Pensacola, Florida
Sunday October 26th 2014

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Homeward Bound

By Sarah McCartan

When it comes to welcoming a pet into your life, there are quite a few options out there—options that don’t necessarily involve bee-lining it to the nearest commercial pet store, spending hours scouring Craigslist for giveaways, or snagging a newborn puppy or kitten from your neighbor down the street.

While we aren’t knocking these options, at least not totally, what we are definitely suggesting is, there are other opportunities out there—ones that don’t simply allow you to provide an animal a warm bed to sleep in—but that allow you to truly save a life.

In addition to the increased number of breed-specific rescue groups that have risen up in recent years, one avenue that shouldn’t go overlooked is the Escambia County Animal Shelter. In fact—if you haven’t considered it—consider this economical and humane option as the first stop in your pet search.

“If you don’t have a lot of money, a shelter pet is economical,” encouraged Delfi Messinger, Shelter Manager. “If you get a free puppy from a neighbor or from Craigslist, it really is a costly endeavor because you’ll need to get it spayed or neutered.”

What has in the past been commonly referred to as the “pound” continues to gradually shift its presence and perception in the community, becoming more visible as a go-to adoption center. When looking at the number of adoptions for a single month, during July 2013, the shelter adopted out 266 animals, compared to 249 in July 2012, and 181 in July 2011.

Along with utilizing signs and volunteer advocates to get the word out, Messinger cited multiple adoption events conducted onsite at the shelter that have helped to raise community awareness and have contributed to spikes in the number of pets adopted.

“There have been successful campaigns by organizations and groups both locally and nationally promoting adopting shelter pets,” said Messinger. “I think that the word is getting out. More and more people are getting the message, and it’s a really positive thing.”

Such events include “April Showers of Love Adopt-a-Thon,” and the inaugural “Just One Day” event that occurred earlier this summer on June 11, 2013. During the “Just One Day” event, the shelter saw the greatest number of animals adopted out on a single day, totaling at 43. Hosts of “Just One Day,” the Animal Services Advisory Committee (ASACS), reported approximately 90 more animals were adopted out throughout the remainder of the week, keeping the momentum going. Although this was “Just One Day,” at least for now, future events are in the planning stages.

While certain breeds of animals that come into the shelter are adopted out at warp speed, sometimes even within an hour, there are those animals who have called the shelter home for a couple of months, and even those extra special animals the shelter staff has grown especially attached to who will remain at the shelter indefinitely. Be it an animal who is just a little bit older, or an animal whose owners have passed away, Messinger admits, “We have special animals.”

“We kind of have a thing here that’s really about our personal feelings about animals that we get attached to. For certain animals that there’s nothing wrong with, who are adoptable and who there’s enough room for—we will keep them until adopted,” she said.

Messinger encourages the volunteers to communicate the stories of these special animals with prospective pet owners—highlighting the positive attributes in efforts to find a suitable match. For example, a cat or older dog who maybe fancies lying around and watching television could be more fitting for and appealing to an elderly person, opposed to a rambunctious puppy who is going to need active care and constant attention.

“When I came here, the shelter had a certain idea about what is adoptable—healthy, young active stereotypes,” said Messinger. “In fact, we have adopted 11-year-old dogs out, three legged dogs out, and animals with [disclosed] medical issues out.”

It’s all about the story.

“You just have to be honest with people and you’d be amazed how many people get caught up with the story,” she said.

Although some individuals begin the adoption process with a particular breed or type of animal in mind, for others, the animal picks them—which Messinger notes as the most important element of consideration when it comes to adoption pairings. She encourages that looks should be an aside—that it’s all in the personality and the animal’s response to you.

“When you [get in the kennel and] hug the animal, does it respond back to you?” asked Messinger.

For Melissa Wolter, the answer was an overwhelming, “Yes.” Wolter adopted her dog Britt, an English pointer mix from the shelter nearly seven years ago. At the time of adoption, Britt was around two years in age.

“Initially when I saw her I wasn’t too keen on her. I always wanted a longer haired dog,” said Wolter. “But then there was just something about her demeanor that made me get in the cage with her. When I knelt down to say hello to her, she came right up to me and was really sweet.”

For Wolter, that’s all it took. And the rest is history.

“I remember I was sitting there in the cage with her trying to decide, when a guy came up to the cage and asked me if I was going to get her. He said if I wasn’t, he was. That pretty much sealed it for me—I wasn’t about to lose her,” she said.

