NewsMontana and Regional News


PAWS Of Chinook faces possible closure

PAWS of Chinook
Posted at 6:05 PM, Jun 17, 2024

CHINOOK — In August of 2022, MTN caught wind of an influx of dogs taken in by PAWS Of Chinook animal shelter. The five kennel shelter received an outpouring of support from people across the state and nation.

Nearly two years later, that support has slowed down as the shelter hosts seven of the original 40 dogs — forcing a potential closure of the only shelter spanning 4,000 square miles.

"We do have a little bit of a problem." Alissa Hewitt said, Executive Director of P.A.W.S. of Chinook. "We still have seven of those dogs in our care. Because we only have five kennels, we don't have the room to bring in any more dogs. We're not able to help as many people as we'd like to."

For the last 30 years, community support has kept the lights on for the only shelter in Blaine County. The non-profit organization is run entirely on donations and it has recently had to take unforeseen steps to keep staff in the building for the benefit of its animals.

"We haven't been able to find sustainable volunteers. Ones that can really stick around long enough to where we can have a group that keeps this place open." Hewitt said. "Because of that, I had to switch those positions from volunteer to paid positions. That's never something we want. Of course, we want to pay people, but the money should be going towards other things."

Hewitt says since the shelter took in the 40 "Hell House Hounds" of 2022 and prior media coverage of the rescue, donation flow allowed the shelter to make necessary upgrades to handle a pack of dogs. Fast forward to today, the cute and cuddly dogs of the bunch have been adopted and the seven left over can be viewed by adopters as "feral."

"Each dog is an individual. I think it's all going to come back to, they created their own society out there and we followed suit to, who they told us was the leader. Even though there's only seven of them left, there's still that hierarchy within their pack that they follow," explained Hewitt.

PAWS of Chinook staff has put countless hours of medical treatment and training into the remaining animals. The shelter is lacking outside volunteers to continue to socialize the dogs. The remaining seven "Hell House Hounds" have adapted well to staff but the stressful nature of a shelter leaves the dogs standoffish.

"Once we remove them from that, they could be a completely different dog. We have some we know that are really nervous around kids, so we wouldn't place them in a home with children." Hewitt added. "One great thing is because they grew up outside and they're used to being outside. They're the types of mixed breeds that have the fur that can handle Montana winters."

From March 2023:

‘Hell House Hounds’ at PAWS of Chinook still need forever homes

Hewitt says these dogs may not be the perfect present under a Christmas Tree but would benefit from being a perimeter dogs. She says best case scenario would be to find a patient owner with a large piece of land to allow these dogs to roam and make a home of their own. It's the life they became accustomed at their prior living situation.

"They now protect the shelter like it's their home, which is sweet but sad, you know." She said. "It would really just depend on what the family is looking for. Some of them, we have gotten on leashes and taken them for walks and it's really just astounding to see how well they do, considering their history."

The fate of P.A.W.S. of Chinook relies on the adoption of the remaining seven dogs. A main source of income comes from adoption fees. Without the kennel space, the shelter is turning away pets at an alarming rate. Hewitt suspects, the shelter may only make it until the end of 2024.

"We're not on any county and city budget line. When our money runs out, that's literally it. And the community has kept us alive for 30 years in a town as small as Chinook. That's huge. It's incredible," exclaimed Hewitt. "I have backed off my pay completely. My employees who are the kennel attendants here, who who run this place every day, know after July, I can no longer pay them. I really hate saying all of this. I never thought this would happen."

Hewitt admitted the current financial system in place for the shelter is not sustainable. She told MTN she is willing to make any necessary leadership or system changes needed to keep the shelter open. By pulling back the reins, PAWS is also in need of community board members.

"When one of us is no longer here, that puts the burden on the shelter next door who's already at capacity, who's already full, who's already stretched to their limit."

When the sun sets on Montana's Hi-Line, Blaine County may look different at the end of 2024 if it says goodbye to a long standing group in the community.

"It's not about just the shelter itself, but what we do in the community. We provide those volunteer opportunities. We when we can, we provide employment. We have training sessions. We work the local trainer, we bring in trainers, we have events to educate the public about spay and neuter, about adoption, about fostering. It's not just about the dogs that are sitting here with me today."

PAWS Of Chinook is accepting monetary and physical donations, volunteers, and any other ways the public feels inclined to help.

If you are interested in donating or contacting the shelter, click here for more information.