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Wednesday April 16th 2014

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Gimme Shelter

The Importance of Adopting Your Best Friend
By Jennie McKeon

The difference between adopting and purchasing a pet—you save a life.

“Dogs and cats that you get from a shelter, they know that you rescued them,” said Sarah Humlie, managing director at Humane Society of Pensacola. “It creates a bond like no other.”

Humlie said her family pets have all been adopted from local shelters.

“There are many more pets than loving homes and with that surplus, we encourage people to come and see the pets that need homes at the Humane Society,” Humlie said.

She’s only been at the Humane Society since July, but Humlie, obviously an animal lover, took home a dog after two weeks on the job.

“They found him the day I got hired,” she said. “He and I came to the Humane Society together. We already have a cat at home, so now we’re a happy family. It’s hard not to go home with more.”

Just because a dog or cat is staying at the Humane Society shelter—or any shelter for that matter, doesn’t mean they aren’t loveable. And for those who are looking to bring home a particular breed of dog, check out the local shelters and rescue groups first.

“Twenty-five percent of the dogs that come in are purebred,” Humlie said. “They’re just wonderful, loving pets that need a home. When you take home a dog or cat from a pet store you kind of create a demand for an unnecessary demand.”

Networking with shelters

The Humane Society networks with shelters and rescue groups in the area. When a spot is open, you can bet that they are looking to fill it to keep pets off the streets and out of kill shelters.

According to Delfi Messinger, manager of Animal Services, in 2011 Escambia County had, on average, about 11,000 animals that arrived at the county shelter.

“Most animals are brought in by private citizens,” she said. “Last year, the shelter adopted out 2,000 animals, sent out over 400 animals through rescue organizations and returned over 600 animals to their owners.”

Messinger said there is no set time limit for an animal’s stay at the county shelter.

“If an animal is in adoption, it will remain there until it is adopted or sent our through a rescue organization,” Messinger said. “The only exception would be illness or behavior that made it unsuitable for adoption.”

That doesn’t stop the Humane Society from acting fast.

“When we have spots open, we go to the county shelter and pick up a few dogs,” Humlie said. “August has been a really good month for us. We’ve been able to bring in a few dogs. In a year, we’ll have adopted out 530 animals.”

Located by the train tracks on North Q Street, the Humane Society doesn’t have the most convenient, or easy-to-find location. But frequently, the shelter holds adoption events at PetSmart and Petco. The next one will be at Petco on August 25.

Although Humlie said there is no reason good enough to give up a pet, some pet owners do find themselves in the heartbreaking position of having to give an animal up. Even if the Humane Society is at capacity, they find a place for the animal through the network.

“It could be anything from the owner passing away or going to a nursing home, to military relocation to the cost of pet ownership,” Humlie said. “The owners can know that we’ll take care it the pet. That’s a comfort. It’s an important service for the community.”

The ‘Last Resort’ Agency

In Loxley, Ala., SouthBARK is a “last resort” agency, networking to encourage adopters, shelters and rescue groups to take in pets from crowded kill shelters. If there is no place for them, SouthBARK opens its doors.

“We are also passionate about saving dogs that cannot be adopted out by the public because of breed specific policy, such as pit bulls, wolf hybrids, chows and any other ‘bully breed’ mix,” said Emily Thompson, president of SouthBARK. “It’s incredibly important to ‘adopt, not shop.’ Millions of perfectly wonderful pets are euthanized every year.”

Founded two years ago by “a handful of concerned citizens,” SouthBARK has found homes for about 1,400 dogs.

“The dogs we save are the ones no one else will,” said Charlene McCuller, rescue coordinator, who has a house full of rescued dogs.

If you have commitment problems and cannot adopt a dog, you could try to foster a dog while it waits for a permanent home. With just one “like” on Facebook, you can see all the dogs that need shelter and love. It’s hard to watch idly by and not do something—or at least it was hard for Kelly Blackwell.

“I see how many dogs and cats that are in need with nowhere to go and it breaks my heart,” Blackwell said. “With Facebook being so widely used by rescues and shelters now, these precious babies are always in my news feed.”

It wasn’t too long before she was opening up her home to a foster dog. She already has two rescued animals in the house—a lab/whippet mix from Alabama named Florida “because ‘Roll Tide is not allowed in this house,’” and a cat.

“I’m most looking forward to showing Scooter [her foster dog] the ropes of belonging to a family and getting him ready to be a great addition to his very own forever family,” she said. “If I foster this animal then one more space is opened up for another needy animal. I cry yes, and do get attached, but knowing I may have saved two lives for the time it takes to love just one—it’s exponential really—then how could you not?”

SouthBARK regularly has adoption events in Pensacola. This month they were at Mellow Mushroom with great success. There are more adoption events in the works including more locations such as PetSmart and World of Beer.

“We adopted out four puppies and one adult dog, which during the typically slow summer adoption season, is a great day,” Thompson said.

The Adoption Options

While you may not always get the puppy of your choice when adopting from a local shelter, you do get the satisfaction of changing a dog’s life for the better. Humlie notes that the community is very generous to the Humane Society and lots of volunteers offer up their time and love. But, these pets deserve more. Take for instance, Luger who’s lived in the Shelter since 1999, practically his whole life.

“He just breaks my heart,” Humlie said while she pets Luger through the chain link.

Adopting is also less expensive. At the Humane Society, the fee is $75 for dogs, $50 for kittens and $35 for adult cats. At SouthBARK, the fee is $95. All pets are spayed and neutered, a major savings for adopters.

The decision to adopt a pet starts at home.

“Make sure you’re ready to have a pet, that you have enough time to socialize with them,” Humlie said. “Meet them and make sure the personalities fit well. Talk to the staff about your lifestyle—like if you’re looking for a jogging partner or you need a dog that’s good with kids.”

McCuller adopted because her house was too quiet.

“I didn’t know if the UPS man was coming,” she said with a laugh.

However, her adopted family members have been more than just alarms for visitors.

“If I’ve had a bad day, they surround me,” she said. “They know that you saved them and they turn around and save you right back.”

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