RICHLAND -- Employees at the Horn Rapids Sanitary Landfill in Richland have brought a touch of the North Pole to their workplace, and that spirit has them raising money for homeless pets.
Staff at the city-operated landfill decorated the scalehouse as "Santa's Pet Shop" for the holidays, with a dog house for Santa's dog "Santa Paws" and a custom-built entrance leading into the office. That's covered with animal-themed Christmas decorations.
They also are collecting donations for Pet Over Population Prevention, a local animal rescue organization that offers unwanted pets for adoption on Saturdays in Richland.
Kris Kirsch, who works in Richland's solid waste collections operation, said the idea to decorate emerged from an annual competition the city regularly stages among departments. This time, the staff wanted to add a charity component.
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"We chose POPP because they're less known. People usually think of the animal shelter or the (Benton Franklin) Humane Society first. And (POPP is) in Richland," Kirsch said. "I just think it's wonderful what they do."
Landfill staff began planning before Thanksgiving about how they would like to decorate this year, and they were inspired to the "Santa's Pet Shop" theme by the dozens of pets that ride with their owners on trips to the landfill.
"We just love the animals. It was a natural fit for us out here," said Lynne Follett, a support specialist who greets landfill customers at the scalehouse window.
Follett said there are scores of dogs and even a few cats the landfill staff see again and again. And then there is the customer who came through with an iguana, and another former regular who traveled with a talking parrot.
"It was just 'Hello' and 'How are you?' Nothing really profound," Follett said of the parrot's conversational skills.
Once they got the idea, the staff got to work cutting out paw prints and dog bones to stick on the office walls. Kirsch hit local thrift stores looking for stuffed animals to be part of the "pet shop" display.
Their menagerie includes plenty of plush puppies, but also a few more unusual animals -- a monkey, a walrus, a big frog, a seahorse and a lobster.
Kirsch also brought in a toy talking parrot someone presented to her as a gift a few years ago. One of its features allows people to record messages for the parrot to speak. She joked that a few times she has had to put the brakes on what some of the solid waste truck drivers wanted to make the parrot say.
"I couldn't wait to get to work because I'd think of something else I could put up," Kirsch said.
She also came up with the idea of awarding each donor a little gift -- a candy cane decorated as a reindeer with brown pipe cleaner antlers and stick-on googly eyes.
"(Donors') faces light up and then they feel good," Kirsch said.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the landfill team had raised $372 of their $400 goal. They will keep accepting donations through the first week of January. Some people have donated dog and cat food and pet supplies in lieu of cash.
The Horn Rapids landfill usually is open from 8 a.m. to4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and will be closed for Christmas weekend Friday through Monday. It also will be closed Jan. 1-2.
The landfill is at 3102 Twin Bridges Road, Richland.