Animal explosion overwhelms facilities

By Curt Chapman
Staff Writer
Posted 7/12/07

It’s really raining cats and dogs. Pet advocates and animal control officials say the economy is not the only thing booming here, and they’re hoping for relief.

A seemingly unprecedented number of stray or unwanted pets are being brought to …

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Animal explosion overwhelms facilities


It’s really raining cats and dogs. Pet advocates and animal control officials say the economy is not the only thing booming here, and they’re hoping for relief.

A seemingly unprecedented number of stray or unwanted pets are being brought to animal shelters and veterinary clinics around Baldwin County. With no room for them at most of the facilities, and relatively few being adopted, euthanasia sometimes emerges as the only solution.

Meg Glover of the Downtown Animal Clinic in Fairhope recently counted nearly 30 stray or unwanted dogs and cats temporarily living at the veterinary office in an area isolated from the pets brought in for care. She said an adoption event held there a couple of weekends ago sparked some interest, but “not a lot of takers.”

Clinic owner Dr. Teresa Marshall, who founded The Haven for Animals, a nonprofit, no-kill shelter located in Fairhope, said sadly there is an 80 percent chance that animals housed in most shelters will eventually be put down, “especially if they’re not cute.” She noted dogs and cats considered “cute” are typically the ones most quickly adopted.

“It has a lot to do with our county getting bigger and more people coming in,” Marshall said. “People aren’t being responsible, and it doesn’t take much responsibility to have a litter.” She urged everyone to consider having their pets spayed or neutered.

Alabama state law mandates that shelters and rescue groups spay or neuter all animals within 30 days of their arrival, according to John Reuss, director of the Baldwin Animal Rescue Center (BARC). He said doing so makes sense because it is perhaps the only way to get a handle on the stray animal situation.

“All of the shelters in the county are really not large enough to handle the number of animals they’re faced with taking care of,” he said. “The county shelter (adjacent to the Magnolia Landfill) has 62 cages for dogs, and they take in more animals than that in one day. Many are euthanized because there’s no more room at the inn.”

According to officials with the Baldwin County Animal Shelter, there are currently 107 dogs and 80 cats at the shelter. Many will not survive until the end of the week unless they are adopted. There are often familiar faces among shelter animals because it is not their first time there.

Reuss said some animals taken to shelters or listed with BARC have been adopted in the past and were brought back for one reason or another.

“Some people aren’t being realistic when taking on the responsibility of a pet,” he said. “It’s like having a child. There’s feeding and medical care to consider. There are some people who aren’t serious about the long-term care of an animal. And, if an owner doesn’t take the time to train the animal, it becomes a nuisance and they no longer want it.”

Reuss noted the county shelter doesn’t take in owner surrenders so they are often referred to either his group or The Haven. Because BARC does not operate a shelter, pet owners are asked to keep their animals while a suitable new home is found.

Reuss said state law requires municipalities with a population of 5,000 or more to have a shelter, but only the cities of Daphne and Fairhope have such a facility. Bay Minette contracts with a local veterinarian to provide it with shelter services.

“There are several cities that should have a shelter, but don’t and animals picked up by animal control are taken to the county shelter,” he pointed out. Cities without shelters pay a usage fee for each animal dropped off there.

The county shelter was built in the mid-1980s when the human population was half of what it is now, Reuss said, adding, “We were mostly rural-agricultural, but we’re more urban now. We’ve got roughly 170,000 people in the county and over 30,000 dogs and 30,000 cats in the county.”

Rachel Beck, an environmental specialist who also helps oversee the county shelter, said, “We get them in the drop box (after hours) and people bring them in as well. We try not to take owned animals. The purpose of the shelter is stray animals.”

Around 10, 000 animals passed through the county shelter in 2006. Half were euthanized. Reuss said, “Around 1,500 of those would have made fine pets.”

Beck said puppies and kittens are increasing in number at the shelter “because this is the season for them to start wandering around. There is a glut of unwanted animals.”

Reuss agrees. He said, “It is getting to be a crisis because every day our office is being approached by someone who has had an animal on their property or found one dumped. We also get photos of dogs and cats hit on the side of the road, but there’s not much you can do about them at that point.”

Right now, BARC is trying to place 11 dogs and nine cats in new homes.

The Haven is overcrowded right now, Marshall said, and volunteers are working equally hard to find new homes for all of the animals there.

But, is there a solution to the growing problem of unwanted and abandoned pets?

Reuss said, “There’s no silver spike that’s going to kill this vampire. We need education and legislation.” He noted that one cat and its offspring has the potential of producing 67,000 animals in just five years.

“The numbers are so big that people just don’t pay attention to them, but that’s the reality if you don’t pay attention to controlling the animal population,” Reuss said. “It’s not the animal’s fault they’re in this situation. It’s the people’s fault. Owning an animal is not a right. It’s a privilege.”

There is currently a fierce competition of sorts for the hearts and minds of pet lovers. Shelters and rescue groups are hoping to place animals in what they call “forever homes” while breeders and pet stores are hoping their cats and dogs make the final cut.

“The breeders are in it for the money,” Reuss said, adding, “Many flea market animals wind up at shelters or running at large.”

Beck said, “I encourage everybody to come to the animal shelter or Humane Society and adopt one. You can come here and get to know them. We don’t always know what their parentage is, but we’ve had lots of success stories. Mixed breeds make good pets.”

Marshall stressed that having a canine or feline companion is a pleasure, and adoption is a great way to find an animal perfect for your lifestyle.

Glover also doesn’t want any more pets to suffer the same fate as the animals who never left the county shelter last year. She said, “That’s the last stop before death row, and you don’t want to go there.”