The Western Pennsylvania Humane Society is in a critical state—FULL of animals, but NOT ENOUGH adopters. People continue surrendering animals every day, but fewer are coming in to adopt them. This is probably true at other shelters as well at this time of the year. We need to do something about it today, and for the future.
Right now, can you foster, even for just a few weeks or a month? Can you adopt just one more? You will save lives immediately if you do. Consider it, even try to do something this weekend, the situation is that desperate.
Gretchen J. Fieser, Director of PR and Business Relationships at the shelter, offered figures comparing September 1 to 19, 2010 and 2011 in surrenders and adoptions of cats, dogs and rabbits when figures are often lower with people adapting to their new fall schedules.
- Owner Surrenders of Cats: 13.85% increase
- Owner Surrender of Dogs: 21.92% increase
- Owner Surrender of Rabbits: 300% increase
- Adoptions of Cats: 26.51% DECREASE
- Adoptions of Dogs: 17.37% DECREASE
- Adoption of Rabbits: 50% INCREASE
To put a real number behind that surrender percentage, I visited the shelter a month ago and Gretchen noted, “We took in 48 cats on Tuesday [August 23], and we adopted out 11.”
Late summer figures for total animal surrenders often surpass 1,000 animals per month adding up to over 13,000 animals per year coming into the shelter.
And right now, surrounding no-kill shelters are full and are not accepting any other animals until their numbers are reduced by adoption.
But the WPHS doesn’t have the option of closing the door until they can accept more animals.
“As an open door shelter (we are committed to never turning an animal away in need) we must have help from the community as far as adopting, fostering animals, and spaying and neutering,” Gretchen says. As an open door shelter, they are required to take in all animals that are brought to them, but the shelter has a finite amount of space and the WPHS cannot exceed occupancy.
Even with a dedicated group of over 100 foster homes, breed rescue groups taking animals into their care for adoption and other options for moving animals out of the shelter to be housed other than actual adoption, the shelter still needs help with adoptions and fosters.
When presented with an animal for surrender, the WPHS will ask why the animal is being surrendered, and if there’s a chance they can help the family keep their pet, they’ll offer health or behavior suggestions and hopefully keep that pet in its home.
But when a family truly needs to surrender their pet whether it’s circumstances beyond their control or because they just don’t want the pet anymore, it has to go somewhere. If the local shelter is no-kill and it’s full, the family often moves on to a shelter like the WPHS which can take their pet.
And what would be the options for that pet if there was no shelter to take it? If a family really doesn’t want a pet, it usually ends up abandoned along some back road or left in the woods where people mistakenly think they can “fend for themselves”, or dropped off at a farm where most house pets don’t live happily ever after as my farm-owning friends sadly tell me.
So the open-door shelter ends up being full, and this is the elephant in the living room, the 900-pound gorilla or whatever else you might want to call a situation no one wants to think about. When they have done all they can to adopt, foster and otherwise rehome pets, they need to make space for incoming animals, and the only way to do that is to make the horrible decision to euthanize animals who have been there and not been adopted to make room for the new ones. The shelter is finite, they are legally permitted to house only up to a certain number of animals, and they can, in all practicality, only care for a certain number of animals, yet they are criticized for following the rules set up for them to ensure humane housing for the animals in their care.
And consider this—the people who work in animal shelters are animal professionals, they love animals and are there to care for them, yet they are the very ones who need to pick and choose the individual animals to be euthanized to make space for the next wave coming in, and actually perform the euthanasia. I don’t even want to think about it.
To personalize it for myself, I think of my current household if they ended up in a shelter: five adult black cats, very difficult to adopt generally and though they are friendly at home I have no idea how they’d be in a shelter situation, coddled as they are; and two senior tortoiseshells, Kelly, at 17 sweet and loving but timid and fearful with even changes in her own home and who was on the euthanasia list years ago for her fearful nature, and Cookie at 19 social and friendly but holding off renal failure and a host of other minor conditions related to her age. How long would they survive in a shelter? I don’t even want to think about this either.
There is one main solution to all of this and it’s so easy: SPAY AND NEUTER CATS AND DOGS. Low-cost spay and neuter has become much easier to find, clinics are more convenient and even mobile clinics exist, any shelter will gladly give information on where to go and how much it will cost.
I know I’m preaching to the choir here, but I also feel it’s our responsibility as animal lovers to promote this in any way we can, even if we just carry flyers with information for local clinics, encourage people, get into the conversation generally and raise awareness. I have met people who really can’t afford their veterinarian’s fees and honestly have no idea there are other options, told them about local options and they’ve gone right out and had their animals spayed and neutered. I’ve offered it to senior neighbors who have a true companion but not enough money in the budget for spay or neuter, and helped them got to the clinic. I’ve posted the flyer in every store I’ve visited that sells pet supplies, from the big ones to my local Agway. It’s made a difference, and people have been grateful.
And the secondary solution is to help people understand their pets so that surrendering them doesn’t seem like the only option.
But again, can you foster, even for just a few weeks or a month? Can you adopt just one more? You will save lives immediately if you do. Visit the WPHS—or your local shelter—and save a life.