Local rescue agencies report pet owners are trying to surrender their cats and dogs at higher rates than usual.
The Olympic Peninsula Humane Society’s cat and dog facilities in Sequim and Port Angeles have been at capacity for months, OPHS executive director Luanne Hinkle said, and they’ve depended on foster families to care for additional animals as they await spots to open via adoption.
The Bark House at 1743 Old Olympic Highway, Port Angeles, hosts 42 kennels but they’re caring for 99 dogs (as of press time), while Kitty City at 91 S. Boyce Road, Sequim, is caring for 93 cats. About 30 animals are on a waiting list and more surrender requests come in daily, Hinkle said.
“We need the community to understand that we can only properly care for so many animals at a time with the housing, staff and volunteers we have,” she said.
Staff with Welfare for Animal Guild (WAG) report that they’ve been taking about 10 calls a week for people to surrender their dogs.
“Adoptions have been few and far between,” a WAG staffer said.
Its Halfway Home Ranch at 751 McComb Road in Sequim is also full with 24 dogs and some foster families taking on dogs too, staff report.
Peninsula Friends of Animals, at 257509 U.S. Highway 101 in Port Angeles, has also experienced a “huge influx of calls from the public for both intake and adoption calls” particularly since the Humane Society temporarily closed for safety reasons for illness concerns (more on this below), according to PFOA shelter director Nancy Campbell.
“This puts a lot of pressure on all of us in rescue, but we try our best to respond to this added load and work together to help the animals who need care in spite of the difficulties involved,” Campbell said.
As a cageless, no-kill, private 501(c)3 nonprofit, Campbell said PFOA always operates at capacity with no city or county contracts or funding with support from volunteers to maintain operations.
Surge in surrenders
Rescue agency leaders share that there’s been a range of reasons for people trying to surrender their pets.
Hinkle said it’s due in part to increased expenses, and that access to care has become prohibitive for residents as many local animal clinics are not taking on new clients due to staffers’ increased work loads.
They also saw a surge in adoptions during the Covid-19 pandemic, she said, and as people returned to the workplace, animals now in adulthood may have developed separation anxiety leading to “naughty” behavior.
Surrendered animals at the Humane Society can have lengthy stays too, Hinkle said, particularly larger dogs, under-socialized animals and those with medical conditions.
Bark House manager Nicole Miller said they have a few dogs who have been in the facility since 2021 awaiting adoption.
Campbell said that a of lack of spaying and neutering services during the pandemic led to more animals in the community. PFOA had to discontinue its monthly community spay/neuter clinic for low-income families after 25 years with Sequim Animal Hospital during the pandemic, but Campbell said they’re looking to get it back up and running as soon as possible.
WAG staff/volunteers echoed that the largest issue is the cost factor with one saying via email that “the economy has changed and more and more people need financial help for basic vet care and food.”
At the Humane Society, Hinkle said some owners have become angry and belligerent with staffers when they cannot accept a pet the same day due to space.
“People assume when they get ready to surrender, they want it right away, but we’re full and can’t take them,” she said.
“It’s really tragic that people think when they need to surrender a dog, we won’t help them. We aren’t like that. We want to help everyone and every animal.”
Hinkle said they’re also facing misconceptions that their full capacity is due to saving animals from high-kill shelters. However, she said by Oct. 31, 30% of their intakes were pets surrendered by owners.
They’ve also taken in 432 stray pets in the last nine months, she said, and her staff estimate that 60% of these intakes were surrendered by their owners for monetary issues, behavioral issues, and/or other issues such as renting restrictions with pets.
“They either have to get rid of the animal or move,” Hinkle said.
“We’re in a housing crisis and we’re also in a rental crisis, and it’s even harder to find a place that rents and allows animals.”
To complicate adoption issues, Hinkle said the senior population in the Sequim area prefers smaller dogs but most of those are spoken for before they even make it into the Bark House.
Partnerships between animal welfare agencies and rescues have been going great though, Hinkle said.
So far this year, the Humane Society has transferred 30 animals that were not finding a new home at their facilities to other rescues in hopes of finding homes.
“We all work together for the best interest of the animals,” she said.
One hindrance to the Humane Society’s adoption numbers has been concerns of the contagious and deadly canine parvovirus and the feline panleukopenia virus that’s led staff to close facilities off and on to the public since March, Hinkle said.
The Bark House reopened Dec. 1 after a few weeks closed to the public and held an adoption event in Port Angeles a day later, Miller said.
During closures, they’ve been unable to adopt animals out from the shelter unless they’ve been at a foster home and tested and cleared, she said.
Hinkle said parvo can last up to a year in the ground, and to help stymie its spread, staff change garb between each kennel while cleaning them a few times a day with a special chemical to kill the virus.
“It’s a lot of stress and work for staff,” she said.
WAG officials said anyone coming into their facility must step in a chemical solution to prevent any spread of the virus.
Campbell said PFOA will have visitors step in a solution too dependong on community circumstances.
All three local agencies/groups have screening, spay/neuter, and vaccination provisions for their animals before allowing them to be adopted, they report.
Expanding the Bark House another 550 square feet is something the Humane Society’s leaders plan to do in 2024, Hinkle said, to create more isolation and respite care space.
To encourage adoption, the Humane Society is reducing its adoption fees up to 50% through Dec. 31. It includes spay/neuter, vaccines, parvovirus testing, worming and flea prevention, a microchip, and a health check/exam.
Staff ask renters to have landlord approval obtained and/or lease agreement handy. Call the Olympic Peninsula Humane Society at 360-457-8206 or visit ophumanesociety.org.
PFOA also offers an Emergency Pet Food Bank to low income pet guardians with calls increasing for pet food, staff said. For more about Peninsula Friends of Animals, call 360-452-0414, or visit safehavenpfoa.org.
For more about Welfare for Animals Guild, visit wagsequimwa.com or call 360-460-6258.