Helping Lost Pets Reunite With Their People When Shelters Are Closed

By Jessica Simpkins, MD

For those of us who have pets, we dread the possibility of them going missing. Everyone has seen flyers pinned to bulletin boards or taped to light poles, hung by the desperate owners of missing pets. But what happens when someone finds a pet and doesn’t know who it belongs to, especially if the local shelter is closed?

That is where Short Term After Hours Rescue (STAHR) comes in. This non-profit provides the community of Spokane with a rescue service for lost, found, or displaced pets for the hours during which the local shelter is closed. Their number one goal is to reunite pets with their people.

Dispatchers respond to calls about found pets that have been contained and send out transporters to take in the displaced pet. From there, the animal is placed with a short-term foster for up to 72 hours. Luckily, 94% of the pets taken in by STAHR have successfully been reunited with their owners, oftentimes with the help of social media. However, in the event that the owner of the pet cannot be found, the pet will be taken to the Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS) for further care.

How did STAHR come to be? Founder and Executive Director Tandi Brayson-Foster is a lifelong lover of animals and had wanted to start an animal rescue for many years. However, starting a rescue is expensive and requires a large enough property, making it cost-prohibitive.

Founder and Executive Director Tandi Brayson-Foster

Founder and Executive Director Tandi Brayson-Foster

On Memorial day in 2019, Tandi was having dinner at her brother’s house when she saw a dog running through the neighborhood by itself. Around 30 minutes later, the same dog came running back, followed slowly by a car. Tandi and four other people cooperated with one another to catch the dog. After catching the dog, they realized none of them had the capacity to shelter it.

Tandi called SCRAPS for assistance, but unfortunately they were closed for the holiday. Next she called an emergency vet who said they could check if the dog had a microchip, but they couldn’t keep the dog. Tandi put out a call for help on social media, asking if anyone knew the owner or could give the dog shelter until the owner could be found.

A kind woman who fostered for SCRAPS volunteered to take the dog. Thankfully, the dog’s owner reached out the next day. She had been out of town, and upon return learned that her dog had escaped the pet sitter. The lost dog and its owner were happily reunited.

Tandi kept thinking about what had happened, and mused to her husband Steve, “Who takes care of these dogs when the rescues are closed? There has to be someone who deals with this!” Tandi turned to Google, but did not find a satisfactory answer.

With a new fire ignited within her, Tandi went back to social media and asked if anyone wanted to collaborate to solve this issue. In response, 25 people showed up to discuss the problem. After another couple weeks of brainstorming, Tandi and others decided to form STAHR. Tandi then met with Lindsey Soffes, the director of SCRAPS, to discuss a partnership.

Tandi says starting a non-profit came with a steep learning curve. In September of 2019, STAHR had its soft launch at Manito Park. Despite it snowing that day, people still showed up to support the launch. STAHR officially began serving the community in January of 2020.

“We run on fewer than 20 volunteers, which is hard to believe. I always say it takes a squad! We have such a great team of people working towards the same goal. Everybody just wants to help. These are people we call at 1am to accept a short term foster or transport a dog to the vet to look for a microchip,” Tandi shares.

Unfortunately, one of their wonderful volunteers, Daren Suiter, passed away unexpectedly in December 2021. In his memory, STAHR created the Daren Suiter Volunteer Appreciation Award to honor other outstanding volunteers. “When I learned he had passed, I was devastated. We are a family at STAHR,” Tandi recalls.

Tandi shares how the organization has evolved over time: “In August we started offering microchipping for the pets that were reunited with their owners. This is a service we provide free of charge.” She also shares their goal of starting an initiative called Mending Fences. This initiative would offer more education and services to pet owners in the community to help them keep their pets safe, including microchipping, vaccinations, spay/neutering, and literally helping to fix broken fences.

Tandi also shares some of their obstacles and how STAHR is working to overcome them: “As the local shelters struggle with being at full capacity, we too have had to adjust our ways of operating. We have started doing a lot more community coaching to help others in the community learn to care for pets they have found and continue to facilitate the process of reuniting these pets with their owners. Most of the time dogs remain within a 10-12 block radius of where they actually live, so it’s actually ideal to keep the dog in the area while trying to find their owner.”

“There is nothing more exciting than to see how happy a dog is to be reunited with its owner,” Tandi smiles. One of her long-term visions is to see programs like STAHR operate across the country. “This service is so needed, and I would love to see one like it everywhere,” Tandi says.

You can follow STAHR’s journey on Facebook and Instagram. To learn more about how to donate resources or volunteer your time, visit Questions can be directed to or their main number (509) 207-7984.