Betsy Kraft doesn’t ask much when she reads to her audience.
A little quiet or a simple “woof” will suffice. Kraft reads to the dogs at Pasadena Humane — which serves South Pasadena.
New rules have forced the kennel to be closed to the public more often and the animals — especially the dogs — like the quiet but sometimes also like a little more individual attention.
So Kraft and other volunteers pull up a chair outside the dog kennels and begin to read.
At first, Kraft said, she first tried something more highbrow — “Shakespeare in America.” But, she admits, she was bored. So now she often spends 15 minutes or so reading to each dog from that day’s Los Angeles Times. (Her husband, Scott, happens to be managing editor of the paper.)
“I’ll read the entire paper — comics, box scores. The dogs don’t seem to care,” she said. “The first week, the dogs were quite puzzled. Now, some of them will come up and lean on the bars close to me and just look and listen.”
She’s discovered that some of the dogs even like her to just talk, and since she loves sports, she said she might ask them, “Why do you think Roberts” — that is, Los Angeles Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts — “took out the starting pitcher so early last night?”
The dogs who have been at the kennel the longest might get a few more minutes of attention.
“Shepherds are so intelligent, and they are good listeners,” she said. “Even the small dogs now come up to the bars and watch me. They all just want to be loved and they can tell I love them.”
It used to be that people could often visit and browse the kennels. The crowds and people peering in cages caused enough noise to make it hard on both the dogs and their keepers. Hands sticking in cages to pet kittens sometimes spread disease.
Then came the pandemic, and people who were now stuck at home wanted a little companionship. The animals here — nearly all of them — were fostered or adopted.
Since they cannot just come in to browse, people now must make in-person appointments which can last an hour. Taking more time for adoption interviews is a policy that’s here to stay.
“The pandemic has brought about a renaissance,” said Jack Hagerman, vice president for community engagement. “When the pandemic started, we went into crisis mode, and we realized changes needed to be made. [The pandemic] gave us space to reimagine what we were doing, and so many of those changes made much more sense, so why would we go back? Things now are much better for the pet customer. We have gone from reactive — in the moment — to a curated type of adoption.”
When a person arrives to see a prospective pet, they are often seeing a calmer animal, Hagerman said.
“The animals are showing better how they might be at home and are less nervous, and thus usually spending less time in the shelter,” Hagerman said.
The kennels are open to the public for visiting from 3:30-5:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, but you still need to make an appointment with a counselor before adopting.
The nonprofit isn’t just about dropping off an animal or adopting one. There is a food bank for people who can’t afford their pets’ meals, and the organization also offers a voucher program to help owners who need medical treatment for their dogs. Hagerman added there is now an improved call center where people can connect more quickly to discuss issues great and small.
“It’s now a case of ‘Let’s talk and we’ll see what we can do,’” he said.
Caitlin Lavin, who has been adoption manager at the shelter for more than a year, said that the changes have enabled the organization to improve its “socially conscious and more holistic approach.”
“It’s an exciting place to be,” she said. “The changes have resulted in less-stressed animals and a less-stressed staff. We are finding better ways through our appointment adoptions to find better homes for the animals. We can also provide a place here for animals that really need it.”
Customers seem to be thriving as well as the pets. Lavin said that adoption surveys for June were “overwhelmingly positive.”
Another success story is that the shelter had a free adoption day in July with no appointments needed — 86 animals found homes. They plan another such event Aug. 28. The shelter can only offer dogs that come their way, and they still have more large dogs than smaller ones. Kittens can be more easily adopted, especially during the spring and summer months.
Pasadena Humane has continued its efforts to spay and return feral cats during the spring and summer. They always have lots of kittens to offer for adoption, so instead of just sending out dogs on what they call the “Wiggle, Waggle Waggin’” for off-site adoptions, they recently tried sending out kittens. Kraft, who has volunteered at the shelter for 17 years, said that the first week she went out with the wagon, a dozen cats found new homes, and the next trip she was on, 15 cats were adopted.
“I heard that when we phoned in the first week to say all the cats were adopted, a big cheer erupted from the kitten kennels,” she said.
Editor’s Note: Pasadena Humane is located at 361 S. Raymond Ave. You can discover events, services, and adoption procedures, as well as look at available pets on the society’s website at pasadenahumane.org.