As pandemic eases, once-loved pets being dumped at shelter in ‘disheartening’ numbers – Montgomery Advertiser

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A handful of names are listed on a board that shows pets that have been chosen for adoption. Most are cats, kittens and puppies.

Only one name belongs to a bigger dog, one of more than two dozen medium-to-large dogs up for adoption at the Montgomery animal shelter’s main facility. And down a short walkway out of sight, dozens more are waiting in an intake and processing area for a chance to take their place while a stretched staff assesses and cares for them.

Some are no longer waiting. Workers clean the cages of dogs that were just euthanized and make room for the next wave of arrivals. Lately, it’s not unusual for 100 dogs a day to come through the doors. Many are being surrendered by people who owned them throughout the pandemic.

Think you may have to surrender your pet?  Here’s how to get help

“We’re asking people to hold on. Just hold on a few weeks,” Montgomery Humane Society Executive Director Steven Tears said. “Let us catch up. Let us catch our breath. Let us move a few. Honestly, very few people are willing to do so, even when they know that the chances of euthanasia are much higher than normal.

“It’s disheartening. It’s the animal that got them through their tough time. I’ve been here 16 years. You’d think I’d expect that, but it kind of took me aback. It’s tough to watch. A dog that stuck by your side for 18 months… was your buddy, and now all of the sudden you have to go back to work and he or she is disposable again.”

Larger dogs like this one wait to be adopted at the Montgomery Humane Society in Montgomery, Ala., on July 23, 2021. As people return to their workplaces, some are surrendering the pets they adopted during the pandemic, overwhelming shelters that can't find enough families to adopt medium- and large-sized dogs.

Last year at this time, the cages were mostly empty. Adoptions soared here and across the nation as people sought companionship.

Even then, Tears said he was afraid of what was coming.

By early this month the shelter had so many surrenders that they posted a plea for help on social media. They held a weekend adoption event, and a donor helped offset the fees that are usually associated with adoptions. They found homes for 79 animals at that event, mostly cats, kittens and puppies.

The day after the event, they euthanized 30 big dogs.

“We tried everything. Their adoption fees were next to nothing,” Tears said. “… What do we do? Rescues aren’t looking for 50- or 60-pound dogs.”

Intakes are also up and adoptions down at the Elmore County Humane Shelter in Wetumpka and the Prattville-Autauga Humane Shelter in Prattville. Elmore shelter Director Rea Cord said they usually get more pets at this time of year because it’s when kittens are usually born, but they’ve also seen an unusual number of puppy intakes. Summer is usually the slow time for adoptions as well, said Claudia Rigsby, the Prattville-Autauga shelter director.

“People go out of town in the summer, and this year people really wanted to get away after COVID last year,” Rigby said. “We are also having a hard time finding fosters for our puppies. We are busy, but we are about where we are normally for this time of year as far as numbers go.”

In Montgomery, the intakes haven’t slowed despite their pleas.

As Tears was giving a quick tour of the shelter’s operations last week, another person arrived to surrender a pet. Each arrival is given whatever vaccinations are needed, and some are sent for surgery. One team does behavioral assessments. All of the pets get medical assessments. Yet many of them won’t find a home.

Colored pegs on the cages in the processing area warn that a dog has been assessed as vicious on arrival. They don’t have much of a chance.

Those that make it through three levels of staging and waiting areas may get a chance to meet people interested in adoption. Even then, it can come down to first impressions. Tears points to a medium-sized dog that sits quietly at attention in a processing cage while dogs bark around him. Even he may not get a second look: He’s a dark-colored dog, Tears explains, meaning he doesn’t draw the eye at first glance and people might slide past without noticing him.

“And there are just so many,” Tears said.

A list of needs is posted on the shelter’s site at montgomeryhumane.com, but Tears said the biggest need is for people to keep their pets for now unless they have no other option, and for those interested in adoption to consider a larger dog if they can. You can submit an adoption application and schedule a visit on the shelter’s site.

Tears said he saw a few people looking at larger dogs earlier that day and allowed himself a burst of hope.

“Right now the team is overwhelmed, discouraged,” he said. “We’re battling compassion fatigue, for sure.”

Marty Roney contributed to this story. Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Brad Harper at bharper1@gannett.com.

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