Giving up a family pet because of tough financial times can be one of the toughest things anyone has to do. It happens most days at shelters in many low-income neighborhoods.
From Los Angeles' Downtown Dog Rescue, one woman is helping to keep thousands of those animals in their homes. Lori Weise and her Shelter Intervention Program are making a huge difference to families one at a time.
Telma Villatoro has had 13-year-old Conde since he was a puppy. Last month, a flea infestation made him scratch so much he'd bleed and lose fur.
"I kept treating him myself with ointments that I could provide for, but for at least a month, I was thinking about possibly giving him up," Villatoro said.
Villatoro appealed to Downtown Dog Rescue. Staffer Noemi Campos gave Conde medicated baths every week.
"He's pain free, running around, and now he's actually digging up my plants again, so that makes me very happy," Villatoro said.
Weise launched the Shelter Intervention Program, also known as SIP, that saved Conde in 2013. SIP makes a plan with families who don't want to give up their pets.
"Somebody could lose one of two or three jobs, and that means they're basically choosing, am I going to be homeless, do I get to keep my kids or do I have to surrender my pet?" Weise said.
SIP will pay for solutions, but owners are asked to invest as well.
"These are people that typically need medical care, maybe they need a fence or a gate built or a doghouse, or maybe they're having problems just providing enough dog or cat food," Weise said.
So far, SIP has kept nearly 21,000 animals out of shelters.
"To be able to say to somebody, 'Hey, we've got a solution for you.' It's just awesome," Weise said.
Lori says she talks with shelters across the country that want to launch similar programs.
SIP costs Downtown Dog Rescue about $200,000 a year. Funding comes primarily from grants from animal protection agencies and donations.
SHELTER INTERVENTION PROGRAM (SIP)
BACKGROUND: Approximately 78 million dogs and 85.8 million cats are owned in the United States. Around 44% of all households have a dog, and 35% have a cat. Companion animals make up 6.5 million animals entering U.S. animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those, around 3.3 million are dogs and 3.2 million are cats. The number of dogs and cats entering U.S. shelters annually has declined from 7.2 million in 2011. Each year, approximately 1.5 million shelter animals are euthanized (670,000 dogs and 860,000 cats). The number of dogs and cats euthanized in U.S. shelters annually has declined from approximately 2.6 million in 2011. This decline can be partially explained by an increase in the percentage of animals adopted and an increase in the number of stray animals successfully returned to their owners. Approximately 3.2 million shelter animals are adopted each year, and about 710,000 animals who enter shelters as strays are returned to their owners. Of those, 620,000 are dogs and only 90,000 are cats. (Source: https://www.aspca.org/animal-homelessness/shelter-intake-and-surrender/pet-statistics)
WHY PETS END UP IN SHELTERS: All across the world, animal shelters are overflowing with animals that are in need of good homes. Many people get a pet without realizing how much training is involved. Pets need diligent owners who are willing to put in the hours setting rules, boundaries, and limitations, and spending time teaching them commands. People losing their job, getting a divorce, having a new baby, or encountering difficulties with their health are also common reasons that animals end up in shelters. Between vet bills, boarding, buying food, toys, and grooming, pets can be expensive. Many people underestimate the amount of money that owning a pet will involve, especially if there are special needs or health issues involved. If someone in the household develops an allergy to a pet, it may wind up in a shelter. Finally, people who find pets on the street often take them in on a temporary basis while searching for its family. Downtown Dog Rescue receives about $200,000 a year in funding that comes primarily through grants from animal protection agencies and donations. Found Animals Foundation contributes approximately 50% of the cost of running the program. The rest is from individual donors and family foundations. (Source: https://www.cesarsway.com/get-involved/rescue/reasons-dogs-end-up-in-shelters-rescue-series-pt1)
REDUCING STRESS IN SHELTER DOGS: Foster care provides valuable information about dog behavior that can help homeless dogs living in shelters find forever homes. Researchers found short-term fostering benefited shelter dogs in Arizona, Utah, Texas, Montana and Georgia. Stress hormone levels were reduced during one and two-night sleepovers, and dogs also rested more during and immediately following a sleepover. To increase the number of shelter dogs that are adopted, Arizona State University's Canine Science Collaboratory studied what happens in animal shelters and how it affects dogs. The research team studied how sleepovers, or short-term foster care, impacted the stress response and rest patterns of shelter dogs. "We are trying to improve the lives of shelter dogs by helping them find loving homes," said Clive Wynne, professor of psychology and head of the Canine Science Collaboratory. The team tracked the dogs' stress by measuring the stress hormone cortisol before, during and after sleepovers. Even though the five participating shelters were very different, some care for 600 dogs a year and others more than 6,000, the cortisol levels for all the dogs decreased during a sleepover. When the dogs returned to the shelter, their cortisol levels were the same as before. Gunter said the sleepovers were like a weekend away from work: they provided a short break from the stress of living in a shelter. (Source: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190401121814.htm)