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In 2006, I stopped in to the Newport Animal Shelter because I had time to kill and thought it would be nice to “visit” a few dogs. 12 hours and lots of fencing materials later, my husband and I were the proud owners the first dog for us both, a shepherd mix who is still with us. In gratitude, I decided to volunteer at the place that saved his life and there I met another volunteer, Kaye Eldon.

I took a rather long hiatus before returning to volunteering two years ago, but Eldon, a retired assistant director for the Newport Public Library, has been showing up regularly since we met 13 years ago, shortly after she returned from a two-year service in the Ukraine with the Peace Corps.

“They don’t believe in spay and neuter programs because they think it’s unnatural but don’t take care of the homeless animals that result,” she said. “It was heartbreaking watching the animals freeze to death every winter. When I came home I decided to volunteer at the local animal shelter.”

She started out exercising dogs then slowly moved on to cats.

“Now I’m pretty much a crazy cat lady,” said Eldon, who currently has three cats of her own and four fosters. “I love all the animals we get at the shelter, though. We’ve had chickens that I’ve loved, we’ve had rabbits that I’ve loved. I’m not really a huge fan of guinea pigs but they are okay too.”

It was about six years ago that she opened her home to foster cats and kittens.

“Someone from the shelter called me and asked if I could foster. When I quickly said yes they were like, “That was easy.”

Eldon has seen progressive changes during her service.

“When I started here, this place was bleak. It just keeps getting better because it’s run by people who care. I used to be afraid to ask what happened to animals that disappeared, now I look forward to the often-heartwarming stories like related kittens being adopted together or dogs going to the perfect home.”

Laura Braxling, who has been the shelter director for almost 10 years, gives a lot of the credit for changes made under her leadership to Lincoln County voters.

“The impetus for a lot of improvements came because of the formation of the tax district,” she said. “The previous managers were limited by the financial situation they were in. We couldn’t do as much life-saving work as we do without this funding.”

Funding has also come at a critical time to address an unexpected emergency situation.

“One of our staff members was having really bad respiratory issues and her doctor said it might be due to exposure to black mold so we had the building checked,” Braxling said. “Turned out it was so full of it that remediation wasn’t possible and we need a whole new building. We’ve needed one for a while though; this one was built a long time ago and we’ve learned a lot about shelter design since then.”

Though the shelter has always appreciated and depended on fundraising efforts and donations from the community, the building will not depend on uncertain sources of funding.

“The county has agreed to fund the new building,” Braxling said. “We still always have the need for more programs, though, and that can be supported through donations.”

Funding issues in the community are also something that the shelter addresses regularly.

“Financial issues are often a huge reason that people do not spay and neuter and they don’t realize we have funding to help them with that,” she said. “That’s getting better, though.”

The volunteer program is just as vital to keeping the shelter open and managing the roughly 1,200 animals that come through the doors each year.

“We have six staff members and have to staff the facility seven days a week,” Braxling said. “Volunteers are vital to our operations and assist us in every aspect of what we do. There are only so many animals we can house or transfer to other places with room. The community wants us to save lives — our fosters help us to do that.”

All are important, but Eldon has earned a special place.

“It’s amazing how many ways Kaye helps,” Braxling said. “No matter what we ask she always says yes. This is how important she is to us — on the schedule when she gets back from her upcoming vacation it says ‘Kaye is Back!’”

Eldon’s vacation is a trip to the Silk Road, her third trip to different parts of the trail. And when she gets back she is looking forward to getting back to her favorite pastime.

“I would volunteer every day if they would let me but I know other people want to play too,” she said. “When I got my first kittens from the shelter, the person there told me I wouldn’t need a TV anymore because kittens are so entertaining and they were completely right. I didn’t have one then, and I still don’t have one to this day.”

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