By Joseph Robertia
For puppies, life is a party filled with play. They can go for hours, until literally playing themselves to sleep. But for a tiny, chubby pitbull puppy at the Kenai Animal Shelter last week, there was nothing to celebrate and no play to be had.
Nearly all white, the exception of a brown blotch over one eye made the pup look like Petey from “The Little Rascals” shorts. Its skin drooped, still loose from not having grown all the way into it.
It didn’t understand the gravity of its situation, couldn’t fathom that it might not live long enough to feel the warmth of a summer day, and didn’t know it might never run again, not even for its life. It idly sat in a sterile pen nearly all day. Its boredom might soon be over, but not in a way that the pup, or its caregivers, want.
“We’re maxed out at 12 dogs and we’ve currently got 16 with two more on the way in right now,” said Brett Reid, chief animal control officer at the Kenai facility, explaining the overflow conditions the shelter has been experiencing for more than a week. “And, when we run out of room, that’s when the tough decisions have to be made.”
Tough decision is shelter speak for euthanasia, which itself is a polite way of referring to the killing of dogs, often young and healthy, such as the pitbull puppy. It is a reality that not all dogs are adopted and the shelter can’t afford to house and feed them indefinitely.
In 2012 alone, of the 1,631 handled animals — dogs, cats and others — 436 of them were euthanized. In 2011, of the 1,673 animals handled, 730 were euthanized. Not even a quarter of the way into 2013, the shelter is already inundated with dogs of all sizes, colors and breeds — from 10-pound Chihuahuas, Shih-tzus and a Pomeranian surrendered by its owners, up to an older, more than 100-pound Mastiff in need of a retirement home.
“I don’t know why we’re seeing so many dogs right now,” Reid said. “It’s a bit like a salmon run — you never really know when you going to get some in or how many will come. All I know is, we’re very full.”
The dogs came to the shelter in myriad ways.
“Some we picked up on the streets, some were found by other people who brought them in, and some were surrendered by owners who could no longer keep them,” Reid said.
While euthanasia is a part of a shelter employee’s duties, it was not what drew Reid or the other officers to the line of work. Instead, it was wanting to help pets find homes, and all the shelter’s staff are working to that end during the overflow.
“We can put some of the small ones in the puppy room, and a few in the quarantine area,” Reid said, of alternatives to prevent having to euthanize dogs when the main holding area is full. But these are only temporary measures, and if a litter of puppies or a dangerous dog comes in, they will need to go into the areas specifically designed for them.
Complicating the situation further is that, by law, the shelter must hold pets — other than those directly surrendered by their owners — for a period of time to allow owners to claim dogs, such as those that may have accidentally run away.
“This is what can cause a real bottleneck when we start getting a lot of dogs. We are mandated to hold strays for a minimum of 72 hours, or 120 hours for licensed pets, before they can go up for adoption. Whereas owner surrenders, we can put them up for adoption almost right away,” he said.
While there are an unusually high number of dogs at the shelter, there is an unusually low number of cats, which typically far outnumber their canine counterparts.
“We usually have way more cats than dogs, but we’ve been doing awesome on cat adoptions. We got down to a point where we only had one cat for half a day. That’s almost unheard of,” said Cora Chambers, an assistant animal control officer.
Chamber cited the Peninsula Spay and Neuter fund, begun by long-term local veterinary technician Judy Fandrei at the end of 2011, as one possibility for the reason the numbers of cats coming in may be in decline. The fund financially assisted with nearly 200 local spays and neuters in its first 12 months.
Volunteers with this fund were doing their best to help the dogs at the shelter during the overflow, taking pictures of dogs up for adoption to post on the “Friends of the Kenai Animal Shelter” Facebook page, other various pet-finding websites and around town in high-traffic areas, such as Kenai Peninsula College and Kaladi Brothers coffee shops.
“We want to do what we can to get these dogs’ faces out there, in the hope someone will see them and want to adopt them,” said Ellen Sheehan, of Nikiski, a volunteer with the fund.
“I feel compelled to get in front of the problem of pet overpopulation by helping to educate owners about spaying and neutering their pets,” said Amanda Motonaga, of Soldotna, also a fund volunteer.
Sheehan has a dog and Motonaga has three dogs and four cats, all but one of which came from shelters, so she said this, too, drives her to help find homes for pets.
“Some people are sacred to come to shelters,” she said. “But speaking from experience, shelters are a great resource to find an animal.”
Due to the overflow, the shelter staff is asking that anyone interested in adopting a pet come immediately, rather than waiting for the weekend. Pet owners missing a pet are also asked to visit or call the shelter at 283-7353.
To learn more about the Peninsula Spay and Neuter Fund, call 907-690-2723 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tax-deductible donations to the fund can be made at Wells Fargo, account No. 7861883044, or at Bridges Community Resource Center in Soldotna. There also is a donation box at the Kenai Animal Shelter.
Petco also has a service whereby customers can donate via credit card to a local animal group. One of the choices is to spay/neuter. However, this does not contribute to the Peninsula Spay and Neuter Fund.