Straying pets fill shelters in summer

By Stefanie Donahue, Columbian staff writer

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Clark County pet licensing: www.clark.wa.gov/development/fees/animals.html

Fireworks, freedom and fair weather are combining to make this the dog days of summer for local animal control officers.

The number of pets, especially dogs, taken in by officers has soared recently.

Over the past two weeks, Clark County Animal Protection and Control officers picked up 50 animals, said Manager Paul Scarpelli.

The actual number of stray pets is higher, he said, but sometimes those reporting a stray deliver the animal to a local Humane Society shelter on their own.

And some people take strays to the shelters without ever calling animal control, he added.

Scarpelli cited three central reasons for the increase in stray pets this time of year:

• Kids enjoying the freedom of summer often leave gates open or play with unleashed animals in the front yard.

• Certain breeds of dogs struggle with the noise of fireworks and run away.

• Nice weather entices pets to explore outside on their own.

Once pets have strayed, animal control's priority is to return them to their owners, he said. He stressed that licensing pets is crucial to a successful reunion.

Licenses are required for all cats and dogs older than eight weeks in Clark County, the city of Vancouver and the town of Yacolt, according to the Clark County website.

License fees fund the animal control forces, which work to ensure the safe return of lost pets and investigate cases of animal cruelty and neglect, Scarpelli said.

It all comes back to what is the right thing to do for your pet, he said.

Scarpelli advised pet owners to leave dogs at home until they are socialized and trained to be comfortable with people and other animals. He also recommended that strangers, especially kids, give the animal who's not used to them a few minutes before delivering a big hug.

Prior to adoption, people should ensure they have the right environment and lifestyle for a pet, Scarpelli said.

"It is very common for dogs to be barking because they are lonely," he said.

Busy shelter

Local animal shelters are coping with increased summer demand. In the past three weeks, the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society shelter has received several strays, said volunteer Sara Bertrand.

Bertrand has volunteered for the organization for more than four years and has worked behind the scenes to train dogs at the Washougal-based shelter, she said.

As of Friday, the shelter held 12 dogs. Eight other dogs are in foster care, all waiting to be adopted, she said.

Upon arrival, the animals receive proper medical attention and then volunteers work to find them a home. "It is hard to do," she said, especially when the dogs do not get along with other pets.

DeeDee, a bulldog and pit bull mix has been in the Washougal shelter for almost three years, the longest of any dog, she said.

Recently, DeeDee was moved to the Humane Society of Cowlitz County to seek a home, but if not adopted she will be sent back in a few weeks, Bertrand said.

DeeDee is not the only dog acquainted with life at a shelter. Cutty, another hard-to-place pet, has been with the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society for two years, she said. He was returned after the owners failed to follow up with his training and he escaped, she said

Bertrand emphasized the importance of training and pet socialization. When pets are well-socialized with people and other animals, it makes a big difference, she said. It is very challenging to find a home for dogs if they cannot get along with other pets, she said.

Bertrand's ultimate message to pet owners is to stay vigilant. Keep animals safe, leashed and licensed, she said.

Stefanie Donahue: 360-735-4510; stefanie.donahue@columbian.com