The little dog’s broken jaw hung grotesquely open. Her right eye was crushed in its socket. Medical staff examined her extensive wounds as she nervously scanned her new surroundings. She had no identification tag and no microchip.
Mary, as she was later named, was found in October, 2010, suffering from multiple injuries. She was rushed to nearby Sun Valley Animal Shelter in Glendale, Arizona, where she became one of the 5 to 7 million pets admitted into animal shelters each year.
Mary’s story is an all too familiar one.
“It’s frustrating,” said Kurt Olsen, spokesperson for Sun Valley Animal Shelter, who sees the results of irresponsible or abusive pet ownership every day.
The reasons pet owners cite for relinquishment became the subject of a first ever study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy (NCPPSP).
The NCPPSP conducted personal interviews at 12 animal shelters in four regions of the United States with people who were surrendering their dogs or cats. The top ten reasons cited for giving up a pet were: Moving, Landlord issues, Cost of pet maintenance, No time for pet, Inadequate facilities, Too many pets in home, Pet illness, Personal problems, Biting (behavior issues), and No homes for littermates.
Part of the mission of many shelters is to educate pet owners with options that would allow them to keep their pet. But the best proven strategy for reducing pet abandonment takes place even before a pet is adopted.
Screening is a prevention tool as much as it is a matching tool. It increases successful adoption rates. Potential adoptees are asked about their residence, income, time constraints, household occupants and if other pets are already in the home. Many shelters employ volunteers to help with the screening process.
Olsen himself started out as volunteer, and gradually became a full-time staff member. One of his main responsibilities today is that of Volunteer Coordinator. “We depend upon volunteers for a lot of things,” said Olsen.
Volunteers may be asked to run food drives, help with fund-raising and tackle daily tasks such as feeding, walking or socializing pets. He encourages people with special skills such as marketing, grooming and obedience training to volunteer.
Olsen presses a flier into my hand.
It’s an update on Mary. It’s been six months since she entered the shelter and the flier displays Mary’s before and after photos. Except for her right eye, which had to be sewn shut, she looks like a normal, cute little dog. The transformation is amazing.
Mary’s medical costs, over $6,000, were covered thanks to the generosity of independent supporters.
Animal shelter volunteers and staff work tirelessly to provide abandoned or relinquished pets with medical attention and a chance to be adopted into a well-matched loving home. They also offer education to pet owners and provide a second chance for animals picked up by overburdened and underfunded local animal control agencies.
“I love my job,” said Olsen.
To volunteer, make a donation or adopt a pet visit http://sunvalleypets.org/