By MELISSA CROCKETT MESKE
For many, summer is the time to relax and unwind, take vacation time with the family, sit by the pool sipping drinks, and relish the sunshine as you take in the long balmy days.
However, for local animal shelters, summer is always a busy time. There’s ‘kitten season’ in early spring, and the warm months of summer are when more dogs go missing or are abandoned.
But this year rescues across the country have seen unprecedented numbers. Data gathered in early 2023 is now showing a marked increase of dogs and cats entering shelters compared to prior years, which is causing overpopulation problems in-house, and overburdened levels of stress for animals and rescue workers alike.
To put it into a business perspective, supply far exceeds demand now, and the shelters are having to get creative in their actions to try and move the needle back closer to market equilibrium.
That includes appealing to business and industry – for donations and sponsorships, but also to consider innovative ways they can make the furriest members of the community a welcome part of their organization and company culture.
According to Shelter Animals Count, a national database on animal shelters, euthanasia of dogs waiting for a home at shelters has increased across the nation.
“Just like every other shelter, the summer months have historically been an incredibly busy time for kitten intakes. While that still remains true this year, we’ve also had an overwhelming amount of puppy litter surrenders from owners and local animal control facilities.” says Anne Schmidt, executive director of the Metro East Humane Society in Edwardsville.
Since 1986, the Metro East Humane Society has worked to enrich the lives of people, cats, dogs in Madison, St. Clair, Jersey, Bond, and Macoupin counties. As a no-kill shelter, they provide humane medical treatment, vaccinations, and spay/neuter services; educate on the humane treatment of animals; build partnerships with community-based organizations, schools, public institutions, private corporations, and elected officials; and demonstrate a continued respect for the public trust through proper resource management.
Gateway Pet Guardians is also working at top speed to keep pets with their people and out of shelters altogether. It is a 501(c)3 animal welfare organization focused on creating a community of healthy pets and empowered pet owners in the East Side Pet District – East St. Louis, Cahokia Heights, Washington Park and Fairmont City. Founded in 2004, Gateway works to provide judgment-free and equitable access to pet resources, as well as remove barriers to pet ownership through progressive programming and collaborative partnerships.
“The goal is to always decrease euthanasia, so we don’t see that number double across the country,” said Alisha Vianello, executive director of Gateway Pet Guardians. “Area shelters like ours need the greater community to step in now and offer their support because we are at capacity and simply don’t have room for every cat and dog.”
Even though many animal rescue organizations in the region are ‘no kill’ shelters, meaning that over 90 percent of animals entering the shelter find a home, the staff are worried that dogs and cats will be euthanized before they are pulled from high-capacity municipal shelters.
Gateway Pet Guardians and the Metro East Humane Society are focusing their attention on increasing fosters to keep pets out of the shelter. “Puppy intakes from local animal controls have nearly doubled compared to the last several years, thus resulting in us having to focus our efforts on recruiting several new puppy fosters,” according to Schmidt.
Amanda Loellke, the foster and adoption manager at Gateway Pet Guardians agreed, adding, “We really need people to be open to fostering, even if it’s for a short period.”
Staffers at Gateway have developed a “Unicorn Foster Program,” especially designed to work with dogs like Queen Bee, pictured, who need a little extra TLC.
Jill Henke, Gateway’s director of operations, said that they were worried for Queen Bee “because she is an older dog, she needs a comfortable house and to be the only pet. Queen Bee has no business being in a shelter where she will deteriorate. If we cannot find a foster, she will be here for the foreseeable future. Fosters are our best chance of helping dogs like Queen Bee.”
In addition to its Unicorn Foster Program, Gateway hosts free or low-cost adoption events all summer long, so people can easily find their new best friend. “We have walk-in adoptions on Wednesdays and are now participating in community pop up events on the weekends,” Loellke added. Every Wednesday from 3 to 5 p.m., Gateway Pet Guardians holds a Walk-In Wednesday adoption event at the Pet Resource Center in East St. Louis.
If you cannot adopt or foster, there’s also a critical need for volunteers. “It’s a great chance to take advantage of the warm weather and help our shelter dogs and cats de-stress by having people donate their time to help with animal care. We are looking for dog walkers, people to play with and care for our shelter cats. There are many volunteer opportunities, and we really need all the help we can get,” said Vianello.
And if donating time is not an option, consider making a monetary or goods donation to support the animal care programs and missions by sponsoring a company drive. There’s opportunities for sponsoring events hosted by the shelters too, like Gateway’s Beyond Rescue taking place on Aug. 17 and 18, 2023..
Another animal shelter in St. Clair County, the Belleville Area Humane Society, is also feeling the burden. “There are no words to describe the unequaled feeling of watching a pet find a new loving family, but after nine years in animal welfare, the current state of our local county and nation is feelings of endless fatigue and defeat,” said Chelsea Erxleben, marketing and events specialist for the Belleville Humane Society.
The Belleville Area Humane Society’s mission is to improve the lives of animals in the community through adoption, humane education, and community outreach. Its vision is that all animals in our community are valued, cared for, and treated with compassion.
“Being the second largest county in the state of Illinois, all of our shelters, rescues, and municipal animal controls are full, and there’s no end in sight. And yet, we will continue to show up because there are innocent lives that depend on us. And we need them just as much,” Erxleben said further.
And as for the greater community that Gateway’s Vianello spoke of, business and industry can also step in to make a significant impact as well. Donations and sponsorships are always welcome, of course. But there are other ideas for helping give these shelters and the animals they serve a better chance at “the good life.”
One type of program that Gateway promotes is “Pitties for Truckers,” which they designed especially for the difficult-to-place dogs that can otherwise make good companions to truckers driving cross-country. This model could be adapted to work in other scenarios as well.
Companies might also consider partnering with a local shelter to host adoption events in the community or on-site at their businesses. Then, of course, there’s always room for a shop cat (or two) at many business, industry and office locations. Still other ideas are always open for discussion as well.
In fact, all the shelter directors in the region agree: Any way people can give back, whether it is volunteering, fostering, donating, or adopting, they will always be welcomed.
To learn more about adoption, fostering, volunteering, partnering and donating, visit these local shelters online or search out a connection to other animal rescue organizations in your community:
- Gateway Pet Guardians, https://gatewaypets.org/
- Metro East Humane Society, https://www.mehs.org/
- Belleville Area Humane Society, https://bahspets.org/
- Alton Area Animal Aid Association (5As), https://www.fiveas.org/
- Catty Shack, http://cattyshackil.org/
- Granite City APA, http://www.gcapa.org/
- Helping Strays of Monroe County, https://helpingstrays.org/
- Partners For Pets, https://www.partnersforpetsil.org/
This story also appears in the August 2023 print edition of the Illinois Business Journal.