Council approves animal shelter agreements

Robert Smith
Pawhuska Journal-Capital

Pawhuska city councilors last Thursday evening, Feb. 25, approved the donation of a new animal shelter to the city government once the facility is completed on land along Oklahoma 60, not far from the current Osage Casino building.

Local veterinarian Jan Johnston-Tharp estimated the new shelter may be complete this August. The shelter will feature 32 dog runs, as well as a kitchen area for food preparation, space for medical treatment of animals and space for reception and administrative tasks.

Johnston estimated the shelter, once items needed for its operation are placed inside, will have a value of approximately $400,000.

The City Council also approved a 20-year lease, to begin when the shelter is placed in operation. The council agreed for city government to pay Pawhuska Animal Welfare (also known as the 4Paws rescue organization) $3,300 a month as a service fee for operating the shelter.

The Purina Foundation and Satterwhite Log Homes are the corporate underwriters of the cost of building the new shelter.

Johnston-Tharp, who has been a veterinarian in Pawhuska for a quarter-century, described the long-term commitment that she and other animal-welfare advocates have engaged in to improve the treatment of stray and abandoned animals, particularly dogs.

She described the ongoing homeless dog problem in the Pawhuska area as “such a huge situation we have.”

Johnston-Tharp said the new shelter will replace a 20-by-20-foot cinder block building that has no outside area for dogs to get exercise.

She recalled that 25 years ago, Pawhuska used to hold stray and abandoned dogs for 72 hours before euthanizing them.

“They got killed,” she said. “There wasn’t even a question.”

Her response to the situation was to begin a personal crusade to improve the treatment of homeless dogs.

Pawhuska has gradually moved in the direction of becoming a no-kill community when it comes to stray and abandoned dogs. Johnston-Tharp said none of the 168 dogs impounded in Pawhuska in 2020 were euthanized. One dog died, but the animal was not euthanized, she said.

Johnston-Tharp said 40 dogs impounded in 2020 were claimed by their owners and 127 were turned over to the 4Paws rescue. Of those 127 dogs, three were adopted locally and 4Paws placed 124 with other rescues.

Johnston-Tharp said most of the dogs that 4Paws handles are transported to places like Kansas City, Minnesota and the eastern U.S.

Animal welfare volunteer Susie Hurd Owens does most of the non-veterinary legwork involved in caring for Pawhuska’s homeless dogs and pays for much of it out of her own funds, Johnston-Tharp said.

“Susie, bless her heart, she takes the majority of them home,” Johnston-Tharp said, referring to Owens’ practice of providing shelter for homeless dogs in her own dwelling when other options are not available. “She drives all over, transporting these dogs.”

The new animal shelter will provide local residents with opportunities for volunteer community service, and it will hopefully help to create a social climate in which residents will routinely check at the shelter when their dogs go missing, Johnston-Tharp said.

“I think everybody here wants the best for this,” she said to the councilors and to residents in attendance Feb. 25.

“This is something we want you guys to be involved with,” Owens told councilors.

“I’m a big baby when it comes to dogs,” Ward 3 Councilor Mark Buchanan said, welcoming the opportunity.

“That was a very kind and loving act you just did,” concerned citizen Ron Silva said to the council after it approved the donation agreement and the lease.