Animal shelters cope with over-crowding - East Valley Tribune: Phoenix & The Valley Of The Sun

Animal shelters cope with over-crowding

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Posted: Friday, August 20, 2010 9:30 am | Updated: 6:56 pm, Mon Mar 7, 2011.

As people have suffered in a dire economy, so have pets, and shelters are struggling with a supply that far outstrips demand.

Foreclosures, job losses, oppressive heat and rampant breeding have created a perfect storm of misery for homeless animals in metropolitan Phoenix this summer. As a result, shelters are reducing fees and conducting special adoption events to cope with crowded conditions.

At Sun Cities 4 Paws Rescue and Shelter, for example, kittens are available for just $45 through the end of August. And Saturday, the two largest no-kill animal shelters in metro Phoenix are hosting a 12-hour adopt-a-thon.

While those measures deal with the symptoms, the problem continues: The economic crisis has created a "triple-threat" that Adam Goldfarb, director of pets-at-risk program for the Humane Society of the United States, said is affecting animal shelters across the country.

More animals are coming in, fewer families are adopting, and monetary donations and county budgets are smaller than ever.

"It's quite a mess for shelters. It has definitely been a tougher couple of years for homeless animals," said Goldfarb.

Many of the Phoenix area's no-kill shelters are full, and Maricopa County Animal Care and Control's two shelters are 500 animals past their "comfortable" capacity, according to Aprille Hollis, a spokeswoman for the agency.

As shelters cope with supply, they're trying to heighten demand. That's why Arizona Animal Welfare League & SPCA and Helping Animals Live On Animal Rescue are combining efforts for the 12-hour adoptathon Saturday.

The event is a key part of the shelters' joint entry in a national ASPCA challenge that awards $100,000 to the shelter that saves the most animals between August and October.

Their goal is to empty their shelters by placing nearly 200 animals in permanent homes. All pets have been spayed or neutered, microchipped and vaccinated, and are available at a reduced fee.

"We're hoping to hear crickets by the morning," said Shannon Blizzard, director of operations for AAWL, which was established in 1971 and is the state's oldest no-kill shelter.

Yet that emptiness will be temporary because "we'll be filling the kennel with new animals (from other shelters) the very next morning."

Maricopa County is second in the nation in the number of animals it takes in each year, behind Los Angeles County. From July 2009 through June 2010, Animal Care and Control received more than 54,000 animals, Hollis said. More than 24,000 were euthanized, nearly 8,000 of which the agency considered "treatable and manageable."

Pet overpopulation has been a problem in Phoenix for decades, and the summertime, also known as breeding time, is always the worst.

"We're in a perpetual state of crisis," said Heather Allen, president of HALO. "You see Katrina and natural disasters creating animal-crisis situations, but we have our own human-created disaster here, and it's all the time."

Pam Stene of Sun Cities 4 Paws Rescue and Shelter said that working in animal rescue is emotionally difficult — especially these days.

"It's really hard to say 'no, we don't have space' over and over," Stene said. "Then you just wonder what will happen to these animals. We refer to other no-kill shelters, but I know they are full too. ... It's a high burn-out job."

Maricopa County's animal overpopulation problem may be nothing new, but foreclosures, fewer donations and slow adoption rates have hit the animal-rescue community particularly hard the past few years.

"We can't pinpoint it exactly, but we think the economy has a lot to do with it," said Kimberly Searles, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Humane Society.

Stene at 4 Paws agreed that foreclosures have played a key role in the high rate of animal abandonment.

"People are just walking away from their foreclosed homes and dumping their animals on the way out," Stene said. "That upsets me, and there are a lot of those cases."

Donations also are down, affecting not only the ability to shelter and feed animals, but vital programs aimed at reducing supply.

Maricopa County's spay-and-neuter program, which offers free or low-cost pet sterilizations, is funded entirely by donations. Lack of funds has forced the county to limit the program.

The growing number of homeless pets has agencies thinking outside the shelter. The Arizona Humane Society and Maricopa County each has embraced storefront adoption centers. AHS opened a store in Biltmore Fashion Park in November, and the county is opening one in Metrocenter mall in August. Volunteers also are stepping up to ease the problem. As foster "parents" over the past three years, Jeffery and Annette Tye of Scottsdale have provided temporary homes for more than a dozen dogs as well as several litters of puppies.

It's often a full house: a litter of puppies in the garage, a handful of foster dogs and his own four pets, three of whom Tye adopted from HALO and one he rescued from being sold to a dog-fighting group to be used as a bait dog.

"I believe that humans have a responsibility to dogs because they cannot exist without us," said Tye. "It's humans who breed dogs, so I believe we have a responsibility to rescue as many as we can."

Despite the problems, many within the community are hopeful that the plight of animals will improve.

Shelters at Maricopa County and Arizona Humane Society received and euthanized fewer animals in 2009 than in 2008, a trend each hopes will continue with further adoption and spay-neuter efforts.

"Our goal is by the end of 2012 to have no more euthanasia of treatable and manageable animals," said the county's Hollis.

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