Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pet Adoption in Frederick

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Because animals need a home, too


     On a cold stormy night last November my family suffered the loss of our cat, Skittles, well before his time.  He made a dash for the open door, and while he had spent previous nights outside and always came back the next morning, this time days turned into weeks and months and we haven't seen a sign of our pretty orange and white kitty despite our best efforts looking for him.  He was only 12.
     Because life is difficult without something soft and furry purring in your lap and keeping mice out of the kitchen, we eventually accepted the loss and began to look for a new kitten to fill the terrible void.  My family was fortunate enough to discover that our friend's perfect cat just gave birth to four beautiful kittens, from which we will take a grey female named Gwynne when she is old enough to leave her mother in a few weeks.
     The sight of those cuddly creatures got me to thinking about families who might be looking for a new cat without the advantage of knowing a pregnant one.  So I took a trip to Frederick County Animal Control to speak with director Harold Domer about the ins and outs of pet adoption from the county.
     "What is extremely important to understand is our shelter here is the only shelter in Frederick County," he said.  "There are a number of animal welfare organizations.  There is a Humane Society.  There are a number of specific breed rescue organizations, but with reference to adoptions of animals within a shelter environment, we are it for Frederick County."
      I have to admit that I've felt a little put off from adopting a shelter animal in the past (Although my family has done it twice) with the thought of so many animals, about 6,000 per annum, being processed through that one tiny building.  I've worried that there is increased risk of disease and cabin fever for cooped up pets.  But what I didn't realize is how keenly aware the shelter is of all of these issues and how hard they work to alleviate them.
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     Mr. Domer said that when animals are brought to the shelter, they are evaluated by a technician who determines their adoptability.  That means they are screened for diseases, injuries and personality defects, such as aggression, before going to the adoption area.  Once there, they are continually monitored by both staff and volunteers to ensure no problems arise before they are adopted.  To prevent them from going stir-crazy by confinement, volunteers regularly hold the cats and kittens, and walk the dogs and puppies in a large yard behind the shelter.  He said the shelter houses anywhere from 100 to 180 animals at a time, with usually more cats and kittens than dogs and puppies, especially in the Spring.  He said nearly 100% of adoptable animals find homes, but over 2,800 animals were deemed un-adoptable last year and sadly euthanized.
     The process of adoption begins when a person (whether they live in Frederick County or not) visits the shelter and finds a pet right for them.  To use Mr. Domer's words, "We want to make sure that it is a good mix for the family and the dog, cat, puppy or kitten," so they require that every member of the adopting household meet with the animal to determine compatibility.  The family is then asked to fill out an application that asks many questions about their living situation and previous pet history.  Mr. Domer prefers to see animals go to homeowners and if the adopting family lives in an apartment or other rented space, he wants to see permission from the landlord to adopt the pet.  The shelter staff will also call the family veterinarian to ask about the adopting family's previous history of pet ownership to determine if they are responsible with keeping their shots updated and so forth.  Mr. Domer suggested that first-time pet owners contact a veterinarian in advance of applying to adopt an animal to seek information about pet care.  This will demonstrate a propensity toward responsible pet ownership.
One cats wears another like a cloak
     Applicants are then interviewed by a staff-member or a trained volunteer at the shelter where they discuss matching up the pet's needs with the unique characteristics of the family.  This is far from a straightforward process because a person who may be suitable to own a cat may be less suitable to own a dog, or even a person who is right for a Beagle may not be right for a German Shepherd.  For example, a person with a small apartment who works most of the day might provide a fine home to cats because they tend to be more independent and less energetic.  The shelter would be cautious, however, in letting that same person raise a Saint Bernard because of their companionship and exercise needs.  However, Mr. Domer said that these guidelines are very flexible and they are good at listening to the case of each individual.
     "Somebody that might want to adopt a Saint-Bernard who lives in an apartment building, that would initially throw up a yellow flag, not necessarily a red flag," he said. "If that person is willing to show interest by assuring that dog's going to get exercise by walking it every day, we'll be understanding, but every once in a while somebody gets denied."
     A maximum of two applications are taken at a time for an adult animal and the first person to apply who qualifies takes the animal.  Four applications are taken for baby animals and they are carefully vetted to find the absolute best home-option available, not simply the first qualified one.
      When a family is finally approved to adopt, the animal is scheduled for surgical sterilization at the shelter, but they do not fulfill the new pet-owner's legal obligation to vaccinate the animal against rabbis.
      "The reason we don't rabbis vaccinate is we want the new adopter to continue to establish rapport with their new veterinarian so within three days of the adoption they try to schedule an appointment so the dog adopted from us gets to their vet, gets a general health exam and gets rabbis vaccinated," he said.  "Once that rabbis vaccination occurs, the adoption process and the adoption fees cover all those costs," which vary depending on the species and age of the animal.
     If in the rare instances that a family adopts a pet and discovers that the relationship isn't a good fit, Animal Control obligates the owner to return it to the shelter rather than give it away to a third party so that the shelter can have assurance of the pet being transfers to a good home.
     I know all of that seems like a lot to take in at first, especially since that process used to be easier as recently as 1999 when we adopted Skittles.  My mom jokes that it's become like adopting a child, but take it from me when I say that it's worth it.

     After Mr. Domer graciously gave his time to talk to me, I had a chance to walk into the adoption floor to see the pets-to-be up close.  I've played with pet-store animals in the past so I immediately recognized that these animals actually had a friendlier temperament than what I'm used to with designer breeds that cost a fortune.  One of the volunteers let me play with a Beagle puppy, and he had just about the most responsive personality I've ever seen in a dog.  He could sense the change from a playful, feisty mood, to a calm and affectionate one just based on my motions.  If we were looking for a new puppy, I would much rather pay the $150 in fees and go through a lengthy screening process for this gentle creature than pay over $1,000 at a pet store for a hyperactive hound.
     They don't expect a new batch of kittens for a few days, but the young cats I saw were also amazingly friendly for creatures stereotyped as standoffish.  Skittles captured our hearts because when we walked by his cage, he rolled over on his back and reached a paw out through the bars.  I saw more than one cat doing that as I walked through there today.  If that means the are anything like the cat we lost, then I know they will be perfect family companions for years to come, even to the family dog.
   
     If you are not in a position to adopt a new pet but would like to be around them and make their lives better, the shelter is always accepting volunteers for most positions, from floor-sweeper, to part-time puppy playmate.  They are also always short on funding to care for sick and injured animals, so they accept monetary donations as well.  Unlike many government agencies, they have a donation account that always rolls over into the next fiscal year.  If you would rather provide something more tangible, they also accept things like blankets, pillows and toys to make the animal cages more like little homes.

Frederick County Animal Control
1832 Rosemont Ave.
Frederick, MD 21702
Ph: (301) 600-1546
Fax: (301) 600-1547
www.petfinder.com
www.pettango.com
  

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