Prevention through intervention
In Maricopa County, the number of pets entering shelters has steadily declined over the past decade from 105,000 homeless pets in 2005 to 56,000 in 2015. This decline is thanks, in part, to the availability of free spay/neuter services for owned pets, especially those living in low-income households.
Despite the reduction in unwanted litters, shelters are still receiving more than 56,000 pets each year. In Maricopa County Animal Care and Control shelters alone, 11,000 dogs and cats entered as a result of owner surrenders, which have increased over the past several years.
It’s a Dying Shame
Pets surrendered to shelters by their families face euthanasia rates which are approximately 20% higher than dogs and cats who are brought in through other channels, making them one of the most vulnerable groups of pets.
Oftentimes, people surrender pets due to a lack of financial resources tied to a sudden change in circumstances. These circumstances may include:
- Pet or owner illness
- Costs associated with a move (pet deposit, transportation, etc.)
- Owner homelessness
- Pet age or health
- Behavioral challenges
Many pet owners love their pets, but are unable to pay for the expense of care—situations which in most cases could be resolved for less than $300.
Barking Up a New Tree
Recently, a new assistance program was introduced in another community similar to Phoenix. When presented with financial assistance and resources as a way to keep their pets in their homes, over 80% of that community’s pet owners agreed to talk to a counselor to explore their options. Of those, 88% decided to retain ownership of their pets, thereby reducing intake and euthanasia in the shelters.
In 2017, The Arizona Pet Project seeks to offer this assistance by implementing a shelter program called S.I.T. Stay (Shelter Intervention Team, Helping Pets Stay in Homes).
Through this program, a full-time Arizona Pet Project counselor will be hired and placed at a local shelter where the demand for assistance is high. This employee will work with pet owners to provide counseling, including medical and resource referral services, such as pet-friendly housing. It’s estimated that this shelter intervention model will divert an estimated 500 dogs and cats away from the shelters and back into their homes.
Veterinary costs to the community have increased 60% over the past 10 years and are expected to continue to rise.
There are several low-cost clinics to assist pet owners in need, but none offer free services for families in extreme financial distress.
Owner surrenders are nearly 20% more likely to be euthanized than strays.