Dogs Forever Safe Place is relatively quiet on days like today.
But come to the facility when churchgoers aren’t passing through the doors of the attached chapel and the sound of dogs barking and playing might be a bit more audible.
In May, Nancy Crist and her husband, Mike, opened the only “no-kill” dog shelter in Cedar Rapids — a small space behind Relevant Life Ministries, 3800 Wilson Ave. SW. Nancy, who has been involved in animal rescue work with Mike for more than 10 years, said society will never have enough space for neglected animals, something she calls “an unfortunate truth.”
“No matter how many rescue operations or shelters there are, most people are irresponsible. It doesn’t take much to prove that,” she said. “You could have five shelters in town and they all will be full.”
So the Crists, along with 15 other local volunteers, are doing their part. With a limited number of kennels, only four dogs are housed in the building at a time. And each day, volunteers sign up for one of three shifts to walk, feed and play with the dogs. But in addition to the kennels, eight dogs stay in five state-licensed volunteer foster homes.
Then, on Saturdays, the volunteers bring their foster dogs to mingle with the kenneled dogs and open the shelter to the public from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. for adoption.
Beyond the fact no dogs are euthanized, Dogs Forever Safe Place is unique. Organizers don’t accept strays or surrenders from the public except in extenuating circumstances. Instead, a shelter on the brink of euthanizing a treatable and adoptable dog can bring it to Dogs Forever. The shelter has taken a few dogs from Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control as well as from neighboring counties without shelters. Also, the shelter focuses on senior dogs.
“I like Safe Place because it’s a nice atmosphere for dogs and they can remain there for as long as they need to,” said volunteer DeAnn Brannaman, who also works with Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control. “Basically, it’s really nice working with all of them.”
Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control euthanized 233 animals in 2011 and the Cedar Valley Humane Society, which puts down dangerous animals or those with corrective surgery, was not able to provide those numbers.
If someone contacts Dogs Forever about an animal they can’t take, volunteers will provide information about other options.
“We’re just filling a void,” Nancy Crist said. “To try to be in competition is detrimental to helping the dogs.”
Crist said the spot behind the church is a “starter home.” On Sundays, volunteers quietly play with dogs to keep them from barking and disrupting services. And since its creation, locals in the animal community have said they’re appreciative of Dogs Forever’s efforts.
“There’s always a need for groups willing to work with larger shelters as animals move out and find homes,” said Diane Webber, the manager of Cedar Rapids Animal Care and Control. “There are so many of them nowadays and I don’t know if one more makes a big difference or not, but it’s great that they’re there.”
Kirsten Eddins, the president of the Cedar Valley Humane Society board of directors, agreed.
“I think any organization that can stand to help animals is a need,” she said.
But despite the work of Dogs Forever and other shelters like it, the term “no-kill” has seemingly become divisive.
“No kill” shelters have the luxury of turning away dogs when they’re at capacity or for other reasons, Webber said. The recipients of those animals then may be faced with the decision of euthanasia.
“Regardless of the rose-colored glasses that some people choose to wear, there simply aren’t enough good homes — or even enough cages — for [all the animals], and passing the buck to another agency isn’t washing your hands of the problem,” Webber said in an email.
Heather Bialy, the director of shelter services for the humane society of the United States, recognized the divisiveness of the term, but said “no-kill” shelters are on the rise.
“‘No kill’ animal shelters partnering and accepting animals from other shelters are certainly helping to bridge the gap,” she said.
Nancy Crist — who houses 12 to 14 rescued dogs in her own home at one time — acknowledged the difficulties.
“We cannot help every single person,” she said. “I don’t get much sleep, I look like hell, but I don’t care. We’re trying to make a difference. … Do I worry dogs get put down? Yes, I worry all the time. But you have to balance it or it consumes you.”