Area shelters combat people's perception that animals are disposable

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:18

    SUSSEX COUNTY-Every year, countless numbers of homeless pets and animals arrive at animal shelters where their fates may vary. Most are adopted, but some - even in "no kill" shelters" - must be euthanized. The numbers that must be put down may vary from year to year, but the problem persists, particularly with felines. "Yes, as far as cats go, although not so much with dogs," said Heidi Shaw, the adoption counselor for the Lafayette-based Sussex County Fellowship for Animals, which focuses largely on finding new homes for abandoned animals. "People abandon cats more readily, at least in this area. People think they're disposable animals. That seems to be the mentality." "The way it seems to be on a regular basis with cats is that they think cats can take care of themselves," Shaw added. "It's almost like it means nothing to a lot of people. With dogs, it's different." Euthanasia is something "rarely" used at the animal fellowship, as well as at Room For One More, a "no-kill" facility that covers its Sparta base, as well as Newton, Ogdensburg, Fredon and Hardyston. "But we don't euthanize to reduce population, only as a last resort," added Dena Adessa, a non-salaried co-director for Room For One More. "We can't accept surrenders because we take in too many strays. But that's something we're working on, a bigger facility." Adessa said, however, that a lot of the animals she deals with have been abandoned by their owners for any number of reasons, including inability to keep a pet as a tenant. "Last resort" euthanasia is largely in regard to animals who are overly aggressive, suffering from poor health, or who are deemed too old, she and other facilities say. There are also cases involving feral cats, or those that have had little or not contact with humans. Adessa said some of the "semi-friendly" ferals can be taken in as "barn cats." In accordance with state law, no shelter can make any final decisions on the ultimate fate of the animals it takes in for at least seven days, during which time a lost dog or cat that is picked up by an animal control officer may be claimed by its owner(s). "So if you lose an animal, and you live in one of (our) towns, you call here first," Adessa said. For the most part, Adessa said, her facility can find new homes for animals about 80 percent of the time. Shaw said she uses a screening process that is designed to help ensure an adopted dog or cat will not have to return to a facility again. "Correct," Shaw said. "We do temperament testing and we try to match up animals as perfectly as possible. We work to put them into correct homes." Adessa said she has seen cases of cruelty where pets are put in boxes and left in the open, a situation that did have one happy end when "Lucky," an abandoned beagle found wounded at the side of a Newton road, underwent surgery and later was transported to Room For One More, which eventually found a family as adopters. Adessa also described other incidents in which cats have been duct-taped into boxes, and left abandoned, sometimes in inclement weather. Shaw made it clear that the more responsible the pet owner, the less likely it is the pet will be carelessly cast aside. "People need education," Shaw explained. "For puppies, we say ‘do you realize that puppy isn't going to be a puppy much longer? And we're firm believers in telling you that the animal picks you, you don't pick the animal. "We know these animals, we love these animals, we care about these animals, and we want to make sure we place them in the right homes. And some people like us for it, and others don't." "People should look at it as being a privilege to own a pet," Adessa concluded. "If more people thought about it that way, they'd have more respect for their pets."