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Clockwise from top left: Neko, Matty, Bert, and Missy.

The holding rooms at Seattle Humane should be the saddest place in town. But they’re not—not for Neko, a two-year-old pit bull mix that wiggles in his kennel under a gray fleece coat, his white-tipped tail whipping like mad. One building away, nine-year-old shorthair cat Matty purrs on an elevated bed, a perfect ovoid of orange fur. 

Neko’s been surrendered twice. Matty has a chronic condition. In late spring they joined Bert, an 11-year-old fox terrier who quivers with emotion, and Missy, an aloof teenage domestic shorthair—anyone else might call them unadoptable. But at Seattle Humane, they aren’t desperate cases.

Seattle Humane takes in some of the toughest homeless dogs and cats; 70 percent of their animals come from other overwhelmed shelters in the community. But the combination of a supportive community, cat spay/neuter programs, and the shelter’s resources (trainers, full-time vets) means that 98 percent of the 7,000 animals that come through their doors each year actually leave alive, to join new homes. That’s 8 percent more than the accepted “no-kill” standard. 

Conventional wisdom says that the adult animals that end up in a shelter are the city’s castoffs, heartlessly tossed aside. As we walk the concrete, echo-filled halls of Seattle Humane, intake manager Jessica Charlton insists that’s not the case.

Take wiggly Neko, who’s been through the wringer. After being adopted out of one shelter, he was attacked by another dog. His owner, out of her depth, didn’t bail—she paid for gastrointestinal surgery, tried to train out his new fear of other dogs, fed him a special diet. Desperate, she ended up talking to Charlton, and they bonded over finding a solution: Seattle Humane’s specialized training. A few weeks later, Neko passed a behavior course and happily tilts his head at new things. He’s ready for a new home.

Matty, too, was a tough case. He came to Seattle Humane as Fatty (even though he wasn’t overweight), when his owners couldn’t afford him. He was quickly diagnosed with feline leukemia, a disease that causes lethargy—imagine mono in a college student. As with most cats, the disruption led to hormone spikes and hissing. But the shelter is one of the few that adopts out feline leukemia cats, and he settled into his meds and calmed down—and got adopted.

Behind the aging concrete blocks and portables that currently make up the Bellevue shelter, construction crews are erecting a three-story building that will dwarf the current space and increase their capacity to 10,000. Bonus: They’ll start taking rabbits and other creatures too.

“Everyone can be a good pet owner,” says Charlton. But more notable is that almost every single animal inside Seattle Humane will make a good pet again.

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