Animal shelter offers help to keep pets and people together in times of crisis

Article Written by Erika Engel – Published on

“Pet ownership is not reserved for the wealthy,” said program coordinator Lauren Parr of the Georgian Triangle Humane Society.

Layla is a beagle-cross who was hit by a car. Her owners couldn’t pay for the costly orthopedic surgery she required, and thought the only way to save her life was to surrender her to the GTHS. The pet retention program helped Layla get surgery and stay with the family that loved her.

A new program at the Georgian Triangle Humane Society operates on the idea that sometimes an animal’s perfect home is the one they’re in already.
Not only will staff be working to find homes for pets in the shelter this year, they’ll be working to keep pets in their homes with owners who love them.
“We noticed more than 10 per cent of the people surrendering animals loved their pets, they were just facing a one-time emergency,” said Sonya Reichel, executive director of the GTHS. “We wanted to find an alternative [to rehoming a pet] because it wasn’t always the best option for the person or the pet.”
Reichel said this year the shelter team is focusing not only on helping pets, but helping people too. She said a recent study by the Human Animal Bond Research Institute stated pets are an essential element to human wellness.

“We see that all the time,” said Reichel.
So the GTHS Pet Retention program was born as an effort to dedicate some resources to helping pet owners who face a crisis hang on to the pets they love.
There are three branches of support for those facing the prospect of having to surrender a pet due to their financial situation.
The preventative branch includes spay/neuter clinics, help with training, and a pet food bank.
Lauren Parr is the program coordinator and the GTHS staff member in charge of taking calls from people who intend to surrender their pets. She received a call last year from a family who was worried about having to give up their dog after it bit someone.

Parr was able to offer the family a free spot in the GTHS dog school program after identifying the likely cause of the dog bite was a confidence issue between the dog and its handler.
After some training, the family had more confidence with their pet and were able to keep the dog in their home.
In other cases, people call to say they need to give up a male cat that sprays all over their home, or a female cat that keeps getting pregnant and having kittens. Often, instead of re-homing the animal, Parr offers access to a low-cost spay/neuter clinic that will address the negative issues and keep the cat in its home.
Another branch of the pet retention program offers emergency medical assistance to pets between six-months and 10 years old.
Last year one family called the GTHS when their 9-month-old beagle-cross was hit by a car and suffered a broken leg in two places. The surgery required was expensive and the family couldn’t afford the surgery. They were willing to surrender the dog they loved if it meant saving her life.
Through the pet retention program, the cost of Layla’s surgery was covered and she was able to recover at home with her family.
“It’s easy for us to help animals,” said Parr. “It’s nice to help the people who are left behind too. [The program] helps people keep the pets they love … often the animal is healthy and loved … there’s just a crisis.”
Lastly, there’s an emergency foster component of the retention program, which includes subsidized temporary boarding at a volunteer foster home for pets whose owners are experiencing situations of domestic violence or temporary loss of housing.
Parr said last year a woman came to GTHS when she was working on getting out of an abusive relationship. She had a cat and was worried about what would happen to the animal if she left her home. The GTHS helped find a temporary foster home for the cat, which allowed the woman to leave her relationship, go through rehabilitation, and obtain housing. Once she was settled again, she was reunited with her cat.

“If we just take pets from people who can’t afford something, the pet will be sitting in our shelter waiting for a perfect home that doesn’t exist,” said Parr. “Not all animals are going to do well with us. In some cases, it’s going to better for everyone if they just stay where they’re happy.”
The program resources are allocated on a case-by-case basis, but Parr said it’s meant for low-income families, people receiving some kind of government assistance, and seniors on fixed incomes. Veterinarian referrals are required for cases of emergency medical assistance, and it can help to have a referral from a recognized agency.
Parr said there’s a benefit of companionship that comes from pet ownership, and suggested it can be an important benefit for someone with a low income, as that tends to be socially isolating and a lonely experience.
“These are the people who need their pets the most,” said Parr.

There’s no requirement to pay back the assistance given through the GTHS pet retention program, but in some cases, those on the receiving end have done what they can to make donations afterward.
“So many of us are a couple pay cheques away from financial crisis ourselves,” said Parr. “Pet ownership is not reserved for the wealthy .. and those who have their stuff together.”
She said the response has been “invariably positive,” and this year the shelter is hoping to help 1,200 pets and people through the pet retention program.
“Reactively we’re addressing surrenders,” said Reichel. “Proactively we’re providing service to more pets in the community.”
There are some ways you can help the GTHS administer the pet retention program. All GTHS programs operate on sponsorship and donation funds, so monetary donations to the shelter can be allocated to the pet retention program.
There’s also a need for emergency foster homes. The GTHS will provide training, physical supplies, food, and medical care, and foster homes would be responsible for providing as little as one hour a day for an adult cat. If you have animals already, you can still foster, you’ll just need a room with a closing door for the foster animal so it can be separated from other animals in the house in cases where the medical history is unknown. There’s no chance of a foster fail (a case where a pet foster falls in love and adopts the pet themselves) since the animal will be reunited with its owner once the foster is over.
The shelter will also accept donations of pet food, treats, and cat litter for the pet food bank and for use in foster homes and the shelter animal rooms.
For more on pet retention and to coordinate a donation, visit the GTHS website here.

Article Written by Erika Engel – Published on

Stay informed on GTHS events, initiatives and programs. Learn how the GTHS team is serving the pets and people of the South Georgian Bay Area. Read heart-warming Happy Tails about GTHS Alumni. See a lot of really cute pictures of dogs and cats!