The Jackson Animal Care Center is facing overwhelming odds as a record number of animals are brought to the center, while peak birthing season is only beginning and supplies and funding are running low.
“At this point, we’re drowning,” said Jackson Animal Care Center Director Whitney Owen. “I’m full. Period. I don’t have anywhere to put anything.”
After posting a desperate plea for community involvement on Facebook, Owen explained that the numbers are simply getting out of control.
“For the first three years that this place was run by the city, we took in around 600 animals a year,” she said. “We managed to increase our intake by about 68 percent last year—during a pandemic, which we were pretty proud of—so we managed to take in 900 animals last year.
“This year, we passed the 600 mark in the middle of May. So we’re projected to take in almost 1,400 animals this year.”
The influx is obvious even to the untrained eye. Upon entering the shelter, visitors are greeted with a veritable menagerie of cute animals waiting to be adopted. Kittens claw at passing pant-legs while in kennels perched in odd corners, and dogs bray from a backroom with little-to-no additional space left for new residents.
Owen, who had just come back from rescuing a mother dog and her eleven newborn puppies from under a house, brushed the dirt off her clothes and made room—between supply boxes and industrial-sized fans displaced by animal crates—to sit and talk.
“That (number) is nothing,” she said. “That’s a very small fraction—it’s about a third of the animals that need somewhere to go in Jackson.”
Currently, there are over 50 dogs in the holding area, with over 90 cats in the building, 30 in foster care and 40 on the waiting list.
“This time of year is rough,” Owen said, over the constant background chatter of kittens.
The center operates as a “no-kill” shelter—meaning animals are never euthanized for the purposes of saving space. While some euthanasia does occur, it is only for unavoidable reasons, like medical or aggression issues, and must remain under 11 percent for the shelter to continue to be a “no-kill” shelter.
“It’s necessary for aggression issues, untreatable illnesses, things like that,” Owen explained. “We do not euthanize for space. We never have.”
With these moral obligations come obstacles, however. Because the shelter is no-kill, as well as funded by the city, Owen wants to make sure they’re giving all the animals of Jackson their best chance—while also pleasing the wants of city residents.
“There’s a lot of pressure from the sense of obligation, you know,” she said. “We’re tax-payer funded. We should be providing the tax-payers the service they want. Which would mean all the animals picked up in the city should come here.”
These standards would be fine under normal circumstances—but this year, the intake rate is just too high.
While the reason for the spike cannot be attributed to a single factor, Owen says one reason is the high rate of animals in Jackson that are not spayed or neutered, which leads to a high birth rate in the warmer months.
Additionally, this difficulty is most often seen in one breed of dog: pitbulls.
“We especially, absolutely, have a pitbull overpopulation problem,” she said. “They are 40 percent of our total intake.”
According to Owen, pitbull overpopulation is a nationwide issue, but is definitely more prevalent in urban environments like Jackson.
“They are the number one most over-bred dog in the country, they are the number one most abused dog in the country, and statistically, only one in 600 pitbulls ever find a forever home,” she said. “It’s everywhere. Almost every dog we euthanize is either a pit or a pit mix.”
Thanks to this overpopulation, the shelter “absolutely has a space problem.”
To add onto this, summer overpopulation can present a deadly issue for shelter residents.
“We don’t have air conditioning in the (dog area),” Owen said. “And most dogs that come in here are heartworm positive. And that can be treated! But heat is a contributing factor during treatment—It can kill them if they get too hot.
“We just don’t have that kind of money, to get air conditioning. So in the summertime, if we treat a heartworm-positive dog, we run the risk of it dying because the heat.”
Owen is begging the community to step up in two ways—neuter or spay your animals, or consider fostering or adopting.
“We need temporary fosters while they’re in that limbo area between the commitment phase and the transport,” she said.
Fostering is particularly helpful for the center, because the animal could be waiting on adoption or even in the process of being adopted, while not taking up space in the shelter for new animals.
According to Owen, fostering also helps the animal “have a chance to decompress and wind down,” and helps increase their chances of being adopted if they aren’t already.
“You get a lot better pictures (of the animal) because they’re wracked out on the couch napping, too. That makes people want to adopt them,” Owen said. “Foster homes benefit everybody.
“It gives you and your kids the fun parts of owning a dog—like taking it to a dog park and taking it on a car ride to Starbucks to get a pup-cup, or snuggling while you watch Netflix—but you won’t have the financial responsibility of it because we’ll provide food, crate, toys, blankets, bowls—whatever you need, we’ll provide. And of course, all medical care required, we’ll provide.”
Essentially, fostering supports the shelter in ways they cannot provide, allowing for a smoother process for the animal, and more room for further rescues.
“That’s what we’re short on,” Owen said. “Lots of people want to foster puppies, very few people want to foster adult dogs…We desperately need fosters, and we desperately need the community to be aware of, you know, if you’re looking for your new pet, check us out!”
If fostering is out of the question, Owen asks that residents get their animals fixed.
“It’s a multi-faceted issue,” she said, laughing. “We desperately need adopters, we desperately need fosters. We desperately need people to stop letting their pitbulls get knocked up.”
The shelter provides an assistance program to partially cover the costs of spaying and neutering, while private donors have “stepped up to cover many of the remaining costs.”
“We will help with the cost of getting your animal fixed,” Owen said. “If you just don’t have the money, we’re willing to work with you. We want everybody that’s willing to get their animal fixed.”
Readers who wish to help out are urged to check out the shelter’s Amazon wish-list.
“That list covers the highpoints of things we use regularly,“ Owen said. “Our operating supplies and our medical budget come out of the same pool, so if you buy us some supplies, that frees up some money for medical costs.”
A very popular need is strong chew toys for stressed and bored dogs, since the shelter is more likely to spend money on medical care than toys in an animal’s hopefully-brief stay.
“The goal is to have this as a transition space,” Owen said. “If a dog has to go without a toy for a few weeks, but we can get it healthy, that’s something we’re willing to do.”
Additional needs include stuffed animals for orphaned kittens, and blankets for cats, puppies and kittens, as well as laundry detergent to clean these items.
“(Donors) provide something we can’t provide,” Owen said. “And we are so grateful.”
All in all, it’s an issue that Owen knows will only get better if the community gets involved.
“You can’t rescue your way out of it,” she said. “It’s like sitting in a boat, and you blow a hole in the bottom—it doesn’t matter how fast you bail, until you plug the hole, you’re not going to ever win the fight. We need to plug the hole and stop the constant influx of new ones.
“It’s a perfect storm of variables that creates an issue that requires community involvement to solve.”
Have a story to tell? Reach Angele Latham by email at [email protected], by phone at 731-343-5212, or follow her on Twitter at @angele_latham.