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Dec. 3, 2022

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Clark County animal shelters struggle as adoptions fall, more owners seek to re-home pets

Humane Society for Southwest Washington, West Columbia Gorge Humane Society are keeping animals longer

By , Columbian staff writer
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Kittens Janet, left, and Chidi, both 11 weeks, enjoy some downtime at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington on Tuesday morning. "At the end of the day the victims are the pets, and you don't know if they're going to survive or not," said Michelle Simeone, director of the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society.
Kittens Janet, left, and Chidi, both 11 weeks, enjoy some downtime at the Humane Society for Southwest Washington on Tuesday morning. "At the end of the day the victims are the pets, and you don't know if they're going to survive or not," said Michelle Simeone, director of the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Local animal shelters are filling up as adoptions decrease.

Adoptions have slowed by 40 percent since November 2020, said Andrea Bruno, president of the Humane Society for Southwest Washington. The average length of stay at the shelter has grown from 11 to 16 days.

Bruno said the primary change has been an increase of dogs with behavioral issues.

“We’re seeing more dogs that have greater needs, both medical and behavioral,” Bruno said. “So it’s just taking more capacity, and they’re staying here longer.”

Staff at the Humane Society in east Vancouver first noticed the change earlier this year. Since then, they’ve hired three new behavior technicians to work with animals that suffer from separation anxiety, a lack of social skills and other issues.

“It’s really a hypothesis right now, but we think it’s a number of factors, with some impact from COVID over the last couple of years from people not being able to get into the training and classes and doggy care that they would have,” Bruno said. “So we’re seeing dogs that maybe didn’t have the training they would have received.”

Canine adoptions are decreasing in animal shelters nationwide since 2021, according to Shelter Animals Count, a national database. At the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society, the length of stay has doubled for dogs and grown 56 percent for cats since 2021.

How to Help

Humane Society for Southwest Washington: southwesthumane.org/donate

West Columbia Gorge Humane Society: wcghs.org/donation

“We are getting around four surrender request applications to every one adoption application,” said Michelle Simeone, director of the Washougal shelter. “And at least 10 calls a day from pet owners seeking re-homing assistance.”

Both the West Columbia Gorge Humane Society and partner foster homes are at full capacity. Simeone said that in addition to behavioral issues, many people are re-homing their pets because they are no longer able to afford the extra rent and deposits some landlords charge to those who own dogs and cats.

“We can’t keep up with the demand on us to take in these animals,” Simeone said. “I’ve been doing this for 10 years, and this is the fullest I’ve ever seen it.”

The shelter offers temporary boarding, food and pet supplies for those in need of assistance. For those looking to re-home their pets, the shelter will post on the Humane Society’s website and petfinder.com.

The Humane Society for Southwest Washington recently installed the “Freedom Fence,” a nearly 5,000-square-foot fenced grassy area with trees, to help combat the increased length in stays. The open space allows dogs the chance to interact with other dogs and humans at their own pace.

“Now we’re able to take dogs out there who can either individually run and have enrichment, or they can do play groups if they’re compatible with other dogs,” Bruno said. “That is one of the biggest things we can do to relieve kennel stress.”

The shelter is currently giving priority to pets with medical needs in an attempt to manage their population levels. As the only open-admission shelter in Clark County, they also take in those picked up by animal control.

“It’s matching them to the right environment and household,” Bruno said. “And that could be narrowing our pool a little bit, too.”

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Columbian staff writer