Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a series about Safe Place for Pets, an organization that assists with finding forever homes for pets of terminally ill owners and partnering with the terminally ill to keep their pets at home. The organization serves terminally ill residents of El Paso and Teller counties.

After losing her owner to a terminal illness, Canela, a sweet-natured, gold/green-eyed tortoiseshell cat, suddenly found herself alone.

When the nonprofit Safe Place for Pets and its veterinarian partners intervened, they discovered Canela had poor oral health and required 16 tooth extractions. Since then, the personable feline has been adopted and is adjusting to her new home.

“She loves to eat, sleep and play with her favorite toy, and has been a true joy and a good companion,” said Amy Demenge who adopted Canela last year.

In operation for nearly a generation, Safe Place for Pets serves terminally ill patients residing in El Paso and Teller counties by finding loving forever homes for their pets. Located at 1520 N. Hancock Ave., the facility also offers a wellness program where volunteers assist those who have a terminal diagnosis but are still able to live in their home.

“They want their beloved pet(s) to stay with them as long as possible. So, we help with dog walking, delivering food or other supplies, a vet visit. Obviously everyone’s needs will vary, but this service can be a truly great help to a pet and the pets’ owner,” said Board Member Karen Spencer.

Safe Place for Pets has left an indelible mark on members, particularly its Executive Director Kennedy Watson. A lifelong animal lover, Watson joined the team in March and oversaw animal placement and basic day-to-day shelter operations. She served as operations coordinator for two months before becoming executive director.

“I saw how much progress and impact Safe Place for Pets had in the community and I wanted to increase our impact in any way possible. With every pet we adopt, we treat them like they’re our own. We make sure while each pet is waiting for their forever home, (that) they are loved and cared for in only the best way possible,” Watson said.

The facility works closely with rescue organizations and regularly find homes for critters who don’t meet the Safe Place for Pets mission because the owners aren’t terminally ill. Safe Place for Pets can house 14 cats and has fosters to assist with cats who can’t live with other cats, and assists with birds, ducks, horses and rabbits. All dogs are fostered.

“We usually have a dozen cats in our facility and a handful of others who are in the pre-adopt process. Dogs go straight into foster care to pre-adopt prior to final adoption. It takes all of us working together to find homes for everyone who needs one,” Spencer said.

One cat that needed a home was Baby, who was on her own for two months after her owner became ill and went to hospice. Because she had lost her human connection, Baby developed feral behavior and had to be trapped.

Baby was whisked to Northwest Animal Hospital where doctors sedated and examined the feline. Although Baby received a clean bill of health, her experience left her angry, frightened and emotionally broken.

“It took almost two months of socializing from our corps of volunteers to get the kitty to let anyone touch her. But today, she has healed and has opened her heart to a new human who adopted her a few months ago,” Spencer said.

In 2018 Safe Place completed 39 adoptions and in 2019 completed adoptions for at least 58 pets. “We expect we will continue to grow in years to come. In 2019, we had a 100% lifesaving rate, meaning every pet that entered our program had a live outcome,” Watson said.

Learn more about Safe Place for Pets at safeplacepets.org.

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