COLUMBIA CITY — Barks, howls and the occasional meow are the never-ending soundtrack to a day at the Whitley County Humane Society in Columbia City.
The shelter, which often houses around 100 or so cats and dogs at any given time, has had a pretty busy year thus far. While in 2017 the shelter saw between 800 and 900 animals cycle through, that number is currently at more than 1,000, with still a couple weeks to go in 2018, Humane Society director Abbi Ogden said.
The majority of those animals were strays, with a large portion of the dogs also coming from owner-surrenders.
The facility has the room to keep 44 dogs, but when taking staffing into account, the ideal number of dogs hovers between 15 to 25 dogs. Of course, when the need arises, the three full-time staffers and six kennel cleaners step up to the challenge and make it work.
In these last few weeks of 2018, Ogden advised that she has seen a pretty steady pace of adoptions during a time when adoptions are usually a standstill. Come summer though, the adoption rate will rise with the temperature as more people are seeking out pets and more animals are being brought in.
Contributing to the shelter’s particularly high intake rate this year were a few major cases of neglect that saw a large number of animals entering the shelter quickly. Earlier this year the shelter brought in 14 German shepherds from a dog-hoarding case, Ogden said. More recently, five huskies were brought in and are now receiving care and medical attention before finding new, loving homes.
According to Ogden, the case with the huskies has been on the humane society’s radar for about two years, adding that the shelter was receiving phone calls weekly with concerns about them. Unfortunately, the humane society does not have any sort of enforcement power to remove the animals from anyone’s property. Making the case doubly challenging is the fact that Whitley County does not have animal control officers, tasking police officers with responding to neglect or hoarding reports.
“There’s kind of a communication gap between the community and us,” Ogden said. “People think we’re not doing our jobs, but we’re under restriction to do anything. Yes, we want to help, but we can’t legally go onto their property and do anything.”
When the shelter gets just too full, the Humane Society has partnerships with other facilities around the state to help lessen the load.
“For cats we have a couple different places that will take them when we’re overflowing,” Ogden said. “We don’t usually send a huge load of dogs anywhere, but if we have a breed-specific rescue we work with them.”
Ogden also confirmed that the organization makes a point of working with no-kill shelters, which she added are more and more common than before.
In regards to the increased traffic at the shelter, Ogden cited a lack of proper procedures that prevent animals from continually breeding and expanding an already exorbitant population.
“The reason we’re here is because people don’t spay and neuter to help keep the population under control,” Ogden said.
Medical procedures like spaying and neutering can be costly, which is why some folks try to either find already spayed pets or hold off on paying for the procedure as long as possible. Although the shelter hosts an annual “Neuter for a Nickel,” event, Ogden would like to see the humane society provide even more affordable access to such a crucial operation, but right now the funds in the budget aren’t enough to launch an all-spay and neuter program.
“We could use more funding,” Ogden said. “We could do more medical stuff. Right now our appointments will increase with Hope for Pets, but currently we only have appointments every two weeks, so if an animal comes in and gets adopted during that time, it’s up to the owner.”
Where the budget falls short, the Humane Society is often able to make up for with community donations through fundraisers and sponsorships from area businesses. A year-end appeal will also be sent out soon to people who have supported the shelter over the past year to encourage them to donate and illustrate the impact that money would have in the shelter and for its residents.
For those looking to have a furry, four-legged companion of their own, Ogden urges them to stop in at a local shelter to find their forever friend.
“Adopt, adopt, adopt,” Ogden said. “Don’t go to a breeder because you’re just giving them the money to breed the next group of dogs. We have those full-blooded dogs people are looking for. They’re not all mutts, and even the mutts are good dogs, too.”