Norah, Nova and Huckleberry, left to right, are all at Columbia Animal Services and need a home. (Photos courtesy of volunteer Mike Young/Carolina News and Reporter)
Columbia Animal Services recently reached full capacity and is making extra efforts to increase adoption and avoid euthanization.
“We are in our greatest time of need,” said Mike Young, a volunteer at the shelter.
Columbia Animal Services isn’t the only shelter that is full.
“Intake is up 4% across the nation,” said Superintendent Victoria Riles. “The best way to reduce animal intake is to spread the word.”
Riles thinks the pandemic is responsible for the increase in shelter animals.
Intakes were low. Adoption was high.
She said that there’s a running theory that there wasn’t as much spay/neuter being done because of COVID.
“We feel that there might have been more pro-creating, which is resulting in a spike in animal intake in shelters across the country,” Riles said.
Regardless, shelters are running out of space.
“They have to make decisions on which dogs will be potentially put down should too many come in,” Young said.
The city shelter has recently been more aggressive in posting lists online of dogs that are at risk of euthanasia due to the lack of space.
The shelter often posts on Facebook photos of high-risk dogs and the time they are getting put down if they aren’t adopted.
But when a post threatens the death of a stray, another post the next morning often will say that shelter officials found room.
“They work closely with rescues and are always open to rescue pulls,” said volunteer Jennifer Kofkee. “A huge difference between municipal animal shelters and privately funded rescues is shelters have to take all of the animals brought in.”
The shelter’s website encourages adopting and fostering.
The Animal Services Foster Program was established in 2017, and the process to become a foster parent is very simple, according to the shelter.
But several volunteers and prospective foster participants say it’s not always easy to help.
The foster process is split into three parts: General Foster, Adoption Ambassador, and FTA-Foster to Adopt.
The Adoption Ambassador route, usually the most commonly used one, is frozen right now.
After filling out an application and submitting proof of identification, the shelter takes a person into consideration for being a foster parent.
Columbia resident Hannah Zahn said that she came across a high-risk list and immediately called the shelter to see what she could do to help.
“I called, but you have to be a part of an Adoption Ambassador program to foster,” Zahn said. “I asked how to get into the ambassador program and she said I can’t.”
The available options are to adopt or join the FTA or General Foster program.
“The message we want to share with our community is that we have many life-saving programs, not just fostering,” Riles said.
The shelter has many volunteers who help dogs get adopted.
The shelter hosts events throughout the year to encourage adoptions.
It allowed free adoptions throughout August as part of its Clear the Shelters event. It also held a free adoption event during National Adoption Weekend in September.
The shelter also has hosted Parking Days, where people can adopt on-site on a street corner in Columbia.
And many volunteers take the animals on a Doggy Day Out, which gives locals an opportunity to see some of the high-risk dogs.
The volunteers will put an “Adopt Me!” bandana around the dogs’ necks to be easily identified in public.
“The public has stepped up and decided to put a lot of effort into those particular dogs,” said Young, the volunteer.
Lots of dogs will be taken to go meet potential adoption ambassadors on Doggy Day Out.
If the shelter is full, it sends incoming dogs to other area animal shelters, such as Final Victory Animal Rescue.
USC student Lillian Parker recently fostered a dog named Mr. Pole from Final Victory.
“When I took Mr. Pole for Doggie Day Out at FVAR, I had a great time relaxing on the porch, going on walks, and giving him lots of love,” Parker told the Carolina News and Reporter. “I love spending time with the dogs and being able to give them the attention they deserve.”
The Columbia shelter asks foster parents to take photos of the dogs to promote them on its social media for potential owners.
Young said the platforms that work best have been Nextdoor and Instagram. Posters even use YouTube for out-of-state viewers.
Volunteers and community members help. They use their personal platforms to tell their followers about high-risk dogs.
One successful internet tool is PetFinder.com, a website that features each dog that is at the shelter or being fostered.
By clicking on a pet, someone can learn its name, breed and history.
Lucky, a boxer mix from South Carolina, came in with heartworm disease but walked out with a family.
“My late husband had Stage 4 cancer, and he loved dogs,” South Carolinian Heather Wapniewski said. “So my son and I decided to get him one for Father’s Day. Nobody wanted Lucky, but he ended up being the best dog. He stayed with my husband through all of his breathing treatments. And whenever my husband didn’t feel good, Lucky was there for him.”
Wapniewski is one of many who continues to spread awareness about the overcrowding of animal shelters on social media.
Volunteers say the shelter has changed dramatically since more volunteers have gotten involved.
A new coordinator helped everyone to understand the same goal: to find the dogs a home.
“The local shelters are trying, but they need the communities to help,” Kofkee said.
Thunder, a white and black brindle, waits to be fostered or adopted from the shelter. (Photo by Grayson McClendon/Carolina News and Reporter)
Every kennel is full at the shelter, but more dogs keep coming in. (Photo by Grayson McClendon/Carolina News and Reporter)
Even with the many hallways and kennels at Columbia Animal Services, there are far more dogs than there are places to stay. (Photo by Grayson McClendon/Carolina News and Reporter)