Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Mountain Humane-‘A Place Where People Want to Be’
Ellie Sandoz wasted no time getting to know Franklin in the new Cat Café.
Wednesday, February 20, 2019


The dogs and cats moved in last week. President’s Day was a chance for the two-legged critters to move into Mountain Humane’s new 30,000-square-foot animal welfare campus.

And come they did.

Nearly 800 men, women and children walked up and down the Dog Trot Highway and Bark Avenue past countless pet portraits painted by Brandis Sarich during the first five hours of Mountain Humane’s grand opening and open house. And they were still pouring in as Yappy Hour commenced with wine and beer in the new Education Barn.

Linda Peterson poses with floral arrangements in the shape of a cat and dog provided by Sue Bridgman Florists.

Arthur, Franklin and other cats were stroked to their hearts’ delight as youngsters like Sadie Evans and Elli Sandoz curled up with them on pillows in Christy’s Cat Café.

Percy and Pirate—both Norwegian rats—got plenty of eyes trained on them, as did a plump bunny rabbit available for adoption. Ashes, a black Labrador, seemed amazed at all the people streaming by his cage.

And at least two kitties ended up going out the door to new homes.

“This is a world-class facility in our humble little valley. It’s in an unexpected place—and that’s what’s magical about it.” enthused Will Gardenswartz. “It’s leading the way as a no kill shelter and bringing the rest of the state along. Usually, animal shelters are so depressing. But the whole philosophy behind this is to make this a place where people want to be.”

Dr. Jo-Anne Dixon says the new surgical wing has plenty of room for dogs and cats to recover—something they didn’t have in the old facility.

“I love that there’s more interaction available between people and animals,” said Alex Taylor.

Terry Tischer, who spent 20 years volunteering with what was the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley, greeted tourgoers as she recalled how she and Mary Gervase started the organization’s education program. Now, with the new Education Barn, shelter staff expect to reach 1,400 adults and children through workshops and training seminars and school activities and summer camps designed to use kids’ natural connection to animals as a way to nurture compassion and empathy.

“Isn’t this fabulous? I love the continuum from the first day Lyn Stallard proposed a shelter,” she said. “I’m so happy that the community has come together for this because animals are doing so much more for people than ever before.”

Dr. jo-Anne Dixon, the executive director, told tourgoers that the shelter performed more than 1,200 surgeries last year in a converted janitorial closet.

Sadie Evans gets acquainted with Arthur in the Cat Café.

“I’m excited what will happen now that we have more space,” she said.

Dixon performs 50 surgeries a week, with the help of regional veterinarians who come here to spend a day in surgery followed by a day on the ski slopes.

Mountain Humane workers go door to door in “animal welfare deserts” like Shoshone and Richfield where there are no vets, she added, bringing animals here to be vaccinated and spayed and neutered.

The free spay and neuter program has cut the number of strays in half, allowing the shelter to rescue 40 percent of its dogs and cats from overpopulated shelters around the country.

Rosemary Aquilante rewards a dog for not barking.

“We don’t get enough local strays to make up for all our adoptions so that’s a good problem to have,” said Alison Ruggeri.

“We expect to double adoption rate by 2020 due to decreased stress and disease and increased public visibility,” added Tawni Baker. “But we’re careful to put good quality animals into our community.”

In fact, the new campus has designated temperament testing rooms.  Dogs who have an obsession, such as ball chasing, that makes them difficult as pets will be given training to sniff for bed bugs, gas lines, drugs and poached ivory.

“It’s amazing how we can turn a negative—a dog that would drive people crazy--into a positive,” said Dixon. “We find dogs not only homes, but jobs.”

The shelter’s animal trainer Hillary Hayward spends eight hours a day working with new admissions teaching them to get in crates, sit and pay attention to their handler. She’s even taught the grey tabby in the Cat Cafe to give her a high five.

On Monday she showed tourgoers how she’s trained Finnick, her own Pomeranian mix, using a clicker, treats and positive reinforcement.

“We reward the behavior we want and ignore the behavior we don’t want,” she said. “If a dog jumps on you and you push it down, that’s still attention. We don’t teach them not to jump. We teach them something else we want them to do.”

Edith Wiethorn said her daughter enrolled her granddaughter as a dog walker at the shelter after the tiny tot announced she wanted a dog at 2. Interacting with different dogs gave her an opportunity to observe their different temperaments and, eventually, the family chose an Australian shepherd.

“They lived out at the end of Croy Canyon and, while they had horses, they never had problems with cougars or coyotes,” Wiethorn said. “I always thought that having a good dog sends a message that, ‘This property is cared for. You stay in your space.’ ”


The new $16 million Mountain Humane campus is located at 101 Croy Creek Road just west of Hailey.

The 30,000-square foot campus includes an education barn, conference room and indoor play area that can be rented for birthday parties and other events. Visitors are welcome to curl up with a book, cup of coffee and a cat in the Cat Café.

And come summer visitors will be able to walk dogs around numerous trails currently buried by snow.

The facility features scratch-free surfaces and ventilation and drainage systems that should eliminate the spread of disease. And a heat pump that uses 50-degree groundwater to heat and cool the building is expected to save 77 percent on the projected propane use. A donor also sprung $220,000 for a solar system that should save $750,000 in heating costs over the next 20 years, said Brian Formusa.


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