FREMONT — Sandusky County canine sitter Kelly Pocock said her department is inundated with stray dogs and multiple calls a day from people wanting to give up their pets in the post COVID-19 world.
“We literally had all the kennels full last week,” she said recently.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, dogs were in short supply and Pocock didn’t even have a pet to share for the News-Messenger/News Herald’s “Pet of the Week” column, where photos and descriptions of animals for adoption are shared in print and on the web.
“I don’t really know what happened,” she said of the change this summer.
“We get an average of five calls a day,” she said of people wanting to return pets to the kennel.
The dog sitter said two weeks ago that all 19 kennels were full and she feared that if they snagged any more stray dogs they would have to set up temporary kennels to house them. But last week the kennel was down to 11 dogs.
The dog sitter does not accept dogs abandoned by their owners
The County Dog Warden is legally required to care for stray dogs and therefore the Dog Warden does not accept assignments from owners.
“Normally the landlord assignments go to human society, but I think they’re in the same boat,” Pocock said.
Scarlett Sterling, shelter manager for the Humane Society of Sandusky County, said they, too, face more challenges than before COVID-19. Their shelter at 1315 N. River Road is full of cats and dogs.
Sterling said the Humane Society is already seeing animal stays increase year on year.
Currently, between the foster homes for pets and their kennels, the humane society has 160 cats, 11 dogs and five guinea pigs. She acknowledged that people were adopting more animals during COVID-19, but that’s no longer the case.
They, too, received weekly calls not only about pet abandonments, but also about people whose family member had died and who had no place to go for their pets.
Pets are traumatized after their owners die and they have no home
“We have a dog, Doobie, who was found with his deceased owner,” she added, noting that the situation is also traumatic for the animal.
Also, for human society, when they get an animal back, it’s not a quick turnaround. They allow animals to decompress from the trauma of changing homes.
“We do a lot of medical care to help injured animals,” she added. “We work with three different vets.”
People are calling to report they have kittens and cats they need to give up and there’s no room at the moment, Sterling said.
The public can be cruel in blaming workers for the lack of housing for cats
“People are brutal and tough,” she added, saying people blamed human society for the problem. She said there are factors related to COVID-19, which have led to an explosion in the cat population and other dog surrender situations.
Both Pocock and Sterling said pet owners are finding that COVID-19 is affecting bringing their pets to area veterinarians. Appointments take months to schedule. Also during COVID-19, animal care had to be delayed. Just like the doctors treating people, vets shut down and also had to delay elective surgeries for months.
But it’s clear that for some reason there has been a shift this summer in the status of pets in many homes.
Dog Warden Kelly Pocock said: “I don’t know what the trigger was.”
The influx of dogs has seemed to hit over the past six to eight weeks.
While the breed the dog sitter most often deals with in the kennel is a Pit Bull or Pit Bull mix, the kennel currently has a wide variety of dogs picked up as strays – including Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds , foxes and others. She also worries that if owners can’t return an animal, they risk letting it go to become a stray. She said there was a fine for people like that if found.
Pocock said pet owners could face many issues such as returning to work, not being home and even inflation.
Barriers including inflation impacting pet spending
“We’ve heard it all,” she said of her team of three full-timers and one part-timer. She said other reasons for wanting to give up a pet were people moving around or the dog having to leave because of children.
“I can’t afford it,” she said was another they heard.
“Dog food went up $15 a bag,” she pointed out. “All animal fees have gone up.”
The manager’s office has a specific schedule for bringing in stray animals. They are detained for three working days, given medical treatment and heartworm medication. After four or five days, the dogs may be available for adoption.
Some dogs are adopted quickly, but others stay for months. She has a black lab that the staff named Mabel. She’s 11 and clearly a dog that used to live in a house, but no owner ever came to claim her.
“The adoption fee is $150, which covers the cost of what we have in the dog,” Pocock said. The fee covers neutering, rabies shot, four-in-one shot, dewormer, heartworm medication, flea and tick treatment, and a one-person dog license. year in Sandusky County.
The dog sitter still offers Project Alpha for veterans and first responders who can adopt a dog and the cost is covered by an outside donation.
The kennel also offers a test drive option, which allows the adopting family to pay the adoption fee but return the dog if the animal’s personality doesn’t match the new owners. The dog sitter’s office also allows the family to adopt a dog and gives the dog time to get to know its owners and form a new home before neutering is necessary. If the new owner does not follow through with the neutering, there is a $500 fine which he accepts before adopting the dog.
Volunteer working to train dogs at the kennel
Pocock said they work to make their animals more adoptable, and a volunteer trainer comes in a few times a week to socialize the dogs. Dave Gyurica of The Retriever Barn works with dogs to groom, sit and walk on leash. “These things are going to be a plus for the new owner,” Pocock said.
As for the impact of COVID-19, Pocock said his office has been hit hard during the pandemic. The cases of people allowing cats to overpopulate were huge. As an officer with the Humane Society, Pocock said she had a number of cases where people had more than 20 cats.
“Some of it will work with a little more time,” she said optimistically.
To adopt an animal from the Humane Society of Sandusky County and fees, visit humanesanduskyco.org.
For more information about adoptions from the Sandusky County Office of the Dog Kennel, visit sanduskycountydogkennel.com.