By Kristin Molinaro, The BayonetMay 11, 2011
FORT BENNING, Ga., May 11, 2011 -- For pet-lovers, it's an emotional issue. For animal control facilities, it's an economic one: what to do with the nearly 7,000 dogs and cats dumped at the city's Animal Care and Control Center every year'
A social media campaign was spawned in 2010 to stem the tide of animals euthanized due to lack of space at city facilities.
The center has 52 indoor runs and 32 cat cages. Once they are full, animals must be euthanized to make room for more.
Happy Homes, and its spin-off No-Kill Columbus, is a Facebook movement to encourage responsible pet ownership, lobby for legislation, develop foster networks and promote adoption of pets from local animal shelters. Happy Homes will soon make the leap from a virtual sounding board to an actual 501(c)3 nonprofit rescue group.
Started by Caitlyn Stoddard, a local veterinary technician, it is growing thanks to volunteers who visit animal control to take photos and provide information on potential adoptees.
The pets of military families are especially susceptible to being abandoned at shelters, said Allison Thompson, a pet advocate who visits the local facilities weekly and posts to Happy Homes.
Deployments and TDY missions lead many to feel they can't care for their pets, she said.
Stoddard has used the page as a springboard to save the most urgent cases - animals running out of time to find a forever family. She's rescued, fostered and re-homed 22 animals from death row.
There's the perception that a majority of animals at the center are eventually adopted, Stoddard said, when in reality nearly 80 percent are put to sleep.
The mission of Happy Homes is to get these animals more exposure to potential families, she said.
THINKING "OUTSIDE THE BOX" FOR PETS
Part of the problem, Thompson said, is the mindset about adopting from animal control.
Traditional routes to adoption, such as going through a breeder or visiting the pet shop, play into the stereotype that you can only find purebreds, puppies and kittens in these places, she said.
Scrolling through Happy Homes' Facebook page gives a different story. They come in all shapes, sizes, ages and breeds - some mixed, some pure.
Animals at the facility can be adopted for a portion of the price they would command through a breeder or pet shop. Adoption fees at Animal Care and Control range from $15-$75 and include spay/neuter and microchipping.
Similarly, local rescue organizations such as PAWS Humane, Claws & Paws and East Alabama Humane Society are good sources since they, too, help decrease the pet population at animal control. The nonprofits rescue animals from the facility to adopt them out.
Though adoption fees may be higher, the money goes toward veterinary care and food for the animals still in their care, said Carolyn Harrelson, president of East Alabama Humane Society.
Another stereotype animal control facilities fight against, Thompson said, is the idea that a dog or cat ended up there because they are "bad."
Pamela Tubbs, another Happy Homes volunteer, said this is what led her to animal advocacy.
"I got involved when I heard about a beautiful full-blooded German shepherd at animal control in January," she said. "A friend wanted to rescue him but everyone we talked with said the dog was vicious. We went down and spent some time with him. He wasn't vicious, he was scared. She rescued the dog and he's living a beautiful life now."
"We know that we can't save them all. We can only try," Thompson said.
Of the 8,251 pets picked up in 2010 by Columbus' Animal Care and Control or dropped off by their owners, 6,643 were euthanized, 648 were transferred to rescue organizations, 620 were reclaimed by their owners and 340 were adopted, according to statistics Happy Homes obtained from the facility.
Since January, nearly 600 animals have been put to sleep.
The Animal Care and Control Center updates their website,www.columbusga.org/publicservices2/Animal_Control, with photos of available pets in the hope that pet-lovers will come forward.
"If you see their photo up there one day, and don't see it the next, you know it's because they're dead," Thompson said. "So don't waste time if you see a dog you want. Don't call. Go down there in person."
FOSTERING FOR MILITARY FAMILIES
Aside from the weekend getaway where your neighbor kindly checks on your pets, what do you do in the long haul if you will be traveling frequently or for long durations'
Boarding fees in Columbus range from $10 to $35 per night depending on the size of your pet. Multiply that by a week, a month or even a year, and this is where military families struggle with keeping their pet versus surrendering them to animal control, Tubbs said.
Tubbs is married to a retired Ranger and knows the challenges of pet ownership for military families.
"I've driven across country with two dogs, two cats and two kids under three years old and decided to do a Do-It-Yourself move to boot," she said.
Families should understand having a pet is a commitment, "they're not disposable creatures," she said.
Several organizations are currently seeking nonprofit status to start up foster networks exclusively for pets of deploying or TDY military personnel. The service would be free, though owners would be responsible for paying any veterinary costs incurred.
Options available now include Military Pets FOSTER Project, Operation Noble Foster, Pact for Animals and Guardian Angels for Soldier's Pet, which match military pets with foster homes.
LOST AND FOUND
Animals end up at animal control in one of three ways - strays, abused animals taken from owners, or pets surrendered by their owner.
Because stray or missing pets taken into Animal Care and Control Center are made available for adoption on the fifth day, time is of the essence in locating the owners.
Lost and Found Pets of Columbus and Benning Lost and Found Pets were launched to help reunite owners with missing pets.
Fans of the pages can post sightings of wandering pets, photos of found pets or search for lost pets. Both offer recovery tips and links to Craigslist lost and found ads. You can also access the Missing Pet Partnership, a national database.
PEPSI REFRESH PROJECT
People who want to help Happy Homes can go to www.refresheverything.com/happy-homes-no-kill-shelter and vote for Happy Homes to receive a $50,000 grant from the Pepsi Refresh Project. Voters can go online each day and vote from a mobile phone by texting the code 106126 to Pepsi (73774). Voting ends May 31, 2011.
People can also vote for the East Alabama Humane Society by going to www.refresheverything.com/helpeahsgrow and voting for East Alabama Humane Society to receive a $25,000 grant to complete construction of the first no-kill Humane Society shelter in Phenix City, Ala.