Halloween tips to keep animals safe

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Don't feed your four-legged beasties candy on Halloween, and keep pets away from the door during trick-or-treating hours, say officials with the Jackson County Animal Shelter, who announced the addition of new weekend hours to make pet adoptions more convenient for potential owners.

"We've been opening the gate on Sundays," said Barbara Talbert, shelter director.

The schedule change is one of the recommendations in an 85-page report released by the Oregon Humane Society in August 2012 that found policies and practices at the shelter were leading to a high rate of euthanasia — 81 percent among cats and 35 percent among dogs in 2011.

The shelter returned to full staffing levels of 10 employees in February, and maintains about 300 volunteers. But an abnormally long "kitten season" has challenged the shelter to keep up with adoptions, she said.

"We know weekends are when people who are working can most easily make it to the shelter," Talbert said, adding the warm fall weather has allowed cats to continue breeding.

"Kitten season has not stopped," Talbert said. "We've had 150 kittens and cats come into the shelter each month since May. The good news is we've been adopting out in record numbers."

The OHS report acknowledged the shelter's former policies were meant to ensure the well-being of pets and owners, but some of them actually restricted adoption and hindered the reuniting of lost pets with their owners, the report found.

The shelter did not, and will not, restrict adoptions of black cats on Halloween, like some other shelters have done as a precaution against those who might wish to harm the felines, she said.

"I think that's an urban legend to some extent," Talbert said. "But we have the same adoption requirements in place that we do for any time of the year."

Other precautions dog and cat owners should take on Halloween to keep their pets safe include:

Pets should not be fed Halloween candy, especially if it contains chocolate or xylitol — a common substance used in making sugar-free candy.

Keep all lanterns, candles and glow sticks away from pets.

If you're going to put your pet in a costume, make sure it's comfortable and doesn't interfere with breathing or restrict eyesight or movement.

Pets should be kept inside and in a room away from the entrance during trick-or-treating hours for the safety of the animal and humans. A dog or cat can easily slip out a door while an owner is distracted and passing out treats.

"Everyone thinks their dog will never leave," Talbert said, adding the shelter receives increased calls about lost and missing pets after Halloween.

Pets can become fearful or overexcited at the sights and sounds of crazily-costumed strangers banging on the door and hollering for candy, she said.

"Keep them secure," Talbert said.