By Eve Meinhardt, ParaglideSeptember 14, 2009
FORT BRAGG, N.C. - Some of Fort Bragg's animals looking for a little love and new home make a temporary stop at the Fort Bragg Animal Shelter and Adoption Center located on Reilly Street right before the entrance onto Pope Air Force Base. The facility, operated by a volunteer staff of Warrior Transition Battalion Soldiers, averages six to 15 adoptions a day, but still has plenty of animals looking for a Family.
Many of the dogs and cats at the shelter are strays or animals turned-in by owners whose situation has changed to where they can no longer provide a home for their pet. The average day sees five to 10 incoming strays caught on Fort Bragg. Some are abandoned Family pets and others were somehow separated from their owners. On Aug. 26 the facility added four strays to their ranks and five more on Aug. 27.
When a stray comes into the facility, Sgt. 1st Class Mary L. Ortiz, a WTB Soldier who manages the facility, immediately scans the animal with two separate devices, searching for a microchip that will link the animal to its previous owner. If she finds a microchip, she immediately contacts the agencies that maintain the microchip database to hopefully reunite the lost pet with its Family.
"We have a really good turnaround on reclaims," said Ortiz. "One of the cats I scanned had been lost for over a year, and we were able to successfully reunite it with the owner."
Ortiz, who has been volunteering at the facility for almost a year and a half, admits that she has, on occasion, taken her work home with her. She owns four cats and two dogs, most were former residents of the shelter. Her 16-year-old miniature pinscher was brought in to the Fort Bragg shelter emaciated with one eye bulging. Ortiz immediately bonded with the animal and brought him back to health. His one eye had to be removed and, recently, he went blind in the other eye. She said that hasn't slowed him down and he still follows her around with his nose in the air. His best friend is her other dog, a great dane.
"This job is my passion and it seems to be my calling," she said.
Ortiz and one of her fellow WTB volunteers, Staff Sgt. John Weis, said that the neglect cases that come through the door are the hardest because they become their babies as the team works together to make them healthy again.
"It gets hard some days," said Weis. "A lot of the animals that come in are already healthy and beautiful, but the ones who are neglected and all skin and bone, it's rough. You just want to take them all home."
Ortiz said that since December 2008, they have had close to 400 adoptions and 300 reclaims. These numbers don't reflect the animals adopted out to civilians not affiliated with Fort Bragg. Those numbers are not
currently tracked by the staff, but Ortiz said many of their animals do go to non-military homes.
While everyone at the facility works hard to care for the animals and find them new homes, the number of strays and turn-ins keeps the shelter full. James Larkins, an animal control officer with the Fort Bragg Provost Marshal's Office, has been doing his job for eight years and said he has seen the numbers continuing to increase.
"I had 1,210 catches last fiscal year," said Larkins. "This year, I've had 1,200 so far and the year isn't over. The numbers steadily go up."
Larkins stressed that on post, Families who adopt a pet then cannot handle or care for it can always come to the Fort Bragg shelter to turn it in at no charge.
"A Family that adopts a dog or cat and then realize they don't want it, often kicks it out of the house. Because of that, the number of strays is steadily going up," he said. "We can't do enough for these Soldiers and will always accept the turn-ins, especially if they are going on a deployment and have no other way to ensure the animal is cared for."
To turn in an animal, the owner needs to bring in the animal with its shot records. The staff will ask a few questions about the animal's temperament and accept the dog or cat without charging a fee.
Finding a new home for the strays and turn-ins is the staff's number one priority. To reach as many people as possible, Ortiz lists each dog and cat in her care on the Pet Finder Web site at www.petfinder.com/shelters/NC231.html. The Paraglide will also feature a pet available for adoption each week.
Two of the animals the staff hopes to find homes for are a female, boxer spaniel mix and a male, black and white kitten. Both animals have had a rough life.
The dog is four years old and was a neglect case. She is now healthy and happy and Ortiz hopes that she finds a good home. When Ortiz visited the dog the afternoon of Aug. 27, the dog immediately greeted her and Weis, giving and receiving affection. Ortiz said she is good with other dogs and doesn't pay much attention to cats.
The kitten was found by a child waiting for the bus on the first day of school. The boy's mom turned him in to the shelter and at 12 weeks old, he has already overcome a few major obstacles.
Aug. 26, the day after the facility took the kitten in, he was neutered and had surgery to remove one of his eyes. The next day, he was affectionate and clamoring for attention, the blue stitches standing out against his black fur as he meowed and begged for his head to be scratched.
To adopt an animal from the Fort Bragg Animal Shelter and Adoption Center, the new owner must sign an agreement, promising to care for the animal. If the animal is up to date on all shots and micro chipped, adoption is free. Dogs and cats, just requiring vaccinations have a $30 adoption fee, which covers the vaccinations provided by the Fort Bragg Veterinary Clinic. Fees vary based on size and gender for animals being spayed or neutered. The cost does not go above $85.
Weis, who is preparing to retire from the Army later this year, said the small team of volunteers that operate the shelter are able to accomplish so much because of how much Ortiz puts of herself into her work.
"She (Ortiz) has been the wheels of this place," said Weis. "She makes it run. Much of what we do here is because of her."