OAKLEY -- HALO House is looking for about two-dozen new homes.
After a less-than-successful, yearlong attempt to operate a shelter in downtown Oakley, the Homeless Animals' Lifeline Organization will return to its roots. Over the next couple of months, dogs and cats will be placed with local families for foster care and adopted out through events at local pet stores and events. Oakley Senior Citizens, another nonprofit, is scheduled to begin renting the former Second Street firehouse once the extension of HALO's lease expires June 15.
The animal advocacy group experienced an upheaval last year when its board members and other volunteers brought internal conflicts over management of the downtown shelter to the City Council. The rift included claims of poor decisions by a live-in caretaker as well as a lack of promised pet programs mentioned in the lease. Council members lamented being forced into the middle of the controversy as they gave HALO notice to vacate the old firehouse in September.
Since then, the factions have made peace. Former HALO President Tamara Reed and eight other one-time HALO volunteers have founded Animal Rescue Recon, an Oakley-based group that offers pets for adoption on Saturdays at Brentwood Feed. Recon pets are fostered by volunteer families. The group had a dozen dogs and a few cats available for adoption last week.
Meanwhile, remaining HALO members were working to find foster or adoptive homes for about 20 dogs and 10 cats living at the shelter.
Both Reed and HALO public relations director Andrea Stuart said all parties have rededicated their efforts to finding homes for needy pets.
"The dust has settled and now we're working with the very people with whom maybe there was conflict," Stuart said. "We all really wanted the same thing. We're all fighting the good fight again together. You cannot have too many rescues."
She added that HALO had recently donated a kennel to Animal Rescue Recon.
Reed said there was no animosity from her group toward their brethren.
"In my opinion the animals always come first," she said. "I do not see the two groups merging, but I see them working side-by-side to help the animals in the community."
Stuart said managing the facility turned out to be a bigger drain on finances than HALO directors had expected, and the increase in adoptions they envisioned didn't materialize.
"We've had a tremendous learning experience, and we have no regrets," Stuart said. "The facility in Oakley is just too cost-prohibitive. We want to put the money back into the animals."
HALO had hoped that a highly visible site would increase adoption rates, but the opposite was true. Also, despite a monthly rent of just $100 the first year and $500 starting in January, the cost of utilities, supplies and the salary for on-site management came to more than $5,000 per month. Meanwhile, adoptions dropped by more than 100 compared with the previous year's total, Stuart said.
Worse, East County animal lovers now seem to be under the impression that the group no longer needs foster homes, she said. As a result, that number is perilously low. HALO currently has two homes fostering dogs and 15 fostering cats. With its departure date 3½ months away and two dozen, mostly small-breed dogs as well as a half dozen cats still at the facility, HALO wants to adopt out as many of the dogs as possible. The group also is in desperate need of foster families, which it interviews and matches with an appropriate pet. There is no cost to foster an animal, although families are asked to drop off their foster animals at the weekend adoption events that local pet stores host.
Animal Rescue Recon also needs foster homes and is hoping to add a few adoption sites for weekend events. The group eventually would like to open a shelter, but for now it's focusing on expanding foster locations. Reed said the group has found homes for 60 animals since it formed in September.
HALO's Stuart said both groups are on the right track after a difficult winter. In retrospect, "I think we really tried to take on too much too soon," Stuart said, adding, "Ultimately, it's not about us. It's not about people and where we are going. It's about how many animals' lives we're going to save."