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Reaping Rewards Through Resources

The Humane Society of Western Montana expands their reach with the same goal in mind

In 1963, Missoula’s pet population nearly outnumbered its citizens. With the growth of animal welfare organizations across the country, concerned citizens decided to follow suit and open a shelter to invest in the health of the community by improving animal welfare. Today, just over sixty years later, the Humane Society of Western Montana is bringing that mission to rural communities across our state.

Executive Director Marta Pierpoint can see the history in the numbers. “In 1972, 8,000 animals came through the facility. With our clinics and programs, we’ve been able to get that down to anywhere from 1,200 to 1,400 a year. But, those bigger numbers are still happening across the country right now, including in our state,” said Marta. That realization came during the pandemic when Marta and other directors cobbled together partnerships to deliver food and supplies to pet owners’ doors. “It was a state-wide effort and a turning point for us. We saw how incredibly vast the need for care was in rural areas that had no access to services.”

In 2021, after shelters opened again, Missoula’s staff stayed on the speed dial of animal caretakers across the state. Havre Animal Services reached out with an invite to coordinate a clinic on the Rocky Boy Reservation. The Missoula team went into action figuring out how to deliver the best care possible with the resources they could bring 300 miles away.

“We started to think next-level,” Marta said. “We asked the Chippewa-Cree Tribe about their priorities and needs. We put the call out for a large space with full utilities and the fire department volunteered their hall. They moved their trucks outside for us so there was plenty of space for people to wait with their pets.” Once there, the team went to work treating, spaying, and neutering animals for three long days. That first visit was such a success that they returned three times that summer. Each visit revealed how dire circumstances can become for communities with few resources.

“We see animals in all sorts of conditions. We offer whatever services we can safely provide in the field, but without access to vets or basic care it's hard for pet owners,” said Marta. As with any clinic, there are the cases that tug at heartstrings along with the ones that make everyone shake their heads. “We see a lot of porcupine quills!” said Marta. “Sometimes our vets will spend hours pulling those things out of a snout and—yikes—she’s back again the next time. Daisy didn’t learn!”

Those first clinics at Rocky Boy were so successful that they became a model for delivering care in more Montana towns and communities. Marta and a dedicated team of providers coordinate with officials in whatever capacity they can to meet each community's unique needs. The crew includes surgical teams, anesthesiologists, and a mobile hospital affectionately named The Vaccinator, a unit that they were able to purchase with the help of the Alice Lee Lund Charitable Trust in Great Falls.

“It’s a fully operational mobile clinic with a complete surgical suite, including anesthesia and X-ray,” Marta said. No matter where they go, the team always encounters smiles and hugs. “Everyone is so grateful for whatever we can offer,” said Marta. “I love to say ‘you’re welcome’ and always tell them that it’s our doors that make it possible. I wish those donors could hear what we hear,” she said.

Even with working across the state, the shelter staff remains true to Missoula’s original investment in 1963. “We take care of our own first,” said Marta. Besides maintaining a stellar adoption rate that hovers between 98% and 99%, the staff delivered 100 vaccines in three hours during a clinic at the Missoula Fairgrounds last year. They also maintain a large library of how-to articles on their website to answer common questions about puppies, adult dogs, and cats. Plus, because every pet has a person, they help support the most vulnerable among us by delivering food and blankets to the Johnson Street pet-friendly homeless shelter. They also coordinate temporary housing for pets when owners are displaced or in crisis. “We follow a growing philosophy that the best thing we can do is support people who have pets so they won’t have to surrender them,” said Marta.

Whether it's at the facility just south of Missoula or visiting rural towns across the fourth largest state in the country, Missoula’s Humane Society of 1963 has evolved to become Western Montana’s Humane Society in name and scope. “I invite people to think of us differently,” Marta said. “We have an animal shelter but we are an animal welfare organization. We’re not just investing in our local community but all across our state. We go into communities that are where we were in the ‘70s. We’re building opportunities for pets and people to thrive. That’s where we can make a difference.”

The Humane Society of Western Montana

5930 U.S. Hwy 93 South


If you’d like to help, there are several options coming up:

  • Purchase a ticket to the fundraiser benefit on April 13 at The Wilma
  • Sponsor a vaccine or spay/neuter clinic
  • Donate to the financial assistance fund that helps people pay for surgeries and services that the shelter can’t provide