Pawhuska veterinarian Jan Johnston Tharp has a reputation for excellence, but she says local animal shelter volunteer and dog rescuer Susie Owens is “the rescuer of all rescuers.”


Owens works a full-time job, but before and after work, as well as on weekends and holidays, she’s at the Pawhuska animal shelter to look after homeless canines and help find them new homes. In addition to her duties as the city’s animal shelter volunteer, she has a dog rescue called “4 Paws.” The more formal name for it is the Pawhuska Animal Welfare Society, and it is a 501 (c) (3) charity. The rescue has a Facebook page titled “4 Paws Animal Rescue Fosters and Volunteers” that you can visit for more information.


In a recent interview, Tharp cut right to the point regarding the importance of Owens’ contribution.


“It would not happen without her, because nobody would do the work she does,” Tharp said, explaining the work of an animal rescuer is difficult and just never stops. “I’ve never run into anybody like Susie, with the dedication Susie has. I’ve met a lot of people that think they want to do what Susie’s doing.”


That is, until the fatigue sets in and the flow of neglected, abused and abandoned animals just keeps on coming.


Tharp said Owens’ labor and dedication have changed the Pawhuska animal shelter from an operation where animals could be euthanized after 72 hours into a no-kill shelter. That’s an important difference, Tharp said.


Owens said she’s just grateful the city allows her to work at the pound as a volunteer.


“I am very grateful for them letting me do this, because they could just euthanize these dogs,” Owens said. The city shelter is pretty basic — six pens with no windows or outside access in a 20X20 cinder block building.


City Councilor Jourdan Foran says she’s hopeful that Pawhuska can devote more resources in the future to upgrading animal shelter operations.


“I think my biggest thing is the pound is city property,” Foran said, explaining her interest in the issue. “We just have to do better. We take pride in what we do in this town, and we have a lot of animal lovers in this town.”


In 2020 so far, Owens has cared for 67 homeless dogs. That’s up through last Thursday. Of the 67, one has been adopted locally. Another 24 have been sent onward to instate rescue operations, which have worked to find homes for them. The rest have been sent to out-of-state rescue operations in places like Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas.


Last Thursday evening, Owens was doing her best to show some love to a five-year-old female pit bull that appeared to have been used as a bait dog by a dog-fight operation. The pit bull, which Owens called “Janna,” was bound for a rescue operation in Minnesota.


“This one I’m going to miss,” Owens said of Janna. “She loves to ride.”


Tharp reminded Owens that she, in fact, misses all of them when she has to part with them.


Tharp noted that she donates her services to care for the homeless dogs, and only charges for products used in providing the care. Owens said she applies all donated funds that she receives through her rescue straight to the veterinarian bill. From her own pocket, she pays for such things as cleaning supplies and animal transportation. Some donations of dog food are also received.


Owens said her passion for animal rescue stems from a terrible incident in her childhood.


‘To this day, I can’t stand to see an animal neglected or abused,” she said.


Tharp’s aversion to gratuitous euthanization of animals helps to explain her commitment to Owens’ animal-rescue project.


“I won’t do any euthanasia on request,” Tharp said. “They (the animals) have to be terminal. It can’t be just because, ‘I’m tired of the dog.’”