Saving lives at Humane Society

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 7, 2011 - 8:38 PM

Effort to help people keep their pets and make it easier to adopt has resulted in 41% drop in euthanasia.

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The Humane Society has made it easier — and sometimes less expensive — for people to take animals home. For example, it has cut the cost of adult cats from about $125 to $50; a second cat is free.

Photo: Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

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The Animal Humane Society is a happier (and emptier) place than it was a year ago.

"To be able to work here, you always have to focus on the positive," said Janelle Dixon, president and CEO of the Animal Humane Society, serving the seven-county metro area. "But now it's even better."

The society is reporting the payoff from an effort to reduce the number of animals given up by owners, to increase adoptions and ultimately to cut the number of animals euthanized because no one wants them. Over the first six months of 2011, the Humane Society says it has:

•Decreased euthanasia by 41 percent, across the board.

•Decreased the average time that cats wait for adoption from 30 days to eight days.

•Increased the adoption rate from 67 to 81 percent of animals.

In addition, since mid-May, about 1,700 pets owned by low-income people have been spayed or neutered through a reduced-cost service.

Last year, the Humane Society was looking at a big problem, especially with cats, which were being destroyed at a rate of about 10,000 a year.

In the fall, officials took a step back to look at why so many animals were coming in and why they weren't being adopted out soon enough to save their lives, Dixon said.

One of the centerpieces of the Bound for Home initiative is a requirement that people make an appointment at one of the five Humane Society locations before they can hand over a pet. Combined with beefed-up educational presence on the society's website, the new policy tries to take a close look at why people can no longer care for their pets. During a session with a veterinary technician and a behavioral specialist, owners sometimes learn that their problems can be resolved.

"We're really trying to make a transition from strictly reactive change to proactive change," Dixon said. "Part of it is to delve into, why do people feel like they need to surrender?"

If the owner ultimately decides to go ahead with giving up the animal, Humane Society workers are armed with vital information to determine which animals are immediately adoptable, which will need some sort of training or treatment first, and which have problems that will prove to be a barrier to adoption.

Seeking 90% placement

Dixon said the ultimate goal is to have 90 percent of animals placed in new homes. But some have intractable behavior problems that make them unsafe in a household; others have incurable medical problems likely to result in large expenses or heartache to a new owner.

"There are very few people who have it in their hearts to take that challenge on," Dixon said. "We can get to a place where most animals can find homes, but we'll always have a few that can't be placed."

Through the society's website and call center (open seven days a week), low-income pet owners find resources to help them keep their pets, including access to a pet food shelf. The Humane Society also has forged a partnership with Kindest Cut, which provides spay/neuter care to pets owned by people with low incomes for a fraction of the usual cost. The society is planning a 3,200-square-foot expansion to allow for as many as 25,000 surgeries a year.

Sterilization doesn't just prevent new generations of unwanted animals. For some pets, it comes just in time to prevent potentially fatal infection, said Kindest Cut owner Meghann Kruck.

Finally, the society has made it easier -- and sometimes less expensive -- for people to take animals home.

The less time animals spend in the shelter, the healthier and less stressed they'll be, and the more likely they are to be adopted. "The shelter is a safe refuge, but it's not a permanent living situation," Dixon said. "That's really critical to animals' physical and psychological health."

The society cut the cost of adult cats from about $125 to $50; a second cat is free.

The society also moved animals on stray hold, or that are receiving routine medical treatment, to its adoption floor; prospective owners can reserve one to take home once no one claims it, or once it is fully recovered from sterilization or heartworm treatment, for example. In the cat area, a black kitten batted at an orange notice on her cage that read, "Hooray, I'm on hold!"

When the society introduced Bound for Home, Dixon said she hoped for a sea change in how people look at their pets. Maybe that's started, said society spokeswoman Tracie Popma. "We wouldn't see success like this if the community hadn't come along," she said.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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    To learn more and read adoption stories, visit www.animal humane society.org.

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