Gracey Tripod is giving her mouse a beating. The tortoise-shell kitten with the olive green eyes is in gleeful pursuit of the fuzzy red cat toy: Hopping on it, trash-talking it, swinging with her good right front paw — and with the left front paw she no longer has.
“We almost lost this little girl last Saturday night when the EAMT’s found her,” says Angela Stringfellow, the public information officer for the Arizona Humane Society. “But, now that she’s so eager to jump and play, she doesn’t know she’s missing a leg.”
Gracey’s energetic, three-legged play comes courtesy of the Arizona Humane Society. In 49 years, the humane society has grown into a haven for nurturing, adoption and animal advocacy whose services now reach into the East Valley. This Saturday, on its annual telethon, the society will make its case for public support with the gaudy stats of animals spayed and neutered; pets rescued; and dogs and cats delivered to new homes.
But the story is best told through faces like Gracey’s, whom the humane society leads to better lives.
On the night of July 15, the Humane Society’s emergency animal medical technicians got a call about an injured cat near 35th Avenue and Van Buren Street, on Phoenix’s west side. There they found Gracey, all two pounds of her, with a crushed left front leg.
“She was probably hit by a car,” says Nancy Bradley, one of two emergency veterinarians on duty at the Humane Society that night.
The doctors work in 10-hour shifts, treating chronic and seasonal emergencies. “We get a lot of hit-by-car cases, and animal cruelty cases year ’round,” she says. “Poisoning, intentional and unintentional. This time of year, we treat a lot of animals for heat stroke, and infected bites that send them into septic shock.”
Bradley studies Gracey’s tiny sutures as the cat plays. “It’s challenging work,” she says. “Especially when you have to cut down on the jugular vein, like with this one, to get her back. We put her on heat, set up some IVs, and she shuddered back to life. Then we ran fluids into her until she was up and feisty.”
Feisty can be a mixed blessing if you wake up threelegged, shaved and wearing a protective cone around your neck. Gracey’s recovery then became the work of foster care, which, in this case, was literally around the corner. “I work in administration here, and I foster a lot,” says Tara Bubbico, of Phoenix. “I was working when Grace came in, and said, ‘I’ll take her.’ ”
The Humane Society relies heavily upon a network of almost 200 foster households, who accept and care for injured animals or animals too small to adopt. Foster families agree to keep the animal separate from their own pets (to prevent the spread of disease) while they nurture, feed and socialize it. “Grace knows when I get home,” says Bubbico with a chuckle. “She wants ‘out’ so she can run around.”
Fostering is an open-ended commitment: “A week, a month. With a litter, it could be three months,” she says. “It can be hard to let them go, but you know they’re headed to a good life — and there’s always another one.”
PATIENCE UNDER PLEXIGLAS
There is always another one. The Humane Society takes in an average of 200 animals a day, up 45 percent from this time last year. “Last year, we took in 43,000 animals. This year, we’ll be over 50,000, no doubt,” says Stringfellow. The Humane Society, which euthanizes sick or dangerous animals, has not had to euthanize for space considerations. Yet. “But we are running out of space. We’re relying heavily on adoptions, our fosters and volunteers.”
The glut of available animals is keenly felt in their Sunnyslope cat quarters, where animals like Zuni wait to be sprung. Logged as a stray, the beautiful 9-year-old black cat with the white whiskers has been cooling her heels in Cubicle No. 39 since mid-June.
“It happens this way,” says Stringfellow. “A family gets evicted, then the super or the cleaning crew show up and find a cat there, looking for food, and turn her in.” The cubicles are as accommodating as a facility for 64 cats can be. Litter, food and water are tended continuously. Volunteers take the cats out to meet the prospective adopters on the other side of the Plexiglas. But Zuni’s low purr under Stringfellow’s chin suggests that there is no substitute for one-on-one attention. But adult cats, like Zuni, must compete with kittens for adopters’ affections.
“And, because we have warm weather year-round, it’s like kitten (breeding) season is all year long,” says Stringfellow. Humane Society programs struggle to level the playing field. “We’ve extended our two-for-one cat adoption month through the end of July,” she says. “Our Lonely Hearts Program reduces the adoption price for cats and dogs here over 30 days to $35.” And their Placing Animals with Seniors (PAWS) program matches older animals with qualified seniors free of charge every Wednesday.
Growth has expanded its reach — into PetSmart in Mesa and Chandler and an adoption center at the Petco in Gilbert. Necessity has expanded its role into public advocacy for spaying and neutering, owner education and prosecution of animal cruelty cases. But the Arizona Humane Society still measures success in every Gracey and Zuni.
“Pets provide us with unconditional love,” says Stringfellow. “We just want to connect them with responsible, loving owners.”