Due to inflation, the increased expense of caring for a pet is causing many families to have to relinquish their dogs and cats when they reach the point of no longer being able to afford keeping their animals healthy and well-fed.
According to the director of the Hutchinson Animal Shelter, Michaela Schommer, the level of pet populations in animal shelters has increased in the last year by 7% nationally, and they are seeing the same upward trend in Reno County.
In Hutchinson, the rate of pet adoptions from the shelter has averaged about the same as last year, but with the higher number of intakes, that still results in a greater number of animals in need of homes.“We’ve taken in eight cats today,” said Schommer.
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While the number of intakes and adoptions fluctuates every day, the shelter used to operate with some flex space of 10-15 open dog kennels — but now those are usually full. The problem is compounded because overpopulation is not a localized issue; other shelters are experiencing the same type of influx.
“We try to transfer [when our space is filled], but everyone is in the same boat,” Schommer said.
Increased costs of pet care
Schommer said the main reason people provide when giving up their pets is they just can’t afford veterinarian and food bills anymore. She estimated that annual food costs for a single dog can range from $1,000 to $5,000, and veterinarian bills for a healthy dog can add about $200. Cats are not as expensive, yet their bills can add up quickly as well.To help offset some of these costs, the Hutchinson Animal Shelter operates a dog- and cat-food bank, available to owners in need on a temporary basis. Often three or four families a day stop by for pet food assistance.
“The bag of cat food that came in this afternoon will be gone by the end of the day,” said Schommer.
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It’s obviously not free for the shelter to provide for the basic food and health needs of the animals in their care — not to mention all it takes to keep the dogs and cats mentally and physically stimulated, the building maintained, and the staff paid. There is kennel space for as many as 65 cats and a little more than 40 dogs, but the shelter prefers not to be at full capacity. In that way, they can take better care of the individual animals.
Each animal that comes into care, if not previously named, gets its own name, often in relation to its family members, where it was found, or its personality. Since the shelter takes in around 2,000 animals a year, and they all get named, the staff has to get pretty creative.
Foster pet programs
Some of the workers at the animal shelter are volunteers, and a popular way to get involved is in their foster care program. The shelter provides the food, litter, toys and other expenses, and the pet foster families provide the safe home, time and love.
“My first foster kitten…touched my heart in ways I did not expect,” said Beth Oliver, a dedicated kitty foster care provider. “[Fostering is] wonderful, satisfying, calming, sometimes stressful and sometimes sad. Watching kittens play with abandon and without fear is such a joy.”
Oliver has had a variety of kittens in her care in the past two years and has taken her care as far as bottle feeding the littlest ones when necessary.
“I have fostered for anywhere from a week up to two months,” Oliver said. “Adjusting my schedule when they arrive is part of the process. Readjusting after they leave is more difficult; I continue thinking of what they need next.” The program is designed to help kittens get the special care they need until they are old enough and healthy enough to be ready for adoption.“
Olivia looks forward to ‘kitten season’ in the spring when she will take home some “babies” who need love and attention.
Adoption of a shelter pet is another option for people looking to add a dog or cat to their home.
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Samantha Belt, 18, had been looking at the animal shelter’s website and was smitten by four-month-old Leo. Leo is a Shepherd-Great Dane mix, and Belt drove from Andover to meet him. She thought his breeds were “really good,” and although it clearly won’t last, for now she loved his “tiny little puppy sounds.”Pet adoption has a price tag attached, varying by the animal and its age — but all animals are spayed or neutered and immunized before they are adopted.
“(Adopting a pet from the shelter) brings enrichment and joy to your own life,” said Schommer.
If you are a pet-owner in need of assistance or a pet-lover wanting to provide assistance, contact the Hutchinson Animal Shelter at (620) 694-1924. It is located at 1501 S. Severance St. The shelter is always looking for volunteers, donations, fosters parents and adoptions.