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Furry Friends find comfort, support through alliance

While there’s no doubt that pets enrich our lives with their unique blend of loyalty and unconditional love, there’s a group that’s dedicated to helping those pets that don’t yet have a forever home.

The Oakdale Shelter Pet Alliance, better known as the OSPA, has a simple mission statement: “Saving and Improving the Lives of Homeless Pets in Oakdale, Riverbank & Escalon.”

Originally founded in 2004, the group became a 501c3 in 2012 so it is marking its 10th anniversary as a non-profit this year. And over the years, the organization has helped countless homeless pets in the area, whether that is providing for medical needs, spay or neuter services, even assisting with adoption fees so homeless pets can be placed in a forever home.

“We pay for certain shelter improvements; for example, in the past we have purchased an industrial strength washer and dryer ... we have helped with new cat kennels, we helped build the dog play yard,” said OSPA board member Debi Scoles, who has been involved in the group since 2010.

“It’s 100 percent volunteer,” she added of the organization. “Our members are volunteers. We are pet lovers.”

A large part of the OSPA effort in the past has been a voucher program for low-cost spay and neuter services for animals.

That effort is on hold temporarily, Scoles explained, as they found that the veterinary clinics they worked with on that program are booked with animals that didn’t get to see a vet during the pandemic.

Eventually, they hope to offer that voucher service again, since it is a program which makes the spay-neuter more affordable and helps prevent unwanted litters of dogs and cats.

“We have a budget, typically we cap it at $50,000 per year but the last few years it has been lower, with COVID, around $35,000 to $40,000 a year,” Scoles added.

Fundraising is the primary source for the group to make their budget, and all money is put back in to helping the animals in some way.

Animal control services for the cities of Oakdale, Riverbank and Escalon are all handled through the Oakdale Police Department and Scoles said many of the OSPA members are also volunteers with the City of Oakdale so they can donate time at the animal shelter on Liberini Avenue in Oakdale.

“We walk the dogs, socialize the kitties,” she said.

Ultimately, the goal is to get all the homeless animals placed and the group is always looking for potential families to adopt a pet.

A huge part of what the organization does is provide assistance with the adoption fees, which can be pricey.

“We reduce the fee to $25,” Scoles said of OSPA subsidizing the adoptions. “That includes the spay/neuter, microchip and vaccinations.”

New homes are needed now more than ever, she added.

“Shelters and rescues everywhere, not just us, have been overwhelmed with pets coming in,” she said. “I think we can say it’s a crisis.”

But Scoles is hopeful more pets than not will find forever homes, whether it is in the tri-city area of Oakdale-Riverbank-Escalon or elsewhere around the 209 or even beyond. They have information about available pets, volunteer opportunities and more about the non-profit organization on their website,

The current board members for the OSPA are: Holly Huizenga, President; Laurie Fanjul, Vice President; John O’Flaherty, Secretary; Lisa Dolling, Treasurer; Diane Merranda, member at large; Linda Hess, member at large; Debi Scoles, member at large.

“I got involved in 2010, a friend of mine was volunteering, we used to do posters of the available pets at the shelter and distribute them around town,” Scoles said of her first efforts with the group. “She was getting ready to do a lot of traveling and asked me if I would continue to do that (poster distribution) ... I had just retired from teaching.”

So, Scoles traded in the classroom for the animal shelter, still finding a way to be of service.

The OSPA members meet every other month, on the third Tuesday at 6 p.m., typically at the home of a board member. The Dec. 20 meeting will also serve as the group’s Christmas party and they will develop a game plan for 2023, determining what they can do to continue to promote their mission.

They often partner with pet stores in the region to host adoption days and plan more of them in the months to come, along with continuing to fundraise and work to improve the lives of homeless pets in their service area.