Foothills Humane Society finding homes for more animals

Published 5:59 pm Monday, September 28, 2009

But in the past five years, the volunteers and staff of the private, non-profit animal shelter on Little Mountain Road in Columbus ‐ the only animal shelter in Polk County ‐ have dramatically improved those rates. As of July 31 this year, new homes were found for 83 percent of all dogs brought to the shelter so far this year and for nearly 63 percent of all cats. The numbers for August and September should be even better but some of these animals are still in foster homes so the final tallies are not in yet. &bsp;

&dquo;Our numbers this year have surprised and delighted everyone. If you look around the region, these numbers far surpass any of the other open admission shelters,&dquo; says a recent FHS newsletter. &dquo;We are all thrilled and are doing everything we can to continue to save more and more lives. We believe we can do better, and our goal is to achieve an even higher live release rate.&dquo;

There are many explanations for the improvement in the live release rate. One is that fewer animals are being brought to the shelter in the first place. Dot Moyer, a volunteer and board member of FHS, says that is largely the result of FHS investments in spay and neuter services.

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&dquo;About five years ago, FHS started investing heavily in low income spay neuter services,&dquo; Moyer said, through both local vets and the high volume services of the Humane Alliance in Asheville. Each month, a clinic for dogs and cats is held, with the cost for dogs at $8 and for cats at $10.

&dquo;This obviously represents a large subsidy by FHS,&dquo; she explained. &dquo;Last year we spent over $21,000 to subsidize this service. For 2009, $28,000 is budgeted.&dquo;

But that subsidy investment ‐ about $50 per animal spayed or neutered ‐ is paying off, according to Then. Across the country, he said, voluntary, high volume, low-cost spay neuter programs are the only thing that has worked to bring down animal populations.

In Polk County, over the past ten years, the numbers of dogs brought to the FHS shelter each year has dropped from 1,060 in 1999 to 771 in 2008, while the live release rate has risen from 28 percent to 83 percent over that same period.

The number of cats brought to the shelter has decreased from 1,019 in 2000 to 897 in 2008.

The live release rate for cats, unfortunately, steadily dropped from 20 percent in 1999 to just 4 percent in 2003 before climbing back up, reaching 63 percent this year.

&dquo;While FHS is not a no-kill shelter, we work hard not to have to put down any healthy or treatable/saveable animal,&dquo; Moyer said.

FHS has adopted a group of programs used by no-kill shelters, called the &dquo;Life Saving Matrix.&dquo;

For those animals which cannot be returned to owners, FHS runs a rescue program, works with &dquo;foster homes,&dquo; and transports some animals to shelters in other states where adoptable animals are in demand.

Dana Mayer, Outreach Animal Coordinator for FHS, handles the Po&squo;Kitties, rescue, and foster homes programs.

Rescue groups relieve the pressure on intake shelters like FHS, taking animals and finding them homes, sometimes working with specific breeds. They specialize in placement and matching animals with permanent adopters.

&dquo;Most animals that go to rescues are very adoptable and well socialized,&dquo; Mayer says. At times, however, a fearful dog who finds the shelter stressful is allowed the space to relax at a rescue home until a permanent home can be found.

&dquo;While we get both cats and dogs into rescues, there is such a deluge of cats and kittens, especially now during kitten season, that rescues taking cats are in short supply,&dquo; Mayer said. She said FHS volunteers have begun taking adoptable cats for the public to see at the Hospice Thrift Barn and Landrum Veterinary Hospital.

In addition to working with rescues, the FHS Fantastic Foster program is currently working with 26 foster homes keeping a total of 74 animals. Some keep animals needing socialization, training, or weight gain. Many are keeping kittens too young to be at the shelter. Sometimes they keep older dogs and cats who require a bit more attention.

Mayer also helps to run FHS &dquo;Terrific Transport&dquo; program. FHS animals are transported on a sort of &dquo;underground railroad&dquo; all the way up the east coast to as far as Maine or Massachusetts.

&dquo;Dogs and puppies are more in demand up there due to more stringent spay-neuter laws,&dquo; Mayer said. &dquo;We send puppies to the North Shore Animal League in New York on a monthly basis. All we have to do is get the puppies to Charlotte, and North Shore provides the transportation the rest of the way.

&dquo;We have sent dogs to probably every state up the east coast,&dquo; she said. &dquo;We mostly send cats to some of the more local rescues, such as in Greenville or Charlotte, but a while back we sent two special needs cats to Baltimore in the cabin with a U.S. Airways pilot, thanks to an organization called &squo;Pilots and Paws.&squo; Our Terrific Transport volunteers load the crates into their cars and take the animals wherever they need to go.&dquo;

FHS also operates the Po&squo; Kitties program for feral cats. Cats living in the wild ‐ at local restaurants, in town, in the country, at the dump, by the side of the road, under people&squo;s decks ‐ are captured, spayed or neutered, and are then returned to their &dquo;homes&dquo; to be taken care of by caring people. Just last week, a colony of nearly 50 feral cats in Columbus began to be trapped, and homes were being sought.

&dquo;From Jan. 1, 2008 to today, we have spayed or neutered 331 cats through Po&squo; Kitties,&dquo; Mayer said. &dquo;These cats all have wonderful, committed caretakers who provide food, water, and often some form of shelter. We want to stop the vicious cycle of litter after litter. In the past in Polk County, and in many areas still, feral cats were simply trapped and killed. But where these cats have a willing and committed caretaker, we are able to return them to live out their lives freely, without creating more cats.&dquo;

If all that weren&squo;t enough, a new program has been created for those animals &dquo;who need just a little more time&dquo; to be boarded at Landrum Veterinary Hospital. This program is partially funded by the Lake Lanier Tea House&squo;s popular &dquo;Paws on the Patio&dquo; dining each Thursday evening. &bsp;

According to FHS President Robert Then, these gains have come because of the tremendous efforts of volunteers and staff members to increase the numbers of animals being saved.

