I was manning the desk at the Aiken County Animal Shelter one afternoon when a car pulled up to the curb in front of the Main Administration Building.
The driver, a woman, emerged from the front seat with a leash in her hand, and the passenger, a man, gets out and opened the back door.
My heart sinks. An overweight black dog – a lab mix – is sitting in the back seat, panting anxiously. The woman clips on the leash.
“Come on, June,” she says, “let’s go.”
June is having none of it. She backs up in the seat.
The man tries to coax June out of the car. Uh huh. No way. June hunkers down; her panting increases.
For the next 5 minutes, I watch a heartbreaking tug of war that, in the end, June inevitably loses. Dragged out of the car, June follows her owners reluctantly to the Intake Door. The owners pay a $20 drop-off fee and go home.
June is led to the Adoption Building to join 30 other dogs waiting to be adopted.
I keep harping on this number, but it can’t be repeated too often: 4,800 animals were consigned to the County Shelter last year. 4,800!
Despite our success at increasing adoptions, fosters and transfers – we were unable to save them all. Not even close.
Why do owners surrender their animals to a shelter?
In a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population and Policy, the top 7 reasons dogs and cats are surrendered are moving, landlord not allowing pet, too many animals in the household, costs, personal problems, inadequate facilities and no homes for litter mates.
Only 3 percent of dogs were relinquished for biting. 96 percent of the dogs had never had any obedience training.
Of course, life happens and sometimes surrender is the only option, but it should always be the last option, because in Aiken County, there is a 70 percent chance (based on last year’s numbers) that a dog you relinquish to the shelter will be euthanized.
There are common sense things you can do to avoid surrendering a helpless animal to a shelter and an uncertain fate.
If you rent, check with your landlord before you bring a pet home.
Do not take on more pets than you can afford: additional pets equals additional expenses.
Train your dog so it becomes a well-behaved family member. There are easy, no-cost training programs online.
If you must move and can’t take your pet, or if you are having personal problems, ask responsible family and friends to help, or call local rescues who might be able to find a foster family for your pet on a temporary basis.
Neuter your pets. Do not bring more unwanted animals into this world.
There are people who suffer when they are forced to surrender their pets – like the Army recruit deployed overseas who sobbed when he turned over his beloved Luci to Animal Control – but all too often, surrender is a callous and unnecessary option.
P.S.: By the way, there is a happy ending for June. She is being fostered by a loving family who tells us, “she is an angel,” and will be on her way to a new home next week.
One more down, 43,88 to go.
One of those lovely animals is waiting for you. Don’t wait – adopt today and save another life.
FOTAS volunteers work with the Aiken County Animal Shelter, 333 Wire Road. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.fotasaiken.org.
Aiken County Animal Shelter: Statistics January to March 2014
Animals recevied: 746
Animals adopted and transfered: 411
Animals euthanized: 431
We saved 57 percent so far, but don’t get your hopes up; breeding season has just begun. Intake numbers are much higher during the summer months.