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Mission Valley Animal Shelter in great need of help

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POLSON — The Mission Valley Animal Shelter is reaching a critical point, according to board member Sharon Hawke and shelter manager Raeva Corkill. As the only shelter for animals in Lake County, the organization is on an unsustainable path. 

A nonprofit organized in 1989 and opened as a temporary facility in 1992, the no-kill shelter has operated in its current building since 1994. The building has had two major expansions since it opened its doors nearly 30 years ago, but the need for room alone is ever-increasing. 

The shelter is now operating at, and often over, full capacity. With stray animals constantly brought to their doorstep, both by well-meaning citizens and local authorities, and the waitlist for owner-surrenders sometimes months long, the shelter is unable to keep up with demand. 

A walkthrough of the shelter reveals animals in need of special accommodations placed in rooms the shelter never thought they’d use. Some animals needing special housing for their safety and well-being, like the quarantine section for dogs and cats freshly vaccinated. This area is currently filled and the main areas for adults of each species are also full. 

According to the shelter’s operators, the increased problem with stray dog packs poses public health and safety issues the shelter is simply not equipped to handle. According to Hawke, Lake County is one of the few counties in the state of Montana without an animal control ordinance. 

“We don’t have jurisdiction over that, but the public thinks we do,” Hawke said of the stray dog packs. “We’re not staffed or funded to really deal with the problems that we’re seeing right now, and they’re getting worse.” 

While some towns in the county have tried to implement some measure of animal control ordinances, the shelter operators said they’re largely unenforced. As a result, the shelter bears the brunt of the consequences as members of the community try to help on their own by catching strays and bringing them in.

“They expect us to have room, and most of the time we don’t,” Corkill explained. “I overload this facility almost every day of the week.” 

“There needs to be a governmental facility here,” Hawke stated. She explained that state laws about vicious or abused animals still have to be enforced, but without another facility or organization to assist with those matters the entire burden falls on their shelter.

While the shelter receives funding from private donors and their Polson thrift store, the amount of work has increased to the point that such funds are insufficient to cover the shelter’s needs. In addition, several grants and fundraising opportunities they relied on disappeared during the pandemic. 

“Without funding from the county or the tribe, we’re kind of stuck in the middle with no help,” Corkill said. “It just leaves us in a really hard spot … It’s definitely become a ‘make it through one day at a time’ kind of operation.”

“It’s a crisis,” Hawke added. “It’s beyond our ability to deal with at this point. We all love animals, we just don’t have the facilities to do it, the need is so great.”

Other animal rescue groups do exist in Lake County, such as Lifesavers Animal Rescue and the Arlee Rehabilitation Center, but while some provide foster programs, Mission Valley Animal Shelter remains the only shelter to serve the entire county. On top of that, not only does the shelter provide housing and adoption opportunities for homeless pets, but a variety of other services for pet owners in the area.

Last year, the shelter’s spay and neuter discount certificate program cost over $100,000 for community animals, with over a thousand certificates sold. They offer microchipping at only $35 and even offer a community food support program for pet owners who need a little help filling their pets’ bowls. Outside of the animals within their walls, there are a lot of members of the county who rely on the shelter.

The shelter is only open to the public by appointment at this time due to tight schedules, as workers still have to be there every day to perform all the duties needed to keep everything running as well as look after the animals.

“The dogs and cats in our care need attention seven days a week,” Hawke stressed. “We’re overworking (two fulltime employees), and it’s hard to even answer the phones when we just don’t have the staffing or volunteers for all that needs doing.”

“Just with how much time it takes to take care of all the animals in the shelter, as overloaded as we are … we hardly have any time to be able to do everything we need to do for them, and still be able to meet with the public to possibly find them homes,” Corkill said. “We know the community really, really cares about the animals, especially in Lake County. I’m always blown away … by the people who show up and start donating immediately. It just shows how much they care, but it still doesn’t really help our situation. It’s gone beyond the community help. We need more than that now.”

All in all, the shelter operators stressed they cannot continue down this path. Until some governmental steps are taken, they are in desperate need of volunteers and donations from the community. Volunteers can assist with any number of tasks the shelter operators have been unable to prioritize over care of the animals and a nearly-constantly ringing phone. Anything from laundry, cleaning, processing paperwork, or even writing thank you notes for donors would be extremely helpful according to Hawke and Corkill. To volunteer, visit the website at, or call Hawke at 406-883-5312. 

In addition to financial donations, supplies of food, blankets, and towels are all welcome. 

“We’re fighting an uphill battle, and we cannot win it,” Hawke said. “The only option we’ll have at some point is to close down. And then what is the county and the tribe going to do? What’s the community going to do about the animals?”

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