WALLA WALLA -- Dalia, the big, short-haired kitty, was eating lunch -- dry food only, please, canned food gives her intestinal issues -- on Friday afternoon, treating it like any other day.
Across the cat room at the Blue Mountain Humane Society, Milton was flirting with potential family members through the large window of the coed dorm room, rising up on his back legs and rubbing his furry head against the glass. He, too, showed no indication anything was different.
The dogs were in the same mode. Jimmy the chihauhau, with his creamy white coat and caramel-colored spots, sat on his tattered-but-clean blanket and watched the world with "please pick me" eyes. He had no commentary on the exciting news.
Sara Archer, however, was another story. The executive director of Walla Walla's shelter for homeless pets -- which included two rats last week -- was reeling from a recent event. "It happened at 4 p.m. Thursday," she said.
That's when the Humane Society made the last payment of a loan stretching back to before it opened its new facility in 2003. The cost of housing animals in open and sunny rooms rather than the dank building where munitions were once assembled at Walla Walla Regional Airport was $1.2 million, the Union-Bulletin reported that year.
A generous community took a bite out of the total, Archer pointed out, but about $450,000 was borrowed, accruing $1,500 in interest a month.
The shelter has struggled under the debt. For a long time monetary bequests and gifts had to be used for day-to-day operations.
About two years ago, the organization was steadier on its feet and the board decided to put all unrestricted donations toward reducing the loan. Help came in January through a bequest, when the board was able to plunk $74,000 down at Baker Boyer Bank.
More "very substantial" gifts allowed BMHS to bring the loan down to zero, "and we have $80,000 in the bank," she said. "It is a complete game changer. Completely ... for the ability to meet our mission."
Sam Wells agreed. Not having to devote long-term endowment funds to a debt payment every July gives the Humane Society some breathing room, the board president said. "Getting that paid off, that endowment money can go to program goals."
Her mind was whirling so, she couldn't even begin to prioritize those goals yet, Archer said. "But we're going to celebrate this. I went and told the puppies and kitties and they were all very excited that their roof is paid for."
Having the funds to go forward could mean a number of things; perhaps health insurance for employees who finally might be able to earn more than minimum wage, thus allowing more qualified people to stay in their jobs there, she said.
She's also considered a pet food bank, developing some of the shelter's land for outdoor space for the dogs and holding more incentive-priced adoption events.
Increasing awareness in the community may top Archer's wish list. "People still think we hold (animals) for three days then euthanize them. That hasn't been the truth for years."
With 87 cats (it's kitten season) and 69 dogs in the shelter -- as well as the rats, Senora Cheeser and Luci -- the executive director hopes Walla Walla will celebrate the good news by adopting huge numbers of animals, she said.
In the meantime, she plans to stay as tight-fisted as ever. She doesn't know how to act any other way, Archer said with a laugh.
To view adoptable animals, go to bluemountainhumane.org.