Alaska is a lifestyle for a unique breed, but Alaskan animal owners are a different breed all on their own. We take our furry friends pretty seriously. The animal rescue community has continued to grow the past couple years and organizations and shelters increasingly continue their outreach efforts. Busy lives, conflicts at home, and changing environments have left many animals astray or surrendered by their owners among other reasons.

This is a nationwide problem with over 6.5 million animals entering animal shelters every year, and an estimated 1.5 million animals in shelters are euthanized due to overpopulation according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. These are hard statistics to swallow for many animal lovers, especially since national euthanasia statistics are difficult to pinpoint because animal care and control agencies are not required to keep statistics.

Even with those heartbreaking numbers, the rescue community is looking up. Over the past couple years, euthanasia numbers have dropped significantly. Euthanizations are in decline from 7.2 million in 2011 which is due to an increase in both the number of animals adopted and animals returned to their owners, according to the ASPCA.

Michele Girault, vice president of Friends of Pets, has witnessed euthanization numbers falling in the state of Alaska. “Living in Alaska has been an eye opener about what the power of one can do,” Girault said. She has been with FOP since 1990, and her passion for animal care and rescue still remains. “What’s great about FOP is there is a core mission. We have this vision of a community where all companion animals are loved and protected.”

When most people think about animal shelters or rescues, Sarah McLachlan’s ASPCA commercial comes to mind for most with the heart-wrenching music, the sad puppy eyes, animals sitting in cages that mimic jail cells, and so forth. While the message is true, Alaska animal shelters have a different look and atmosphere. Alaska animal shelters and other companion animal organizations thrive on volunteers who sacrifice time for the cause and help to care for the animals. The rescue community wouldn’t be growing at the rate it is, and – most importantly – wouldn’t be saving as many today without volunteers.

In the digital media era, an increasing number of people are sharing their rescue stories about the health of the rescued animals before and after their recoveries and are using certain social media platforms to return animals to their owners to reach out and engage with the animal rescue community.

Kayleigh Gilbert adopted her puppies, Sandi and Bleu, from Alaska Dog and Puppy Rescue.

“I choose to rescue because there are so many dogs with beautiful and unique personalities that either get surrendered or let loose.” Gilbert said. “Dogs have so much unconditional love, and I just wanted to choose dogs that already have never been able to give or receive that love. Or maybe that love got broken whether they had to be surrendered or their owner passed. I also appreciate rescues because of the volunteers behind them.”

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Kayleigh Gilbert rescued Sandi and Bleu from Alaska Dog and Puppy Rescue. Photo by Kayleigh Gilbert

Gilbert wasn’t the only one who felt that way. When reaching out and asking the rescue community on what advice they would give to those thinking about rescuing a furry family member, Fernando Batiz passionately stated, “Do it! I can’t imagine my life without my pups. They bring so much happiness into our daily routine!” Batiz admitted it was his wife’s idea but believes everyone should choose rescue. Batiz and his wife adopted Nami through AARF.

Girault, who has been a part of FOP for almost 20 years, when asked if she gets attached to the animals she smiled and laughingly said, “Yes. It used to be a joke because people would ask my husband how many animals do you have, and he would answer with ‘I don’t know. I haven’t been home yet.’”

Girault and her husband currently have twelve animals, and she even admitted to having fourteen large dogs at one point. Describing one of her favorite moments, Girault said, “Just in the last six months we’ve had many of the animals we adopted out pass on and their owners have taken the time to write about the impact that animal had on their life. Those are the times you just go ‘if we hadn’t intervened, that pet wouldn’t have made it,’… It’s so heartwarming to see the impact of pets on people’s emotional health, on their sense of family, and that we’ve had an impact on that.”

Going to the shelters can be heartbreaking for some, but seeing the animals find a new home can make it a worthwhile experience for visitors, and the shelters often have information about opportunities to help whether rescuing, donating, volunteering or fostering. The Alaska rescue community is built on the impetus of love for animals, volunteerism and charity, and these conscientious Alaskans demonstrate these qualities in their day to day actions.

Fernando Batiz adopted little Nami from AARF. Photo by Fernando Batiz
Bethany Voge

Bethany Voge is a junior in the Journalism & Public Communications program at UAA. She hopes to turn her passion for photography, videography and creating into a career one day. She plans to travel the world once she’s done with her degree and study the different cultures of the world.

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