John Wagner made extra room in his Ballard home over the holidays for some elderly strangers who've seen hard times. The strangers — first it was Shades, then Ruben, then...

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John Wagner made extra room in his Ballard home over the holidays for some elderly strangers who’ve seen hard times.

The strangers — first it was Shades, then Ruben, then Buzz, and now Fawn — are dogs no one wants anymore.

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They’re part of a new program this holiday season at animal-

rescue group Pasado’s Safe Haven in Monroe. The shelter is placing these dogs and cats with animal lovers, such as Wagner, for a little spoiling over the holidays — tummy rubs, cushy beds, a spot of their own by the fireplace, walks in the woods.

These are not the big-eyed puppies and cuddly little kittens that get swooped up fast from animal shelters. They are the old ones, many with health problems — deafness, blindness, incontinence.

Typically, Pasado’s rescues them from overcrowded animal shelters, some on the same day they’re scheduled to be euthanized.

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But to Pasado’s holiday volunteers, the animals are precious.

How to help

If you want to adopt a pet from Pasado’s permanently, or just

for the holidays:

Make an appointment

Pasado’s is open by appointment every day, including today. Call 360-793-9393 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. to make an appointment. Voice-mail messages are checked several times a day and overnight.

Complete an application process

Applicants must be more than 18 years old and pass a home inspection and an interview. The application process typically takes one day.

“We’ve found that love blossoms between the humans and the animals during this test period,” said Pasado’s founder, Susan Michaels.

Wagner, a cheerful retired Boeing computer analyst, already owned two dogs before he started volunteering at Pasado’s in the fall. But in recent weeks, he’s opened his home to a rotating cast of foster pets.

“Somehow, the more I learn about humans, the more I like dogs,” said the 61-year-old childless bachelor as he sat on the porch of his Ballard home petting Ruben, a black-lab mix he guesses is about 10 years old.

Around Thanksgiving, he decided to bring one of the orphaned dogs home. But he couldn’t bear to leave some of the others at the shelter over the holidays. So he picked four — all mutts — to bring home, each for a week at a time.

First it was Shades, a white dog with big spots over his eyes. Then it was Ruben. Then came Buzz — a real crowd-pleaser, Wagner said. Then ladylike Fawn.

Wagner really fell for Ruben and plans to keep him.

“You can tell there is some lab in him, the way he runs down the beach,” he said. Beaming, Wagner said Ruben could keep up with any of the young dogs racing down the beach at Golden Gardens Park.

He’s not the only volunteer who’s fallen in love with a Pasado’s dog in recent weeks.

Mike Shelton decided he needed a companion when his divorce got messy. Tilly, an Australian heeler mix, wasn’t exactly in the best shape — she had a quarter-size tumor growing into one of her eyes and a tumor on her rectum. She needed major surgery bad — that’s why her previous owner gave her up, Michaels said.

With donated funds from Pasado’s and help from a big-hearted veterinarian, Shelton got her into surgery, and now the tumors are gone.

Tilly, once grumpy and unpopular, is a different girl.

“She smiles a lot,” said Shelton, who lives in Mill Creek. “She gets excited about going for walks.”

Shelton, also a Pasado’s volunteer, said he plans to keep her.

While most of Pasado’s holiday foster parents are volunteers who cuddle and clean up after the pets, nonvolunteers also may take a pet home for the holidays, Michaels said. Prospective volunteers must have a big heart, pass an interview and fill out an application, she said.

“What we don’t want is an animal that is brought home and put in the mudroom,” she said.

Michaels founded Pasado’s in April 1992, the same month she heard about the 21-year-old donkey named Pasado killed in Bellevue by teenage boys.

Since then, Michaels has advocated intensely for animal rights, lobbying legislators to stiffen punishments for violators of animal-abuse laws. In 1998, Pasado’s obtained 80 acres and established an animal sanctuary where there are no cages, and no animals are euthanized. The sanctuary is home to a range of rescued animals, including llamas and pigs. The nonprofit, which has six paid staff members and a herd of volunteers, runs on private donations and nongovernment grants. Its annual budget is around $535,000, Michaels said.

The holidays are high season for what Michaels terms “animal dumping.” She estimates for every 50 calls Pasado’s gets over the holidays from people who want to donate money, 200 people call who want to get rid of their animals.

“Oh yeah — the family has to go back East, they got a new kitty and they don’t want the old cat,” Michaels said, referring to explanations she often hears.

Pasado’s takes in only animals that are in desperate need of rescue, such as those abused or in danger, and not those of owners who simply don’t want them anymore.

Michaels doesn’t know how many of Pasado’s holiday foster parents want to keep the dogs and cats they are taking care of, but she has high hopes.

“Let’s just say we have our paws crossed,” she said.

Lauren Graf: 206-464-8345 or