&dquo;This takes a lot more time and money than destroying them,&uot; Then said, &uot;but the results of the efforts are clear.&bsp; We could not do it without their support.&dquo; More volunteers and donors are needed to maintain this success, he noted.&bsp;24 hours at Foothills Humane Society&bsp; Editor&squo;s note: The following is an email written by Dot Moyer to other directors of the Foothills Humane Society to help them understand the resources ( people, time, money, space, medical care, etc.) required to achieve the shelter&squo;s high live release rate. The FHS board says it is committed to the improvements in the rate, but it needs help from the community to sustain the high numbers.Friday

3:30 p.m. ‐ Someone found a dog, obviously nursing babies, hungry and tired on the road yesterday. Caring about her, the woman stopped and the dog jumped in the car. This morning the nice lady took the hungry mother back to the spot where she picked her up. The dog led the woman to her two-day-old puppies. All eight were still alive, but barely, in a wet clay hole.&bsp; The woman called the shelter.&bsp; Stephanie and Audria stay late to set up the very last run and take care of them. The paperwork is a mess. Angie tries to find them a foster home, but no luck.

6:30 p.m. ‐ It is an emergency with someone wanting to take a dog to foster to adopt from another foster home. Can&squo;t wait until tomorrow, so hours are spent trying to make the arrangements. Communications are not possible (as some people do not work 24/7). Tempers flare. Why do I do this?


8 a.m. ‐ It&squo;s raining.&bsp; The outside runs are flooding and we are full. Double up. Sometimes not pretty, but we cope. Got to get ready for the rabies and microchip clinic, and it is still pouring. It will get better.

10 a.m.‐ The puppies are doing much better, but mom is very stressed with the noise and confusion. They are beautiful puppies and mom is trying hard.&bsp; It&squo;s probably her first litter. She is young, maybe not a year old.&bsp; Reported to be living on garbage in the area before she finally asked for help.

10:20 a.m.‐ Two lost Bassets waiting outside with their patient finders for the shelter staff to finish cleaning. No room at the inn, but we double up again. And cope. Rain slows down. Someone calls wanting us to make a house call to put down her dying cat.&bsp; When we suggest taking it to her vet, the response is ‐ &uot;No, I&squo;m not going out in this rain.&dquo;

10:30 a.m. ‐ Foster list called.&bsp; Lots of messages left about the mom and babies. Meanwhile, lots of excitement. It is raining hard again ‐ dogs mostly. They keep coming, lost and abandoned. A beautiful Pitt male, not neutered of course. A sweet Husky female. Add them to the Lab, Red Tick Hound, Rotty, Yellow Lab, Shepherd mix and Chihuahua whose owner died ‐ all are new additions in the past two days.&bsp;&bsp;

Well past lunchtime, but who is eating anymore? People come to look. Why is the dog of their dreams always the last one that was just adopted? Why is there never what they are looking for at the time? It is so hard to see these beautiful animals get their hopes dashed over and over when they are passed by. Why do the people look at the outside, not the inside? Why do the least wonderful animals who are purebred get adopted when the most wonderful &dquo;mutts&dquo; get passed over.&bsp; Why won&squo;t people even give the amazing Pitts we have at least a chance to show you how big their heart is? They are amazing, and so unfairly discriminated against it makes your heart just ache.

2ish ‐ A wonderful foster volunteer comes thru and takes mom and pups to foster to get them out of the noise and let her relax with her beautiful babies. Poor lady has to wait probably an hour for us to have time to help get them ready because they are coming in so fast we have three travel crates outside full of new dogs.

A fabulous foster family brings in their babies for shots; so gratifying to see the wonderful things they have done for their pups, how beautiful they are and how loved. And how the children in the house have grown from the care they give. Big hugs all around. This is what we fuel up on.

The heartworm test on the beautiful young Mastiff comes back high heartworm positive.&bsp; It is a kick in the gut. She is so lovely and calm and sweet. How can we get the money to treat a dog that large? It will be hundreds of dollars, and a lot of time. I call the person interested in her.&bsp; He is no longer interested.

3ish ‐ How could this guy bring in his family pets, with no warning, and expect us to take them when we are over full? And of course we do, because he gets mad and says &dquo;I will take care of them.&dquo; And obviously not in a good way. So we get out more crates.&bsp;

4:15 ‐ I&bsp; HAVE to leave. I offer to come back to help with the stacked up paperwork for the uncounted number of animals we received today. I feel guilty because I know they will be there for hours with the paperwork ‐ and euthanizing the ones that we have no resources to help quickly enough to accommodate all the new ones. And cleaning the dead dog&squo;s cages so there&squo;s somewhere to put the ones in the crates out back. Unless it starts raining hard again and they flood.&bsp;&bsp; And it starts all over again.&bsp;

This is a snapshot of a day in the life of a small shelter. FHS&bsp; staff, board and volunteers make heroic efforts every day to save the lives of our community&squo;s unwanted animals.&bsp;

Current live release rates are comparable with leading no kill shelters in the United States. It&squo;s a tremendous achievement. It can&squo;t be sustained without help from the community. The fabulous fosters are pivotal in allowing the staff to accommodate incoming animals without having to euthanize the ones already there.&bsp; Please join us in creating record-breaking happy endings!

Donate your time and/or money to help us help our community&squo;s homeless pets. Call Foothills Humane Society at 863-4444.