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Shelter: Do the right thing, don't abandon dogs

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CROSS: A cross stands where a dog was recently hit on U.S. Highway 24 after being dropped off when the shelter was closed.
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CATS: Huntington County Animal Shelter operations manager Jean Wilson plays with kittens at the shelter, Thursday.
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DOG: Sunflower is a dog awaiting adoption at the shelter.

BY HEATHER COX - hcox@h-ponline.com

On Sunday September 23, Jean Wilson was on her way to work at the Huntington County Humane Society when she noticed a tan colored lab mix lying off to the side of the lane that leads to the shelter. After getting out of her van, the dog let out a low growl and ran away from her. For Wilson and a co-worker, the next two hours were consumed with chasing after the dog.

Even after setting out a live trap to catch the dog safely, the dog still stayed at a distance through that Monday. On Tuesday morning upon arriving to work, Wilson and her co-workers found that the dog had been hit by a car on Highway 24.

“His last two or three days of life was being outside, scared, alone and in the cold and in the rain. To us it’s heartbreaking,” Wilson said. “If people would have done the right thing and just brought him in when we were open – whatever their reason being for getting rid of him – at least he would have had a chance and at least he would have been warm and safe and not necessarily have had to fend for himself that whole time.”

Unfortunately, Wilson, operations manager and senior animal control officer at the shelter, said it’s not uncommon for people to drop their pets at the shelter during hours they aren’t open, creating various complications for the shelter and for the animal.

“Most people think when they dump them off on the property that it’s out of their hands, it’s in our hands, it’s on our property, when we come in we’ll get them and they’ll be okay. That’s not the case,” Wilson said.

She explained that the shelter is in a busy area because of semis coming in and out of the factories nearby. Additionally, the shelter is by railroad tracks, and she said if the animal isn’t used to the sounds of railroad tracks, they could get spooked back toward the highway. Coyotes even endanger animals left to fend for themselves.

“Being out here where we’re at, we have a lot of coyotes. I personally have been out here at night and went to leave the shelter and actually have had a pack of coyotes in the parking lot and have had to wait them out before I can leave,” Wilson explained.

She went on to say that people improperly drop animals so often that checking the property for loose animals has actually become a routine for the shelter staff. She said everyone watches the sides of the road when they drive down to the shelter and even before they let dogs out to go to the bathroom they check along the fences.

According to Wilson, there have been quite a few situations where people have either taken the hinges off of the fence gate to put animals in or have even thrown animals over the top of gates. This not only puts the animal being dropped off in danger, but can actually endanger other animals and staff members.

“If they get in an area that we don’t notice them and they’re all tucked up in that area and we go to let a dog out, we’ve actually had dog fights in the yard ... It just makes it really difficult for us to take care of the dogs that we have here at the shelter when we’ve got people who are abandoning animals out here,” she said.

While the dog that got hit on US Highway 24 is one of the more recent situations the shelter has faced, they have dealt with several others within the past month. Wilson explained that just recently, someone dropped off a puppy infected with parvo virus and tried to place a rock on top of the leash to keep the dog there. Unfortunately, this didn’t work and the dog dragged itself around on the property causing the shelter to have to spend time disinfecting everything.

On a recent Saturday, someone dropped off a crate of four-week-old kittens with the mother cat, but left the door of the crate open allowing the cat to disappear for a few days.

“Thankfully about three days later, I happened to see the mother cat down at Helena, and we were able to get her in a live trap and we finally have mama back with the babies. But it doesn’t always work out that way,” Wilson said.

That same day they also found a pit bull that was dropped off by the doors merely five minutes before the shelter opened.

One reason Wilson believes people drop their pets off instead of going through the proper process, is that they might be ashamed. She said the shelter staff understands that some people are facing foreclosure or various financial issues but they do have a few questions they have to ask, whether its their animal or one they found.

“We ask a lot of questions that are kind of personal, and we most certainly don’t mean to hurt anybody with those questions. We just want to make sure that we understand exactly why the animal is coming in, and we want to make sure if it’s a situation that the animal is part of we don’t turn around and put that animal back in that same situation,” Wilson explained.

For example, if the dog doesn’t get along with children or with other dogs, they need to know ahead of time so it isn’t placed in a home with children or dogs.

Another reason Wilson thinks people drop the animals is because there is an entry fee that comes with bringing them in.

There is a $10 entry for an owned surrender, and a stray from Huntington County is free to bring in. Animals brought in from outside of the county have a $75 entry fee due to the fact that the shelter does not get funding for anything outside of Huntington County.

Even still, Wilson said they do have ways people can set up payment plans and volunteer opportunities if they are truly unable to pay the fee.

“The main thing we’re trying to stress to everyone is how it’s pretty much a fine line of survival for these animals. If they abandon it in the parking lot or even tether it to our fence, the chance of that animal still being there when we come in or even still being safe when we come in is very slim,” Wilson said. “ … it’s just very important for the animal safety to bring them in when we’re open and really make sure that for that animal you are doing everything that you can.”

The Shelter is open from 12-5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.