BRATTLEBORO—If you recently adopted a dog or cat from the Windham County Humane Society, and it speaks Spanish or has a Southern accent, there’s a good reason for that.
This fall, the WCHS has received pets from Puerto Rico, Florida, and Texas in an effort to help communities affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma — and to ensure the WCHS kennels have enough animals to offer locals.
St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Center in Madison, New Jersey, is the WCHS’s transport partner, and they act as a hub for animal distribution.
“We like working with [St. Hubert’s] because their pet health and safety protocols are excellent,” said WCHS Executive Director Annie Guion.
Animals in Southern shelters face euthanasia due to a lack of space and no strong spay/neuter programs, Guion explained.
This is nothing new. This year, even before the hurricanes, the WCHS had taken in 225 dogs and 101 cats transported from shelters in Southern states.
With the recent storms, though, even more space is needed to house displaced animals.
“You don’t want to immediately move animals from a hurricane area because their owners will come to shelters looking for them. So, we take long-term animals,” Guion said.
Bringing animals up from the south (and now, Puerto Rico) also helps the WCHS and other New England shelters, Guion said.
Shelters need an array of adoptable animals for clients to choose from. But with a more progressive adoption policy and an increase in public awareness of spay and neuter programs, “we had more kennel space,” Guion said. “Without transport animals, we’d have the shelter at half-capacity,” she added.
In 2009, the WCHS brought in 85 transport animals, representing 13 percent of its intake that year. In 2016, the last year for which the WCHS has complete data, “we brought in 355 [transport] animals, which is 38 percent” of all animals they took in.
“We always look locally first at other Vermont and New Hampshire shelters” for pets, Guion said, but it’s not enough. In this part of the country, spay-neuter programs are robust, so there are fewer animals, she said.
These days, Guion noted, “it’s hard to find a puppy in New England unless it’s transported from the South.” To get a puppy, “you can either go to a breeder and pay a lot of money,” or you can adopt a southern puppy. “The days of free puppies from your neighbor are over,” Guion said.
“In the south, they’re still euthanizing 50 percent or more of the animals in shelters,” Guion said. There’s also “less of an ethic around spay-neutering,” she said. “It’s a cultural difference. Some people don’t even know you can spay or neuter a pet.”
Steady local intake
In New England, Guion said, “most euthanasia rates are 10 percent, and this is anecdotal data from my peers.” In addition to her position at the WCHS, Guion also is the Vermont representative to the Humane Society of the United States.
“We haven’t stopped taking local animals,” Guion said, and added, “Even while we’re increasing our transport animals, our local intake has been quite steady."
Still, demand is high.
“Our average length of stay for dogs is one week. For cats, it’s two weeks,” said Guion. “We have good intake protocols. We give a distemper boost, flea/tick treatment, a full exam, we scan for microchips, and advertise right away on Facebook,” she explained.
Guion noted the WCHS has changed its adoption procedures and added other programs to help local families with basic wellness. Some of the programs include low-cost vaccines, spay-neuter, and parasite prevention.
“The pet assistance program has really helped keep animals in homes,” Guion said.
All of these programs — transporting animals from the South and Puerto Rico, friendly adoption policies, ensuring animals are healthy while at WCHS and after — “allows us to move three times as many animals as we used to,” Guion said.
“Driving traffic to the shelter keeps us active in the community’s mind,” Guion said. “We love to help people find new animals — new friends for life."