Written by Hannah Groff
The obstacles facing Jennifer Dennis are enormous. Dennis is the assistant director of the Human Society of Elkhart County. The center receives around 700 animals each month, and with only 266 cages, the math does not bode well for the homeless.
The recession has had a large effect on the number of pets brought into the shelter.
“We have had an increase of animals, mostly over the summer and fall,” Dennis said. “Not only is it due to the recession, but it’s just that people are not taking care of their animals. People are getting evicted from their homes and having to move into apartments that don’t allow pets.”
Some animals come in that haven’t been fed in months, Dennis said.
The Humane Society’s mission is “to promote respect and responsibility for all animals and to help prevent suffering and neglect through education, public service and adoption.”
In an attempt to help out those who are struggling with money to keep their pets, the shelter does have a food donation service. Pet owners who need food can go into the shelter and pick up bags of cat or dog food for their animals.
“Our goal is to keep pets in homes, and if that means giving support through free food, that’s what we want to do,” Dennis said. Anyone can donate food that will then be given away. “It’s another way to help out and work against the difficult times so many are facing,” she added.
Another sign of the tough economic situation in the area is the number of animals abandoned outside the shelter and placed in the drop boxes provided by the shelter.
The boxes are intended for people to drop off stray animals they find when the shelter is closed, but some people shove whatever kind of animal in there that they can.
Real problems develop when all the boxes are full and people start just leaving animals tied to the front door, the shed or the front bench, as has happened in the past year. This is dangerous to the animal’s health and safety and is sad, said Dennis, especially in the specific case of a litter of kittens left in the Dumpster behind the shelter.
The shelter takes in cats, dogs, rabbits and other animals — there’s even a pot-bellied pig named Bailey up for adoption. The animals come from all different backgrounds; some were strays while others were dropped off by old owners.
The animals that come into the shelter are first held for three days so they can become accustomed to the shelter and then must be tested for appropriateness of adoption. The humane society uses a temperament test to evaluate the suitability of an animal to be put up for adoption.
They do have to euthanize some animals, due to their contract as an animal control shelter for all of Elkhart County. They cannot turn animals away because of this, but then they must put some animals to sleep if they are not fit to go back to the public through adoption. The Humane Society is, however, a no-kill adoption center, so once an animal gets into the adoption program they will remain in the shelter until chosen.
“Dogs are adopted at a turnover rate of 72 hours or less,” Dennis said. “Cats can be here a bit longer, and we have had some cases where cats have remained in the shelter for more than a year.”
In giving dogs the temperament test (cats are so unpredictable and moody that they cannot be tested), the shelter first takes a look at food aggression. A huge bowl of wet food is given to the dog and then is taken away with a long pole with a plastic hand missing a thumb on the end (a tell-tale sign of a failed test in the past.) If the dog growls or shows its teeth, then it has food aggression.
Also, while the dog is eating they will take the plastic hand and run it all over the dog: its legs, belly and back, and if it doesn’t react, then it is has passed the food aggression test.
After the dog is done eating, someone will also pet and pull on the dog’s ears and legs, as a 3-year-old might. They also attempt to startle the dog by running up to it and clapping to create a stressful situation.
If the dog passes all these stimulant tests without aggression, then it is permanently placed in the adoption area and ready for a good home.
If it simply fails the food aggression test, that doesn’t mean it isn’t eligible for adoption, just that it needs to be socialized more and worked with. The humane society doesn’t have enough resources or staff to deal with these animals and they must be taken to a different rescue or shelter where there is more help.
Dennis said that a successful adoption is the biggest reward for the fifteen staff persons and 100 volunteers involved with the Humane Society. The typical number of pets adopted out each month is between 50-60.
This new year looks even more promising. By January 23rd, a record high of 52 animals had already been adopted. This is a large number, but it follows the usual trend of families deciding to get a dog or cat for their kids once the holidays are past. December also usually turns out big numbers of adoptions–this year a record number of pets—84 —found homes.