Nearly seven years later, Britt remains Wolter’s tried and true companion.

“I think the cutest thing about her other than her demeanor are her brown spotted ears. And I really like the fact that she’s a kisser and doesn’t drool,” said Wolter. “She’s very loving. She’s not quite the lap dog but she shows you love in other ways.”

Full House

At certain points in time, the shelter is home primarily to larger dogs like Britt. At other times, they remain filled to the brim with smaller dogs.

“Sometimes it seems like we are full of big dogs. Right now we have small and medium dogs,” said Messinger. “It kind of just depends.”

The animal shelter’s website is home to a full listing of animals available for adoption, and although it’s quite a cumbersome undertaking, the staff works quickly to keep it updated with photos and descriptions.

“It’s pretty up to date, but it’s a huge challenge,” said Messinger. In addition to the list of adoptable animals, the website is home to adoption rates and other pertinent information relating to the adoption process.

As far as capacity goes, there is some flexibility. “We do have flexibility and sometimes when animals are compatible we house them together,” said Messinger, “or when litters of puppies are brought in together.”

Recently, the shelter retooled their climate controlled cat room so that it is able to be used for multiple small dogs, such as Chihuahuas, which also assists with capacity concerns.

While the shelter would love to be able to adopt out every animal that comes through their doors, because they do reach their limits, and sometimes face a full house, thankfully there are other groups in town they regularly communicate with that are willing and able to house animals from the shelter anytime they can—The Humane Society and Hotel for Dogs and Cats.

“We know the kinds of animals they look for and we give them a call when those animals come in,” said Messinger.

It’s much like an ebb and flow relationship, which is why it’s just as important to consider adopting an animal from these facilities as it is the shelter, as freeing up a space at one of these no-kill facilities, means opening up more room for shelter animals to move a step closer to their forever homes.

Straying In

One of the most daunting operations of the shelter is the intake process. “Intake is a public area. You could come and spend a few hours in intake. It’s like a triage center in a busy hospital and our staff is doing a bunch of different things at once,” said Messinger.

When the animals go through intake, they first get an identifying neckband.

“If you have ten little brown dogs it’s hard to know which one is which,” said Messinger.

Here they are color-coded blue or red, for male or female, treated for fleas, and given a basic de-wormer.

Intake ranges anywhere from three animals to 35 animals at a given time—with varying ratios of cats versus dogs. Although the numbers are currently tapering off a bit for fall, “Over the summer there is a high peak of cats because of kitten season,” said Messinger.

In the last couple of years, the numbers of animals taken in at the shelter has been hovering between 10,000 and 11,000 annually.

Where are all these animals coming from?

Of the animals that are coming into the shelter, the vast majority are being brought in to be surrendered by private citizens.

“Most animals are brought in by private citizens who are surrendering animals to us, and usually for situational reasons:  They are moving, a child becomes allergic, they can’t afford it anymore or the neighborhood they are moving to doesn’t allow them to have pets,” said Messinger.

The other big category the shelter sees are strays—animals that are roaming neighborhoods, who are brought in by individuals seeking to be good citizens. Because the Escambia County Animal Shelter is the only area facility that takes in strays, the separate “stray” area within the shelter fills up fast.

“We keep it physically separated and it remains pretty full. Since right now in the summertime it’s a busier season—our stray area is totally full,” said Messinger.

The moment the stray is brought in they are given what is described as a “basic looksee” and vaccinated before going to the kennels. The shelter follows the state recommendation of holding stray animals for three business days, not counting the day the animal is brought in, days it is closed, and holidays. At this point the animal can be considered adoptable.

“The most important information to get out there [about strays] is that we take photographs of strays and post to a national website and people can go to the computer and look at all the strays.”

Petharbor.com, the online database Messinger is referring to, allows individuals to enter in a zip code, or city and browse through listings of the many stray pets that have been brought into the shelter.

Simple Math

Why so many strays?

Most of us have heard the crazy number of offspring a single, female cat has the potential of being responsible for in her lifetime. Depending on where you are sourcing numbers from, this is said to be more than 400,000 cats in just a seven-year period.

Holy moly that’s a lot of cats. And sadly, many of these cats end up homeless.

That said, it should come as no surprise that the first question uttered by the staff at the shelter during the intake process, especially when an individual is bringing in an entire litter of kittens is, “Where’s the Mother?” Followed up immediately with, “Is she spayed?”

