Woman hopes to provide sanctuary for homeless animals
Ware forms nonprofit whose mission is to provide a safe transition for animals
Amy Ware has long dreamed of creating an animal sanctuary in her home.
"I've always wanted to have a place where animals could live out their lives in peace and get the second chance we all deserve," she said.
Ware grew up with a dog named Cosby and a stray cat she named Casey, who she took in when she was 8-years-old.
"I had both animals for over 10 years," she said. "Cosby slept with me every night."
When she moved to Homer in 2010 for a teaching job, Ware also started volunteering for the Homer Animal Shelter, which included fostering animals in her home. She also attended a conference on starting an animal sanctuary.
"I knew I wanted to go in to rescue, but did not know what that would look like," she said. "I thought I was maybe preparing to start a sanctuary or a rescue later down the road."
In 2016, Ware formed Alaska Mindful Paws, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide a safe transition for homeless animals, while educating the community on humane and responsible pet ownership. This past January, the City of Homer contracted Alaska Mindful Paws to manage the Homer animal shelter on a two-year contract, with Ware as manager.
It is the first time she has managed a business, worked in an animal management field or been so involved with a non-profit.
Eager to learn about shelters and how to best serve the animals and the people that come through the shelter doors, Ware has attended animal welfare conferences and visited other shelters.
"Everyone in this circle wants to help each other," she said. "We just go, go, go and do it for the animals."
Ware shares her home with two dogs - Lady, a Pit bull mix she rescued while she was living and working in St. Croix, and Starch, her boyfriend's dog.
Raised in Oregon, Ware attended a year of college and then traveled around Europe and Central America. In 2002, she joined Ameri Corps, working as a crew leader at a high school for at risk youth. During her second year with the organization, she worked as a foster parent at an orphanage in St. Croix, fostering seven children.
She worked seasonal jobs in the Grand Tetons and the Northern Cascade Mountains and with a BS in Geography and a MAT in Elementary Education and Early Childhood Development, she was eager to live where mountains were big and nature was abundant. She applied for teaching jobs in Chicago, Idaho and on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula, and moved to Homer in 2010, when she was offered a job teaching in Voznesenska, a Russian community near Homer.
Ware taught at Voznesenska, Paul Banks and substitute taught in the school district for a number of years, then quit teaching to spend her summers working on the Homer Spit and her winters traveling the United States.
Ware originally planned to be in Alaska for one year. This is her ninth summer in Homer. Ware is excited about the shelter. In her six months as manager, she and her staff and volunteers have found homes for 24 dogs, 28 cats and two Guinea pigs. She is especially eager to continue developing their foster program, encouraging community members to take cats and dogs into their homes on a short or long-term basis, until a permanent home is found.
She is also eager to provide a positive experience for both the animals and the visitors; something she knows can be a challenge.
"For years, I avoided shelters because I'd get so sad and I thought I couldn't go in because I'd want to take all the animals home," she shared.
Ware appreciates the community support.
"People love to come in and interact with the animals, and we want to encourage this, but it's important people know that the animals needs come first," she said. "Some dogs and cats get very stressed out by visitors, so daily, we manage their needs."
The shelter provides educational training to volunteers, and all animals that are adopted are up to date on vaccines and spayed/neutered, thanks to collaboration with Homer Animal Friends, another local nonprofit committed to the welfare of shelter animals.
Ware spends a lot of her time networking around the state, placing cats and dogs with other organizations in other communities, including Fairbanks, Kenai and Anchorage.
"It's one of shelter's strongest points," she said. "If we can't help the animal find a home, we find someone who can. We have been very successful at placing every healthy, adoptable animal."
Learning to balance the stress and the rewards, Ware loves her job.
"I can't imagine doing anything else right now, even though it's an emotional roller coaster," she said. "There's no black and white, every day is different, and you never know what's going to walk in the door."
As she and her team care for the animals that come through the shelter doors, Ware continues to dream of creating an animal rescue and sanctuary in her home.
"When I'm an old woman, I'll be so content," she said. "I'll be the one on the beach walking five dogs."