet Botelho, left, and Chava Lee talk about the history of the Gastineau Humane Society. Lee is the director, Botelho is a longtime board member.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Story last updated at 1/23/2013 - 2:06 pm

50 years of adoptions, care

Over the past 50 years, Gastineau Humane Society has seen a lot of animals in all kinds of conditions come into its facilities and leave for new homes.

Executive Director Chava Lee estimated that in the past decade more than 5,000 animals have been adopted out. In the past 50 years - probably 35,000-40,000. Those are just the animals adopted out, figures do not include the thousands of lost pets who have gone to the facility and were later reunited with their owners.

That's a lot of 4-legged personality mixing with caring staff whose goal it is to get the animals back on their feet and into loving homes.

Lee told a story of one cat that staff became particularly fond of. The cat had come from an abusive home and wasn't really into that many people. She stayed at the facility for about 10 months until she really bonded with a family. But on the day she was to go home with her new family, she was standoffish with them. Each member of the staff went in to say goodbye to the cat, and she did so by taking her paws and patting them on the sides of their faces. Lee was the second to last person to say goodbye, and once the last person was finished the cat jumped down from the table, and got ready to go with the family.

"Maybe you think they don't know what's going on or don't have feelings, I think they do," Lee said. "It was really interesting to watch her say goodbye to everyone."

The interactions with the animals and caring for them are what make the place so special.

"The warm fuzzy part about working here is the result: seeing animals come in here in all different situations and go out and be adopted into homes where we know they are going to love them and care for them," Lee said.

This year the society is celebrating its 50th year. On Saturday, Jan. 19 it kicked off the celebration with an open house, honoring past and present staff and board members who helped do the ground work in getting the Gastineau Humane Society off the ground.

The facility has two cat adoption rooms and a dog kennel. It has two cat meet and greet rooms and a dog meet and greet room, with other animal visitations in whichever room is appropriate or open. Each of these rooms has pet murals painted on the walls, which were done by staff.

The adoption rooms and kennel are accessible by staff only, to keep the stress level down for the animals. There is also a holding room for cats that need to be evaluated by the vet, and the ones that the facility doesn't know who they belong to. There is also a cat isolation room for those with serious illnesses. Only the vet and vet technician can enter that room.

Other small animals - like rabbits and hamsters - are kept in kennels in the hallway.

Caring for and adoption of pets is only a part of what the humane society does. It also provides services like micro/radio chipping, spay/neuter clinics, behavioralists, grooming and grooming facilities and other clinic options. It also has dog agility, meet and greet and daycare programs. It also contracts with the City and Borough of Juneau for animal control services.

"Every animal that comes in here has the benefit of the knowledge of the entire staff," Lee said.

Lee said the society has come a long way since it first housed animals in a shed under the old Juneau-Douglas bridge. That was in 1963, when pets that were lost were free roaming and a group of concerned individuals felt that was not the most humane way to treat them.

In 1980 the society purchased the land where along Glacier Highway where it's facility is currently located. She said the exterior hasn't changed much, but the interior has been continuously adapting to meet the needs of Juneau. Lee said that's because the community has changed in the way they feel animals should be treated, as has the nation.

"We are the place where animals are brought when their people can't care for them anymore," Lee said. "The reasons are vast. Not having a place to live, just not wanting them, someone has died, someone has gotten sick. In that regard we play the role of being the place where animals can go for any reason."

Harriet Botelho was one of the first board members, who started in 1963.

"It's been an amazing transformation of this facility," she said. "We are a class 1 facility. This is the best place in the world for a companion."

Botelho has adopted 7-8 cats over the years from Gastineau Humane Society, and one of her 8 dogs (over the years).

She said the dog, Martay, was the most wonderful dog. He was a poodle.

"It has become virtually a no-kill shelter," she said. "Every pet is given every chance to find a home, unless they're very ill or completely disabled."

Botelho hopes that in the future they can build a bigger shelter in order to accommodate more cats and provide more services.

Lee said they hope to get a cover for the back yard where dogs are walked, participate in agility training or meet and greets.

The next events to celebrate Gastineau Humane Society's 50th anniversary will be July 6, for a whale watching trip, and in October for a pet festival.

"It will be big and fabulous," Lee said.

Sarah Day is the editor of Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at