Shelters see surge in pets, lack of adoptions

The Springfield-Greene County Health Department’s Animal Control and local animal rescue organizations are in high demand as the number of abandoned animals has increased and the number of adoptions has decreased.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Rescue One, an animal shelter and veterinary clinic in Springfield, had 454 animals (dogs and cats) in its care. This represents an increase from an average of 300 animals cared for last summer.

Rescue One is foster-based rather than shelter-based. The organization does not have much of its own animal holding capacity. At the Rescue One office, approximately 6-8 dogs can be housed in kennels.

On Wednesday, Rescue One housed four dogs and four cats in its office, located at 1927 E. Bennett St. Suite B.

Michele Rehkop, adoptions coordinator for Rescue One, said the organization has about 300 people who adopt animals, but that number includes both active and dormant foster families. Some Rescue One foster homes and volunteers are accepting more animals than usual to meet demand.

The Humane Society of Southwestern Missouri was forced to think of creative ways to shelter an influx of animals. Katie Newcomb, marketing manager for the Humane Society, said the shelter can house up to 300 animals, but they are experiencing overcrowding.

As of Thursday, the shelter was housing dogs in various offices due to a lack of available kennels and leads. Specialized bodies make things even more difficult.

“If a pregnant cat comes in, she needs a very quiet, dark room, so we’ll use one of our extra bathrooms and that will become her bedroom,” Newcomb said.

When it comes to Greene County Animal Control, the number of animals it can care for is even smaller than Rescue One and the Humane Society.

Rescue One office worker Amy Clark gives a treat to Rizolli, a dog who has been in the care of animal rescuers for just over a year, at the Rescue One office.  Rescue One is foster-based rather than shelter-based, so the organization doesn't have a lot of space to house the animals.  As of Tuesday, Rescue One had 454 dogs and cats in its care.  This represents an increase from an average of 300 animals cared for last summer.

Animal control is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture and must follow certain guidelines, including capacity limits.

Andee Elmore, health department administrator for environmental health, said the maximum capacity for animal control is about 60 dogs and 20 cats.

“We need to maintain a certain population level for our (animals) so that they are safe and healthy and are a human-sized population,” Elmore said.

By Tuesday morning, animal control had reached its capacity limits. But that’s not uncommon, Elmore said, the animal control shelter is almost always close to its limit for dogs and cats.

Elmore said euthanasia is only used in cases of sick, injured or aggressive animals, which cannot be safely placed in a family home. Animal control does not euthanize animals to make more space.

Elmore said animal control euthanizes about every week.

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Prior to euthanasia, animal control takes several steps to provide the best opportunity for animals. When an animal is found in the field, it is scanned for a microchip, which typically provides owner information, including name, phone number and address. If so, the animal is returned.

If a microchip is not found, the animal is taken to the animal control shelter. There, the animal is microchipped and receives flea treatment and vaccinations. Animal Control then works with its rescue partners to ensure the animal is fostered or adopted.

Elmore said that over the past six months, animal control has increased its social media presence, particularly on Facebook, which has led to more adoptions.

Two kittens sit on the edge of a kennel behind the front desk of the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri Thursday, August 18.  The Humane Society, along with other local animal shelters and shelters, is experiencing overcrowding.

More animals coming in, fewer going out

When it comes to the rise in the number of pets in need of new homes, the majority of cases Rescue One handles are owner abandonments, Rehkop said.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Rescue One experienced an influx of animal adoptions. Now, as more people return to their workplaces, levels of engagement may change.

Rehkop said several factors explain the increase in owner buyouts:

  • As people return to in-person work, pets may not adapt well to being home alone, adopting behavioral issues
  • Pet owners walk away unable to take pets with them
  • People have kids and don’t want to have pets in the house with their babies
  • Financial constraint

“If you’re a pet owner, stay with that commitment to keep the pet and don’t consider it disposable because something in your life is changing,” Rehkop said. “Think outside the box about what you can do to keep him in your home, whether that’s training or consulting with your vet to find out why something is going on.”

In addition to the increase in the number of animals donated to shelters, there are fewer people adopting animals right now.

Newcomb attributed this to inflation, as people may not think they will be able to afford the necessary expenses for animal care.

How can I help?

If you find a lost animal, try to locate its owner

Rehkop encouraged people who find a lost animal to try to find its owner, before calling animal control or organizations like Rescue One, unless the animal needs medical attention.

Every day, Rescue One may receive 20 email requests for lost pets.

“We can’t take it. We have nowhere to put it,” Rehkop said. “If you want to stop and catch this dog, you have to have a plan of what you’re going to do with it.”

Rehkop recommended online lost and found resources like Leigh’s Lost and Found, a local Facebook community, PawBoost and Nextdoor, a service connecting neighborhoods.

A veterinary office will scan a found animal for free to see if it has a microchip.

Royal, a 5-month-old Retriever Lab mix, sits in his kennel in an office at the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri Thursday, August 18.  The Human Society, along with other local animal shelters and sanctuaries, is experiencing overcrowding.  The humane society started placing animals in the offices and toilets due to lack of space.

Sterilize and sterilize

Spaying and/or neutering your pet is a good way to help with population control.

The Springfield Animal Advocacy Foundation Spay Neuter Clinic and the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri both offer neutering and neutering surgeries. Individual veterinary clinics often offer these surgeries as well.

Microchip

Both Elmore and Rehkop have encouraged pet owners to have their pets microchipped. When an animal is microchipped, it is easier for rescue teams to identify its owner.

Several companies offer microchips for pets. The American Animal Hospital Association has a complete list at aaha.org/your-pet/pet-microchip-lookup/participating-companies/.

give time

Animal organizations like Rescue One and the Humane Society need volunteers because the demand for their services remains high.

To learn more about volunteering with Rescue One, visit rescueonespringfield.com/volunteer/.

To learn more about volunteering with the Humane Society, visit the shelter in person at 3161 W. Norton Road or read the information online at swh.org/volunteer1.html.

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Foster

Rescue One, the Humane Society and other relief organizations in the area are welcoming new foster homes.

Rehkop and Newcomb highlighted the importance of foster homes that represent a variety of backgrounds and households, ranging from college students in apartments to retirees with more time to spend with animals.

Rescue One and the Humane Society provide foster families with essential pet supplies, such as food, leashes, crates, bowls, and paid veterinary fees.

To become a foster parent with Rescue One, complete the online application at rescueonespringfield.com/volunteer/foster-care/. A PDF version of the application can also be emailed to [email protected] or mailed to Rescue One at 1927 E. Bennett St. Springfield, MO 65804.

To foster with the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri, complete the online application at swh.org/foster-sign-up.html.

Greene County Animal Control is responsible for securing loose dogs, containing aggressive dogs, investigating animal bites and rabies, and handling complaints about chickens. Animal Control also picks up injured dogs, cats and wildlife.

To contact Animal Control, call 417-833-3592. For questions about registering pit bulls or strays, the health department asks you to fill out an online form at springfieldmo.gov/5566/Report-a-Concern.

Greta Cross is the current affairs reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @gretacrossphoto. Story idea? Email him at [email protected]

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