Paws on the ground: ‘Save A Stray’ nearing six years of success

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by Steve Howe
Burns Times-Herald

Onyx (laying down) was impounded in 2012 and has since found a new home in Central Oregon. Harney County Save A Stray has saved hundreds of pets over the past six years by transporting them to no-kill shelters in Oregon and Washington.

Onyx (laying down) was impounded in 2012 and has since found a new home in Central Oregon. Harney County Save A Stray has saved hundreds of pets over the past six years by transporting them to no-kill shelters in Oregon and Washington.

It all started with two black Labrador retrievers.

Melanie Epping was visiting family in the area when she and her sister, Angie Tiller, had to make a trip to Harney County Veterinary Clinic (HCVC). While there, they noticed two dogs that had been impounded. Upon inquiring about them, they discovered that the clinic was only able to hold impounded dogs for a certain amount of time before it was forced to euthanize them.

“It’s always hard once you look at them,” said Epping. She ended up taking the dogs to a shelter in Bend. But it didn’t stop there.

“I thought, ‘How can I not save the others?’” she said.

A native of Harney County, Epping currently resides in Long Beach, Wash. But the distance didn’t deter her from tackling the problem of stray dogs and cats in Harney County.

Harney County Save A Stray (HCSAS), a 501(c)3, all volunteer-run nonprofit, was founded in the fall of 2008. Its mission is “to re-home pets in need and reduce pet over-population through the promotion of humane spay/neuter practices.”

HCSAS has a system in place for rescuing unwanted animals in the area. In cooperation with HCVC, impounded dogs  are held for five to seven days at the clinic, at which point volunteer Michele Hamilton “bails” them out and takes them to a holding facility at her private residence outside of Burns, where they stay for about a month, on average. Cats, which HCVC is not able to impound, are taken to Tiller’s home, or another foster home. Both dogs and cats are held until they are able to be transported to a no-kill shelter.

Although HCSAS has held some adoption events, Epping says about 95 percent of the animals they rescue are transported out of the area. Epping and Tiller coordinate the relocation of these animals to either Redmond (Brightside Animal Shelter), Portland (Oregon Humane Society), or Epping’s local shelter, South Pacific County Humane Society (SPCHS) in Long Beach. Where the animals are taken depends on availability of space at each shelter. Tiller or Hamilton often meet Epping in Detroit, (the halfway point for them) and transfer the animals to her to take to Portland or Long Beach.

Because of the many miles of travel, fuel is a major cost for the organization. HCSAS funds go toward this, pet food, and veterinary services.

A major veterinary service that is vital to the mission of the organization is spaying and neutering. HCSAS has held several spay and neuter events. In the beginning, carloads of dogs and cats were taken to Bend for the procedure. In recent years, veterinarians from Bend have traveled to Harney County to help, and now Dr. Katy Wallace of Sage Country Veterinary Service does all of the spay/neuter clinics.

“She [Dr. Wallace] has been so good to us,” said Epping.

A portion of the cost is paid by the owner, and a portion comes from HCSAS. In a one-day event in 2012, 70 cats were spayed and neutered. An event is usually held in the spring when there is an abundance of kittens and puppies being born. It wasn’t held this year due to a lack of funds, but HCSAS is hoping to put on an event in the fall, pending receipt of grant or donated funds.

Hundreds of dogs and cats have been rescued through HCSAS. In fact, no adoptable dog has been euthanized in more than five years. Epping says that, even when the going gets tough, it’s worth it, knowing that so many pets are finding good homes.

“I get to see the happy tails when they get adopted,” said Epping.

She stresses that it’s not the animals’ fault – they have been abandoned or neglected, and deserve to find a “forever home.”

In its first year of existence, HCSAS assisted with three pet hoarding cases in the county. More than 200 dogs were rescued in those incidents.

“We learned a lot in a hurry,” explained Epping.

When asked why there is not a Humane Society or similar shelter facility in the county, Epping explains that because of the remote location and the high expense associated with such a shelter, it’s not a practical option at this point. Working with her local shelter, Epping knows well the level of commitment and endless fundraising that is required to maintain it.

Epping would, however, like to see more foster homes for cats. Currently, there are only two. This would strengthen the system already in place, allowing HCSAS more flexibility to hold animals longer when shelters are full.

If you need to report stray pets, have kittens or puppies that you cannot keep, or if you need help with getting your pet spayed or neutered, you can contact HCSAS. Urgent calls can be difficult to handle, so when possible, advance notice is appreciated.

There are many ways to help. Monetary donations can be made to the HCSAS account at US Bank, or checks can be sent to: Save A Stray, P.O. Box 403, Burns, OR 97720. Additionally, pet food may be dropped off at 132 S. Buena Vista in Burns.

For more information, contact Epping at 541-589-1104, or visit for more contact information.

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