Animal shelters see influx of referrals in late days of winter


Animals, like their human owners, love spending cold wintry days hunkered down in front of a warm fireplace. But local pet shelters and rescue groups still find themselves busy picking up abandoned dogs and cats.

“Cat rescues do not lighten up in the winter. They get abandoned and relinquished, no matter what,” said Robin Montgomery, who volunteers with Cherished Cats Rescue Alliance and helps to train and schedule the volunteers for the cat adoption program at PetSmart.

Rescues get calls about abandoned cats every day, and Montgomery pointed out that people relinquish their pets for a variety of factors, though finances, allergies and losing their homes are the most common.

Along with that, owners might not be prepared for the cost of veterinary care or for the amount of work involved in animal ownership.

“Poverty doesn’t pick a season,” Montgomery said. “When people have animals they can’t afford, pets are often the first thing that goes. They just let them go in hopes that somebody picks them up.”

Pet shelters become inundated with kittens once the weather warms up, but adult cats keep shelters busy throughout the year.

“I think perhaps the calls for adults are greater in the winter because people are concerned that the cats don’t have shelter against the severe cold, and also that they don’t have a food source or are starving,” said Eloise Keithan, an affiliate of the Cherished Cats Rescue Alliance.

Rebecca Hetherington, of Wanna-Be Pet Rescue, based in Mount Carmel, agreed.

“Less kittens, but far more adults in the winter,” she said. “People move and abandon them, and move and hand them in … seems everyone is allergic in the winter.”

Another unfortunate reason for relinquishing a pet includes realizing that a cute puppy can grow into a demanding dog if it isn’t properly trained.

“The shelters become full about eight weeks after Christmas,” said Tracy Baylor, owner of Turkey Run Rescue, of Mifflinburg.

February is usually a high intake time, but so is the summer, Baylor added, noting that people who don’t know what to do with pets when they go on vacation sometimes abandon their dogs then.

So what to do with a pet when a family decides it no longer wants or can afford it? There are some humane, though not necessarily free, options.

The SPCA in Danville charges $50 to help defray costs.

“There is a fee to surrender your pet, yes,” said Gillian Kocher, director of public relations and marketing for the Pennsylvania SPCA. “And we are not an open intake shelter in Danville, so it will have to pass medical and behavioral assessments in order for us to take. Additionally, we will need to have the space to be able to do so.”

So far this year, their intake numbers are very similar to last year’s, Kocher said.

“In general, for cats in particular we have a decrease in intakes during the winter due to the cold weather keeping kitten season away,” she said. “As to dogs, we see a decrease in adoptions, and a decrease in stray intakes, but our owner surrenders generally stay the same.”

For dogs that were bought at a breed-specific rescue, Baylor recommends contacting the rescue to see if they can find another adopter for the dog.

“If a dog was purchased through a reputable breeder, they will almost always take the dog back,” she said.

One thing Baylor does not recommend is a “Free to Good Home” ad in the newspapers or online social media groups because, “You don’t know who you’re dealing with,” she said.

It is recommended that people interview, get character and vet references and do home visits to make sure they are not putting their pet in danger.

Local rescues and shelters will likely take an unwanted pet, but they do have to charge at least a nominal fee. Baylor noted that she spends $200 to $300 on veterinary care for every dog she takes in. Abandoned cats also require veterinary care.

“Normally we need to vaccinate and neuter the pet,” Montgomery said. “That is a must for most shelters and rescues.”

Ultimately, it’s a lot less expensive for the owner and less traumatic for the pet to buy it only after careful consideration.

“Having a pet is a big responsibility,” Montgomery said. “Please don’t impulse-buy an animal if you really don’t have the time and the money to care for it responsibly.”


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