Just blocks from the strip malls, stoplights and commotion of Highway 99, lies an oasis buffered by lofty alders, surrounded by local wildlife and sustained by compassionate individuals who daily provide for numerous animals in need. This oasis is known as PAWS, the Progressive Animal Welfare Society.
It wasn’t the intention of the PAWS’ founders to provide direct care services. They began their work for animals by opening a thrift store, to fund spay and neuter surgeries with the goal of reducing euthanasia in shelters. But after animals were regularly left on their doorstep, they recognized the critical need for a place for homeless, abandoned, abused, sick and injured animals who had nowhere else to turn.
Many have visited the PAWS Companion Animal Shelter in search of a new four-legged companion. Others have stepped into the PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and Hospital lobby seeking aid for a wounded wild animal. But few realize the breadth of this PAWS refuge—all the splendors of the seven and a half acre campus tucked among the ever-expanding development of Lynnwood.
When the founders acquired the land for the Companion Animal Shelter in the late 1960’s, Lynnwood was considered the countryside. Over the years, the city has crept into this once rural place, making the PAWS property a crucial haven for local healthy and free wild animals. PAWS staff and volunteers have spotted nearly 60 different species of wildlife on the grounds among the diverse habitats. Some build nests to raise their young, while others pass through on annual migrations or spend winter away from the frigid higher elevations.
A pond in the northwest corner of the campus provides a year-round water source for residents such as the Pileated Woodpecker or the Long-toed Salamander. Under the mature alders, a few cedars and firs, grow salmonberry, huckleberry and Oregon grape. These fruit-bearing plants provide food for mammals and birds alike including the Douglas Squirrel and the Black-capped Chickadee. Abundant snags (standing dead trees) provide habitat for Barred Owls and other cavity-nesting animals. Graced by their presence, we find comfort in knowing that what we have done, or rather, have not done with the property benefits our wild neighbors.
The space, clean air and water, natural vegetation and ground cover that the property offers also help provide rehabilitation for wildlife on the road to recovery. Unbeknownst to many, all of the wild animals we care for stay at our campus in Lynnwood—bears, squirrels, eagles and robins alike, approximately 90,000 wild animals since 1981.
The habitat surrounding PAWS Wildlife Rehabilitation Center and Hospital provides essential provisions for the wild animals in our care, important to quick healing and recovery. We harvest clover and tree branches to feed and provide natural perching and hiding for birds, raccoons and squirrels. The tree canopy above the center provides protection from the elements as well as buffers the sounds of human activity around us. While necessary in providing treatment, captivity is extremely stressful for injured and sick wild animals. We use all means available to mimic their natural environment while in our care.
One of the more special features of our multi-acre site is a serene dog-walking trail that winds through the alder forest. The shelter dogs are treated to walks at least twice a day. For a fifth of a mile, dogs and the people who lead them breathe fresh air, take in a variety of smells, and investigate the life around them. The trail provides essential exercise for dogs as well as a break from their kennels. For some dogs, who came to PAWS from lives of abuse or neglect, this may be their first experience of the pleasure of daily walks. Many staff and volunteers also venture the trail to recharge their batteries during a long day at work. Additionally, two exercise yards help dogs expend their energy and allow adopters to meet and greet potential new canine companions.
Near the exercise yards are two buildings that accommodate vital components of our companion animal services. It’s fitting that one of them, the original shelter building, is now the spay/neuter clinic, where we not only alter adoptable animals, but where we manage medical care for the many shelter animals we treat each year. The other is the cat isolation ward to help sick cats and kittens recover. Separation from the commotion and openness of the adoptable cat room, allows them to recuperate in a quieter environment, while also preventing spread of illnesses. Here they receive tender loving care from staff and volunteers, so that they can quickly return to adoption central.
While our site does not allow for additional expansion, the maintenance of our facilities and care environment is a never-ending part of our work. Aging enclosures in the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center must continually be improved or replaced. This past year, two older cage units—a block of four aviaries and our medium-sized mammal cage (for bobcats and coyotes)—were decommissioned. Both were demolished and will be replaced as part of our ongoing commitment to high standards of care.
Last year also saw the erection of the first of four new, low-maintenance raccoon cages in the center. These new units, purchased with the help of hundreds of generous donations, are set on concrete bases connected directly to the sewer for easy cleaning. Other recent changes include heating and air exchange systems for the lower level of the center where the bird nursery will soon be brimming with hungry mouths to feed, and four new 4,000-gallon filtered water seabird pools. Both projects are part of an upgrade to meet state requirements for bird care during an oil spill response.
Over at the Companion Animal Shelter, the cat and dog kennels are more than 25 years old. Recently, thanks to a concerned donor, we were able to resurface floors, do some painting and replace some kennel doors in the shelter. But the work needed to keep areas functioning properly, easy to sanitize and safe for people and animals, is a daily undertaking.
Because maintaining this complex is a constant challenge, we greatly appreciate the many community groups and partners who provide assistance. Some volunteers give a few hours of their skilled labor. Others provide us with supplies and equipment, such as shovels and paint. Last October, 100 kids, teachers and parents from Hidden River Middle School in Monroe, spread a dump truck’s worth of bark on the dog trail. Employee groups from companies such as Boeing, Nordstrom or Adobe, also help complete projects such as pouring concrete for the new wildlife pools, building a fence, painting, cleaning up around the grounds or digging drainage ditches. Their hard work not only helps us complete necessary projects, but builds community and friendships. While working with us, everyone learns about the work of PAWS and how to help animals in their daily lives.
Thirty-eight years ago, our small group of compassionate founders never anticipated that PAWS would care for nearly 10,000 wild and companion animals a year and help countless others through advocacy and education. They were the sparks that ignited the desire to do more for animals in our community. Over the years, so many individuals have flocked to PAWS to be a part of this greater good. Some come to work every day, prepared to make difficult decisions, but inspired by successes and happy endings. Others, who already have tightly scheduled lives, somehow fit in a few hours a week to lend a hand where needed. Those who make gifts of support, open their hearts to homeless animals or speak on behalf of those who can’t, are all part of this tradition of renewal.
Today, it can sometimes feel like the ever-growing PAWS family of animals and humans is outgrowing our home—our much-loved and beautiful campus. We are always finding creative new ways to meet the needs of animals and people in our community with the resources available to us. At the same time, our public education programs remain a high priority, with the ultimate goal of reducing the need for direct care services for sick, injured or homeless animals. But as we look toward the future of PAWS, we realize that no matter where we are located physically, or what the campus looks like, it is the committed individuals and remarkable animals that make PAWS what it is—an oasis of love, compassion and respect.