Sunday, 17 October 2021
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Solutions: Controlling shelter populations

Three kittens were thrown onto a Little Falls street recently because they didn’t get along with their owner’s new dog.

A local rescue, H.A.L.O. (Helping Animals Live Organization), took them into their house turned cage-free cat rescue even though the house is technically at capacity, said volunteer Caryl Hopson.

Area shelters are struggling to make room for as many cats and dogs as possible while only euthanizing those with untreatable medical issues or severe aggression.

Here are a few of the strategies that are helping them — and could help them more — in that mission.

Foster homes

Many area shelters send kittens, puppies and nursing mothers to foster homes, which protects the babies from the germs and stress endemic to shelters.

But other rescues rely solely on foster homes to take care of their adoptable animals, which takes some of the burden off shelters. For example, two relatively new rescue groups in Herkimer County — Lilah’s Foster House and Pause 4 All Paws — have helped H.A.L.O. reduce its number of resident cats, Hopson said.

Another local nonprofit, 4PetSake Food Pantry, provides pet food to financially strapped owners so they can keep their pets at home and out of shelters, Hopson noted.


Training can help make dogs with behavioral issues adoptable.

“No dog is perfect,” said Becca Daly, communications coordinator for the Susquehanna Animal Shelter in Cooperstown. “We get a lot of dogs that have some stuff they need to work through.”

Peta, from the Humane Society of Rome, is one of those dogs. She’s a nice dog without any aggression issues, but she’s deaf.

“You tell her to sit and she looks at you and thinks, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about because I can’t hear you,’” said Helene Rudiak, shelter manager for the society.

Peta is learning hand signals through the Diamonds in the Ruff training program in Syracuse, a program that’s being offered to area shelter dogs through a $10 million fund Staffworks set up at the Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties to benefit humane programs. Some shelters also have trainers on staff.

The Road to Home Rescue Support in Utica provides another option for more difficult canine cases. The rescue takes in dogs who aren’t adoptable from shelters and rescues across the country and works on behavioral issues.

“We can spend time working with them because we’re not under the gun where we have to take in dog after dog,” said kennel manager and behavior specialist Kimberly Strong.


Getting more pets spayed and neutered is the best way to end the epidemic of throw-away pets and to reduce shelter overcrowding, advocates agree. Shelters won’t adopt animals out until they’ve been spayed or neutered.

“Every pet owner should be responsible and have their pet spayed or neutered,” Rudiak said. “It’s better for them. It’s healthier for them and, yeah, it will cut down on the overpopulation.”

There are already some low-cost spay and neuter programs in the area, but not enough to meet the demand. That’s why Anita Vitullo — owner of Staffworks — is looking for land to build a high-volume, low-cost spay/neuter clinic for shelters, rescues and low-income residents. (She also hopes to eventually build a state-of-the-art shelter in the Utica area.)

But John Treen, shelter manager for the Stevens-Swan Humane Society in Utica, doesn’t think spay/neuter programs are enough. He wants to see laws that only allow licensed breeders to breed animals, he said, allowing a spay/neuter exemption, too, for show animals.


Bonnie Reynolds, co-founder of animal sanctuary Spring Farm CARES in Clinton, also sees education about the importance of spay/neuter and about pet care as an important tool to reduce shelter populations. Pet owners need to research what care a pet will need and how much that care will cost, she said.

As an example, she pointed to a talking African gray parrot at Spring Farm CARES, pointing out that it could live for 60 years.

“You are taking on a lifetime responsibility with a very intelligent animal,” she said.

Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow her on Twitter (@OD_Roth). 


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