Local shelters see success with high adoption rates

OSCEOLA COUNTY — Dogs and cats of all sizes and breeds have been given high chances of finding their forever families due to the dedication found in local animal shelters. Every year, hundreds of pets are being adopted to new homes.

At the Osceola County Animal Shelter, cats and dogs are adopted out by a first come, first serve basis and have costs depending on the type of animal and if spay or neuter has taken place. In 2013, 491 dogs and 427 cats were admitted into the shelter's care.

According to shelter documents and director Michelle Kuz, however, the number of incoming cats and dogs has generally decreased through the years, which she attributes mostly to social media outlets such as Facebook.

"We're having great success finding pets homes before they ever have to come into our shelter," she said. "The Facebook page has a lot of posts from people saying 'I need to re-home my pet,' so it's a win-win for the shelter and the pet because we keep it out of here and into a new home right away.

"Facebook seems to be the best marketing venue for us. It doesn't take much time to post an animal and get as much of the animal's characteristics as possible in order to get the repeat clientele. Facebook seems to be the current market medium that's preferred by the public and what is working to get the animals the exposure that they need. It also works great for lost pets, too."

Social media and websites including petfinder.com, adoptapet.com, craigslist.com, the shelter's website and the Pioneer's Wags and Whiskers video feature have become a vital part of keeping adoption numbers high, Kuz said. Of the 491 dogs admitted last year, 329 were adopted and 98 were returned to their owner. Of the 427 cats admitted, 285 were adopted. It is rare for cats to be returned to their owner once they become lost, she added.

Shelley Burson and her son, Cory, 14, stopped by the Osceola County Animal Shelter to adopt an 8-week-old kitten they will name Percy. The pair were excited to add a new member to the family.

"I'd rather get a shelter cat," Shelley said. "It feels pretty good because we're helping an animal."

Other ideas from Kuz and fellow officers Amy Maxwell and Angie Maxwell have helped keep the number of admitted animals as low as possible. The summer and holiday seasons are peak times for adoptions, but during the slow times of the year, all three have ways to promote their animals while keeping tabs on how many are expected to be admitted.

"We started a surrender list and we try not to overcrowd the shelter," Kuz added. "The lengths of stay is a little longer, but we're giving them the time and the opportunity to be adopted. We're not rushing them through the shelter and for some animals it takes longer for them to find an adopter."

Thanks to methods shelter staff have taken to eliminate opportunities for incoming animals and to increase the amounts of adoptions, much of the shelter's budget has been saved, Kuz added. The facility relies on both county funding and public donations of food, litter and cleaning supplies to make the care of its animals possible.

Because it is a municipally run shelter, Kuz cannot deny incoming animals that are not safe to be adopted out to the public, are too feral to become domesticated, are too sick or injured to recover or have been requested to be put down by the their owner. Euthanasia occasionally does take place.

"We have to make that tough decision to euthanize, but only after we try to exhaust every other means to keep them alive," Kuz said. "We try to make that the last resort. I do think our euthanasia rate is down compared to other shelters."

Apart from adoptions, the Osceola County Animal Shelter has high return to owner numbers and also allows the transfer of animals to other licensed shelters, humane societies and rescues in Michigan.

"We take this very seriously and we're very proud of what we do," Kuz said. "We love to see the adoptions happen and seeing the pets in their happy homes. We want to find homes for every animal that comes into our care, and to make them as happy and content as possible while they're in our care."

Across county lines, the Animal Rescue Coalition of Mecosta County also has had great success in finding dogs and cats new, loving families to call their own. In 2013, 408 dogs were admitted and most were adopted. Out of that number, 143 were returned to their owner. Since the nonprofit facility opened on Oct. 1, 2012, 600 dogs have found new homes. In the feline category, 138 cats were admitted and 109 were adopted.

"I'm ecstatic with our adoption numbers," said ARC Director Cate Arroe. "Cats take a little longer to adopt out, but it's rare for a dog to be here for more than a month. We love our animals like they're our own. Part of us is so sad when they are adopted, but we live for them to find a happy home. We have an excellent reputation of socialized animals, which is not the case with many shelters."

ARC is a no-kill animal shelter, but in the rare circumstance an animal is suffering due to injury or illness that is beyond recovery, exceptions must be made.

"Those cases are the only time we would put an animal down," Arroe said. "In that case it would be inhumane not to euthanize."

ARC accepts animals regardless of age or breed and will evaluate animals deemed aggressive. Feral cats, however, are not accepted, and owner surrenders are accepted when the facility has adequate space. The shelter is able to take about 30 dogs and cats each.

Apart from ARC's 100 volunteers keeping the animals healthy, happy and available to meet potential adopters, the facility turns to petfinder.com, the Wags and Whiskers video and Facebook to showcase their own animals and find the owners of lost pets.

"Facebook has been fantastic," Arroe said. "People will share the posts and tag others in the comments so more will see it. We've had people from Detroit, Lansing, out of state and even Canada call us."

Before an adoption takes place, the interested party must fill out a questionnaire, have veterinary references and permission from a landlord, if applicable, to house a pet. Site visits with other family pets or small children are a must, as well. Costs vary by animal and if it is spayed or neutered.

Big Rapids resident Nancy Horan was thrilled to adopt two 6-year-old male cats from the facility last week.

"I've always been a cat person and my cat passed away three weeks ago," Horan said. "When I saw the pictures of these two, I had to come and get them."

She believes ARC is a great shelter and adopting animals instead of buying them from a breeder is important.

"ARC is wonderful and older animals are harder to place, so I felt adopting them from here is a good thing," Horan added. "I'm really excited. I've put a bench with a cover on it near my sliding glass doors for them. I'll enjoy their companionship."

Monetary and food donations from the public and local businesses are vital to ARC's livelihood and the health of the pets who are admitted. Stone Hill Veterinary Clinic, The Pet Hospital and Riversbend Animal Hospital have established the Angel Fund to help with medical costs for the dogs and cats at the shelter, with every dollar going toward helping ARC's animals in need, Arroe said.

Although running a shelter is an extreme amount of work, it's worth it for Arroe and the other volunteers.

"What I'm really happy about is that no one thought we could have a no-kill shelter in Mecosta County," Arroe said. "But it works. People don't dread coming here because it's well lit, clean and happy. It's an easy place to find your best friend. Our reason for existing is our love for dogs and cats. When you start with that, everything else falls into place."