“[When it comes to kittens], a lot of times and sadly enough, when mama cats are stressed being outdoors, most of those kittens are sick,” said Messinger. “There are too many and even if we could find homes for them all, they’d have to be treated and taken care of. Many times they have contagious issues that can infect other cats.”

“Spaying and neutering is a huge issue and we know that people are slow to change and it may take a generation like in other parts of the country,” she said. “We try and educate the people who are making the mistakes.”

The shelter also educates individuals about the spaying and neutering programs available to the County. Since the Escambia County Spay/Neuter Program began four years ago, the euthanasia rate at the animal shelter has dropped 35 percent.

The Low-cost program is currently available to those residents of Escambia County who meet the household income requirement of $35,000 of less. And thanks to a $25,000 grant the Humane Society was recently awarded by the Florida Animal Friend Spay/Neuter License Plate Program, services are currently being offered entirely for free to those who fit the requirements.

Additionally, the new surgical wing that was recently unveiled at the shelter will enable them to expand the program to be able to increase the number of procedures performed for those in the community. It will also reduce costs, be more efficient for operations, and be healthier for the animals.

The hope is that over time, both increased services and educational programs will help to control the current widespread issue of overpopulation in the County.

Still, a question that tends to get left lingering on the tips of tongues, but not one everyone is comfortable with voicing is—what does it take to truly be a “no kill” shelter?

“That’s a good question,” said Messinger. “It will take a long time and it will take commitment. It is possible just like other places in the country. But there needs to be a commitment from the community at large to change the behavior.”

“I’ve looked at other places where they have worked on this,” she continued. “They all say overpopulation, but the issues is that it’s a human problem. To try and resolve a human problem you have to become good at deciphering the human element and talking to the right people and educating the right people to make the change happen.”

“Be the change you want to see.”

Escambia County Animal Shelter
200 W. Fairfield Drive
595-3075
12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday – Saturday
animalshelter@myescambia.com

To learn more about the shelter and view current adoptable animals, visit myescambia.com/community/animal-services.
The Escambia County Animal Shelter is currently accepting online donations to help offset the care and feeding of animals under their care.

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Hotel for Dogs & Cats
Rescues & Adoptions
4110 Creighton Road
857-0222
12:30 p.m. – 7 p.m. Monday – Saturday (closed Wednesdays)
4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Sunday
h4dc.org

Situated on Creighton Road, while not exactly an exotic get-away, the Hotel for Dogs & Cats comes pretty close. This hotel is exactly what it sounds like—an intermediary place for dogs and cats to stay until they are adopted out into their forever home. The Hotel for Dogs & Cats rescue and adoption services are run solely by donations and it is a no-kill operation.

In addition to welcoming monetary donations, Hotel for Dogs & Cats keeps a full listing of items that are vital to the everyday stay of the pets. These targeted items include cleaning supplies, supplies for cages, food and miscellaneous care items. Before supplying donations it is best to review the specific list to be sure that you are providing a usable item.

To view the animals currently available for adoption at Hotel for Dogs & Cats, along with a list of supplies in demand, visit h4dc.org.

The Humane Society of Pensacola
5 N. Q St.
432-4250
9:30 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday – Saturday
humanesocietyofpensacola.org

The Humane Society of Pensacola (HSOP) is a no-kill shelter and adoption center dedicated to both dogs and cats. HSOP operations are sustained through private donations and fundraising activities, without the assistance of city, state or federal government funding.

Animals call HSOP home as long as it takes to find their forever homes. Routinely on Saturdays, staff and volunteers can be found around town hosting community adoption events at locations such as PetSmart, Pet Co., and Bob Tyler Toyota.

While HSOP encourages you to come meet, walk, play, or simply spend time with one of the many pets up for adoption, even if you aren’t ready to adopt just yet, there are other ways you can help. In addition to monetary donations, like Hotel for Dogs & Cats, HSOP accepts items that directly benefit the animals currently being housed on location.

Due to small staffing, the organization relies heavily on a dedicated network of volunteers, especially when it comes to the day-to-day walking of, and interacting with dogs. Even if your time is limited, a brief volunteer orientation enables you to then return and walk dogs at any point you have a few minutes of free time throughout your day and are able. If you are more of a cat person, acting as a volunteer also allows you to spend ample time loving on the felines in the cat room. Additionally, the Humane Society offers fostering opportunities to those who may not be able to take a pet permanently.

To learn more or view current animals up for adoption at HSOP, visit humanesocietyofpensacola.org