Springfield shelters remind people that animals aren’t presents
The weeks leading up to the holidays are busy for animal shelters.
McKenzie Palmer, marketing coordinator for the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri, said that animals come in faster than they can be adopted out. Both RescueOne’s medical clinic and the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri have animals in every available space, including offices and bathrooms.
“We are all at capacity. We are all overflowing. We all have waitlists right now to take animals in, because we are all out of space. Every one of these babies that goes home, we want to do everything we can to ensure this is the best fit,” said Erin Hession, director of administration for HSSWMO.
But things don’t slow down after the holidays.
“We see the Christmas puppies. The puppies that people get as gifts for someone else that isn’t necessarily ready to commit to that, and they accept the puppy and deal with it for a little bit, and then it becomes a 6- to 9-month-old puppy with lots of energy and they probably haven’t invested the training in it because they weren’t expecting it, and then we end up with them,” said Colby Hodges, a veterinary technician with RescueOne.
In order to reduce the number of animals returned after the holidays, reduce trauma to the animals, and help ease the crisis they’re facing, local rescues are asking people to reconsider gifting a puppy or a kitten — or other animal — this holiday season.
From bathrooms to breakrooms, shelters are overflowing with animals
As of Thursday, the Humane Society of Southwest Missouri had about 300 animals. RescueOne, a foster-based organization that houses a limited number of animals at its medical clinic, had 416 in its care.
According to Sherri Jones, a veterinary technician with RescueOne, the organization is seeing an unprecedented situation, with 100 more animals than they had last year.
“This is the first time we’ve ever had to turn off our emergency phone,” Jones said. “I think we’re almost at a place where we can start taking emergencies again (for dogs), but not quite.”
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Hodges added that on the cat side of RescueOne, it’s been like that all year.
“We stay so full with cats that are found as strays or that people can’t care for when they’re injured or sick that we can’t even take in surrenders,” Hodges said.
However, no matter how many rescues there are in the area, the animal overpopulation won’t stop until owners begin taking responsibility.
“We’re all emotionally exhausted. Rescues are not going to stop the overpopulation problem in this area, period. Rescues and shelters are not the solution,” Hodges said. “People need to start taking responsibility: If you get an animal, spay/neuter and get vaccines. That’s the easiest place to start.”
A pet is a 10- to 15-year commitment, not a gift
While shelters may be overflowing and looking for potential adopters, they emphasize that an animal is not a gift.
“Pets aren’t gifts, and they require a 10- to 15-year commitment physically, emotionally and financially,” Palmer said. “You have to keep that in mind, really do your research, and talk everything through before making that commitment, because it isn’t a Christmas gift.”
Rather than simply getting someone an animal, Hodges encourages them to have a conversation, making sure it’s something they want and are financially prepared for. Especially with animals for children, consider what is going to happen when the child goes to college, gets married or moves into an apartment — will Fluffy or Spot go with, or will they stay with mom and dad?
“Before you get that pet, just think, what you are going to do in all the future situations? Because they are going to come up, and it’s not fair to that animal to have to (find a new home),” Jones said.
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If parents want to have something for their child or spouse to open on Christmas morning, the HSSWMO offers gift certificates, allowing the family to find their new member together. Hession also suggested animal supplies like food bowls, litterboxes and toys as alternatives.
Parents should also understand that when they adopt a dog or cat, even if it is as gift for their child, ultimately the responsibility falls back on the parent, especially with regards to the cost of medical care.
“It’s not the dog (who) gets punished and has to find a new home if the kid doesn’t do it; it’s that the parent will take over that responsibility and the kid will face some consequences or other extra responsibilities,” Hodges said.
In order to ensure that animals go to the best possible home — and to reduce the number of animals brought back — HSSWMO has adoption counselors who help families find their perfect fit.
“We have adoption counselors here that make sure the pet that you are interested in would be a really good fit for your family,” Palmer said. “We recommend everyone in the home come by to meet the animal and ensure it’s a good fit for the home.”
And if the new animal isn’t acclimating right away and is chewing things up or having accidents in the house, Hodges encourages families to give them some time.
“That dog or cat has been through who-knows-what and they’re very confused. They don’t know if they should trust you, and they don’t know their position in this new pack that they’re in,” Hodges said. “They’re not showing their true selves right off the bat, they’re in survival mode and you have to give them time and use gentle training to gain their trust so they know they’re safe and are going to want to bond with you.”
Susan Szuch is the health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @szuchsm. Story idea? Email her at [email protected].