By Jim Tortolano
Ten years ago this July, a unique animal shelter was born in Westminster. It all started with one stray canine and now the Westminster Adoption Group and Services serves thousands of dogs, cats, bunnies and other suburban critters in its facility in Westminster Center.
“It started in the veterinary hospital that used to be here,” said Cortney Dorney, executive director of WAGS. “Dr. Tia Greenberg used to have a practice here. One day a stray dog was brought in. At the time, the shelter used by Westminster was in Huntington Beach and it was a huge deal trying to get the dog back here. One of the staff members wanted to adopt it.”
After all the “drama, Dr. Greenberg said, ‘This is dumb. They’re not in Westminster; they are as far away from Westminster as you can get, right on the border with Newport. The citizens of Westminster don’t have a shelter and I have the space.’”
That led to the establishment of WAGS, which serves as the animal shelter for both Westminster and Stanton. Animal control services are shared by those cities. It’s a private non-profit with public funding and private contributions.
Over the years, WAGS had had to roll over with the … uh … barks. “One year we had upwards of 700 animals,” said Dorney. “We had to get very creative with our cages. Once we had a hoarding case of 78 bulldogs and over 200 rabbits.”
Capacity is 350 to 450 animals in a typical year, but 2020-21 hasn’t been a typical year.
“It’s the COVID,” she said. Because of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, people are staying at home and pets aren’t getting out of the house or yard. Also, isolated people wanted furry companionship and “we haven’t had more than 50 animals at a time since March 2020.”
The smaller caseload enables WAGS employees to work on training and behavioral issues. “The adoption rate has been amazing,” she said. “They come in, they get adopted.” The shelter’s job, she feels, is to “house the strays, the unwanted, the neglected, the injured and create better pets.”
WAGS has a veterinarian on site for a few hours every day, doing evaluations and treatment, including spaying and neutering. This is the middle of “kitten season,” as female cats come into heat from March to September, the “hot months.”
“We can have 40 kittens come in for surgery and 40 kittens go out the same day” to foster homes.
Technically, WAG is a “no-kill shelter,” but an asterisk needs to be attached to that.
“By definition, any shelter with under 14 percent euthanized a month is considered ‘no-kill.’ We are a low-kill shelter. We only euthanize animals with major medical or behavioral issues.”
But not all terminally ill pets are put to sleep right away. There are “fospices” for people who are willing to foster an animal for the remaining months of its life.
Dorney draws a distinction between a shelter and a rescue society.
“We do what needs to be done. We’re not a rescue. A rescue is what comes here and picks the animals they think will be easy to get adopted,” she said. The others stay in the care of Cortney and her colleagues at WAGS, until you, or some other good person adopts them.
To contact WAGS, the e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. The website is www.wagspetadoption.org .
The address is 6621 Westminster Blvd. (in Westminster Center). Call (714) 887-6156 for more information.