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12/1/2018 10:07:00 AM
Madison County-area shelters struggle to keep up with intake of animals

Laura Atwood, Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON — Kirk, a five-year-old pit bill and terrier mix, loves toys and treats. He loves to show off how he knows "sit" and "down."

Kirk has spent the past 435 days at Animal Protection League, waiting to be adopted.

When Animal Protection League posted a picture of Kirk on Facebook with a sign that said, "365 days in the shelter," the post took off. In total, the post was shared more than 11,000 times with more than 700 comments, APL Director Maleah Stringer said. 

Despite his online popularity, only two applications were submitted for Kirk, neither of which worked out. Kirk's story is all too common at local shelters, working at maximum capacity with minimal resources, Stringer said.

"People like to comment on Facebook and not do anything," she said. "They wait for someone else to do something. I don't think that's just here, that's anywhere."

Including foster homes and animals in prison companion programs, APL has more than 800 animals, and the organization receives more every day. The main cat room is stacked floor to ceiling with kennels, with more in the hallway, Stringer said.

The animal shelter has been housed at 613 Dewey Street in Anderson, since 2011 under a contract with the City of Anderson. The building was constructed in 1998 and was not designed for the capacity at which APL operates, she said.

"We do everything we can to take in every animal we can," Stringer said. "The building was just not set up for what we do. We need more outdoor kennels. Parking gets tricky. We don't have the ability to isolate for illness. You just never know what you'll have walking through that door every day."

This isn't exclusive to APL. Madison County Humane Society, 2219 Crystal St., Anderson, is also at full capacity, shelter manager Nikki Moore said.

"Right now we have more than 100 cats and about 60 dogs. We're always pretty full," she said. "We're not as big as other shelters. We fill up crates, stack them up, and then we can't take anymore. We take as many as we can."

The Humane Society operates only on donations without funding from the city or the state. The shelter costs around $400,000 a year to run, with no guaranteed grants or donations.

"The most important thing is funding," Moore said. "We're always trying to raise money just to operate. We're dependent on the generosity of others."

While APL receives $202,000 from the City of Anderson annually, the facility costs $550,000 a year to operate, Stringer said.

"This is not merely a money problem, it's an attitude problem," Stringer said. "This isn't just us, it's everywhere. We're overcrowded and overwhelmed and simply cannot keep up."

A contributing factor to the overpopulation of shelters is animals who haven't been spayed or neutered. Ambassadors for God's Creatures, a Madison County organization, offers financial assistance to spay and neuter services to low income families.

Stringer said education goes a long way with pet owners, and regulation would go a long way with animal abusers. 

"One thing I hear is that owners want their animal to experience the miracle of childbirth," she said. "That's a blatant lack of education on animals, animal safety and the people who don't have good intentions for their pets."

Some areas, like Indianapolis, have Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) programs. These programs trap outdoor cats, neuter them and return them to their cat colony. A TNR or similar program is currently against city ordinance, Stringer said.

"It becomes problematic. There are cats everywhere. People bring in litters of kittens and say, 'Oh, they're so cute, they'll get adopted quickly,'" she said. "That may be true, but we still have all of these hundreds of animals. They need homes, too."

Backyard breeding, operating as an underground breeder and selling puppies, is a major issue in Anderson, which contributes to animal neglect and abuse. While Stringer said she doesn't know what can be done to prevent backyard breeding, she said regulation should be discussed.

"Here's what I know. These dogs are chained up outside, they live horrible lives of abuse and neglect," she said. "We need to get these people."

While Stringer elaborates on problems she's dealing with at APL, she is connected with other shelters throughout the state. She said attitudes toward open-admission shelters need to change, beginning with education.

In the past five years, APL has seen an increase in abused, emaciated and ill animals. Sometimes the shelter faces dogs who have been run over, or tied up for months, she said.

"It boils down to many people do not understand or believe in the divinity of animals," she said. "They have no ability to understand their value. They have no empathy."

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Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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