At Rifle Animal Shelter saving lives is their business |

At Rifle Animal Shelter saving lives is their business

Stephanie Hernandez-Whittington is one of many volunteers who walk dogs at the Rifle Animal Shelter.
Heidi Rice/Citizen Telegram |

When Heather Mullen goes to work, at least 35 friendly faces eagerly wait to greet her.

Mullen oversees the no-kill Rifle Animal Shelter, which has been around for the past 30 years. The kennel takes in animals from Rifle and Parachute, and also accepts animals from other shelters that are full.

“We have room for 15 dogs and 20 cats,” she said. “We’re always full. I don’t believe in having empty kennels. My philosophy is that an open kennel does not save a life.”

A typical day starts at 8 a.m.

“We come in to a bunch of barking dogs, and they get fed. Then they all get to go outside,” Mullen said with a smile. “I love it that they get to be out in our outdoor yards. They’re outside all day unless it’s too hot or too cold. While they’re out, we clean their kennels and set them up. Then throughout the day, we help with adoptions, take phone calls, do paperwork and in-takes, get vaccines, put pictures up on PetFinder and make videos.”

At 4 p.m., it’s time for a “Kong” treat — a ball that has a snack tucked inside it — for the dogs in their kennels and a treat for the cats.

“The dogs love going back to their kennels because they know they’re going to get treats,” Mullen said.

Mullen, who was born and raised in Glenwood Springs and now lives in New Castle, grew up wanting to be a teacher, but has been an animal lover all of her life. As a kid, she had dogs, cats, birds and a hamster. In her own home now with her husband and two children, she has two dogs, cats and a rabbit.

The best part of her job is seeing the animals get adopted out to a good, forever home.

“The toughest part is getting certain [members of the] public to realize how important spaying and neutering is. If we all spayed and neutered our pets, we wouldn’t have this problem, and I would be happy to be unemployed.”

The atmosphere at the shelter is one of caring and compassion and also a lot of fun.

If there is ever a problem, somebody simply calls “Captain K9” — a local superhero who rushes over to help.

“We leave goldfish [crackers] and Gatorade at the post on the street, and when Captain K9 skateboards by, he knows to read our message and come help,” Mullen said with a laugh.

Billy Adams, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Captain K9, has been working at the shelter for a little more than a year and is also an avid animal lover.

“I was always the kid that brought random animals to the house and my parents had to deal with it,” Adams said with a big smile. “What I love about this is that I feel like I’m helping. I like to see the feedback from people who have adopted an animal from me and how well they’re doing. It’s pretty cool.”

The Rifle Animal Shelter has been a nonprofit organization since January 2012 and now offers its own spay and neuter facilities. There are six staff members and 20 volunteers, along with the Friends of the Rifle Animal Shelter.

“We’re not just an animal shelter, we’re a resource for the pet-owning public,” Mullen said. “People can call us if they have any questions.”

The shelter participates in lots of community events and will be holding its own annual fundraiser on Oct. 11, called “Laugh Your Tail Off.”

The event is held at Grand River Hospital Ballroom and includes cocktails at 5 p.m., followed by a silent auction, dinner and then a comedy show. This year’s comedian is Chris Voth from Denver. Tickets for the show are $50 per person until Oct. 1 and $65 per person after that. Corporate tables, seating six, are $350.

The Rifle Animal Shelter is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week. Visit its Facebook page at Rifle Animal Shelter, its website at, call (970) 625-8808 or stop in at 569 County Road 265 (Prefontaine Avenue).

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