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Vanderburgh Humane Society ‘Critically Full’

Inflation and high prices also driving owner-surrenders at shelters; over-breeding and not fixing pets still large factor to recent crisis

Vanderburgh Humane Society Adoption Counselor Alana Fligor is introducing a possible new pet to Jack and Barb Rawlinson of Crossville, Illinois.

She’s a cat named Nyota.

“I want to make sure that they match properly with the animal that they're picking for their lifestyle for what they're looking for,” Fligor said. “And so that's what I'm trying to do. Give them as much information; give them time to get to know that animal too.”

Nyota ‘meows’ like a grumbling stomach as she snakes around the chair legs of the introduction room. She was surrendered to the shelter because the other animals at home didn’t get along with her. Before Nyota, they met Lola, another cat.

There are about 411 cats currently housed here. Laurie Byers is Development and Public Relations Coordinator at the Vanderburgh Humane Society. Recently she posted to their social media that they were “critically full.”

“So you'll find cats in offices and rooms that are turned into cat holding rooms,” she said. “Most of these 400-some cats that have come in have been from unwanted litters, you know, a cat that strolled up to their house, they kept as a pet, but never got it fixed. So they can produce several litters a year, which is hundreds of kittens over time.”

She says they have 525 animals in total with more than 80 dogs also in their care. They’re simply taking in more cats and dogs than can be adopted.

This isn’t just a problem in Vanderburgh County. The Humane Society of Henderson County reported the same issue earlier this summer. Byers says it’s a national problem, and for several reasons.

Some are chronic — like people not spaying and neutering their dogs — but others are due to this era of inflation and high prices.

“I mean, people are having to make decisions; ‘I can't afford my pets medicine,’ so they can't keep them. So they that's when they turned to us,” Byers said.

“I had an adopter reach out to me last week. They adopted a senior dog from us last year with skin issues that they can no longer afford to treat.”

“Are you going to feed your family, are you going to fix your pet? So that's a simple decision for a lot of folks.”

She said lifestyle changes also lead to more owners-surrenders. Moving to a new apartment could also me higher pet deposit fees, if that breed is even allowed.

In dog run B, Bosco, a caramel-colored mixed-breed dog is deftly avoiding being taken back inside by animal care tech Chelsea Welder. “Come on, you actually had extra time in the yard,” she said, holding the leash to Bosco before he darted away.

Byers said they have several programs to help canines cope with shelter life. Programs like Mutts Morning Out, Cardio for Canines and Big Dog Buddies help get dogs out in the mornings. “Prevent them from going stir crazy in the shelter,” she said. “Especially the big ones. They have the hardest time.”

Some dogs have been in the shelter for as many as 190 days. One cat has resided here for at least 250.

Byers said there are several things people can do to reduce the strain on shelters like hers. Having pets spayed and neutered is always important. She discourages buying pets online and dropping animals at their back door. Of course, donations always help.

“So just be kind to shelter workers, where everyone is trying their absolute hardest,” she said. “And, you know, compassion fatigue is real. But every day we try our hardest to serve the community and the animals that we care for.”

Another point is, that the VHS qualifies as a no-kill shelter. But if this crisis continues, this could change.

“We have not had to euthanize for space in a very long time. And we're not quite there yet. Last week, we were afraid that we were getting there,” she said, adding that owners on the list to surrender have been patient and willing to hold onto their pets longer.

“We call it ‘foster to surrender.’ So they will keep them until their space, which has been a literal lifesaver.”

Despite the challenges there’s always a little good news, for example Jack and Barb Rawlinson ended up adopting Lola to be their new pet.

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Tim Jagielo
VHS Development and Public Relations coordinator Laurie Byers said her staff can sometimes experience "compassion fatigue" during times of shelter over-crowding.