By Lyndsie Kiebert
When Mandy Evans started her work as executive director of the Panhandle Animal Shelter about a decade ago, the shelter operated under a traditional animal welfare philosophy. For instance, if someone came in with a dog that needed surgery and they couldn’t afford it, the shelter would take that animal in — then rehome it to a new family.
That was the past. In recent years, Evans has worked to build a new system that focuses on keeping that owner and dog together, despite economic hardship or other issues that may have traditionally resulted in animal surrender.
“Why were we doing that? Why would we take people’s pets away and put them with somebody else when they already have a loving family?” Evans said. “It’s this idea that, really, sheltering any animal should be the last resort. We should be putting all of our time and energy toward trying to … bridge that gap to access to medical care, food, supplies, training and support so that animals don’t need to come into the shelter.”
To mark this new era and better reflect the organization’s mission to make sheltering a small facet of day-to-day operation, Panhandle Animal Shelter has changed its name to Better Together Animal Alliance — a nonprofit offering food assistance, education and much more to support the animals who call North Idaho home.
Evans said that the key to making support possible has been simply asking pet owners what might help them avoid surrendering their animal. For example, maybe someone was moving into a new rental with vaccination requirements for pets, and the pet’s owner simply couldn’t afford them. Evans said the shelter often finds simple solutions to problems that pet owners believe may separate them from their furry family members.
“We find out — it’s easy,” she said. “You just need vaccines? That’s easy.”
While the shelter’s name might be changing, Evans said that the organization has operated in this manner — with an emphasis on support over surrendering — since about 2016. The belief that pets and families are “better together” lent itself perfectly to the organization’s new identity.
“It’s just a shift in mindset, where the value of work really shouldn’t be dictated by how many animals are in cages,” Evans said.
Evans said she hopes that each day, Better Together Animal Alliance can dedicate its work to celebrating the “human-animal bond.”
“I’ve experienced [it] in my life — the reason I am where I am is in large part due to my experience with a dog that I had,” Evans said. “I think that for people who open themselves up for that unique relationship, beautiful things happen. I just feel like we’re in the business of not only helping animals in transition, but really honoring the human-animal bond and keeping families together, especially in times like this when we know that people are really struggling.”
Evans said that she and her team are aware of several people in the community having a difficult time making ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that Better Together Animal Alliance will continue to offer assistance and a safe place to surrender animals should people need to do that. Ultimately, though, the organization’s goal is to offer enough support that people and their pets can both weather the current crisis.
“I get up everyday knowing that I have the ability to preserve families, and make what I believe is a significant impact in their lives,” Evans said. “I think all of us, the whole team, is very motivated and moved to do that.”
Better Together Animal Alliance is located at 870 Kootenai Cut-off Road in Ponderay. To learn more about the nonprofit’s assistance programs and how to help, visit bettertogetheranimalalliance.org.
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