Downeast Dog News
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Maine Shelters & Their Canines

By Susan Spisak | Oct 01, 2021
Striker - Somerset Humane Society

October is the ASPCA’s Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. If you weren’t one of the many who adopted a pet during the height of the pandemic and are considering it, that’s great! Adopting a shelter dog gives him an opportunity to thrive in your home. You also are helping to reduce their in-house population. And you’re supporting that humane society and their efforts. But why do dogs land in shelters anyway?

Some are strays. According to 2020 stats on Maine.gov’s Animal Welfare Shelter pages, they account for 23%, with an estimated 17% being reclaimed. “Compared to other states across the country, Maine’s stray dog population is far lower,” explained Jeana Roth, Director of Community Engagement at Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, or ARLGP. (She said shelters still see many stray cats.) Shelly Butler, MBA and Executive Director of PAWS in Camden, said their stray/lost shelter population is a little higher than the average at 40%.

That said, when a stray lands in a shelter, the staff will work hard to find the owner. “Mainers in general also very much view their companion pets as family members, who are well-loved and provided for. This view of pets as family contributes to a healthy pet community,” said Roth. So owners keep a watchful eye on their beloved 4-leggeds. If their pooch proves to be a Houdini, they’re going to search, post flyers, call area animal facilities – you get the drift.

Also, thanks to Maine organizations and the Maine Animal Welfare Department having created and promoted affordable and accessible spay/neuter programs over the past 20+ years, stray dogs aren’t adding to the animal population. (For low cost spay/neuter clinics, spaymaine.org/.)

Of course, there are local owner relinquishments for a variety of reasons such as home/job changes, divorce, and death. (In 2020, surrenders accounted for only 20% of shelter intakes – PAWS numbers aligned with this.) So, because shelters have a good handle on their intakes and rehoming their animal population, when they have room, many reach out to overcrowded partners in other states and across the globe and transfer animals in, often from high-kill facilities. (2020 stats show an average of 55% canine shelter intakes were transferred in.)

It’s terrific to adopt one of these shelter dogs, whether they’re a stray, owner relinquishment, or imported from out-of-state. Regardless of where the companion animal is from, think it through. Butler said to ask yourself two things: “Do you have the patience and time to train your new pet? [and] Do you have the financial resources available?”

Roth agreed, “Adoption is a serious decision, and we ask adopters to consider their schedule, family structure, and capacity to care for a pet before they adopt.” Because if you realize after the fact that dog ownership isn’t right for you, what then? He’ll go back to that organization, and this can be mentally frustrating, even depressing, to him.

Roth said they focus on the positive and view returns to understand much more about that animal's personality, needs, and quirks, so they can rehome him in a setting where he’ll best thrive. Maybe he didn’t like other pets in the home or needed more exercise and attention than the family was able to provide. “Many shelters, including the ARLGP, see returns as a learning opportunity. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out, and that is OK,” said Roth.

Whether a dog is a return or new to them, ARLGP and PAWS, as well as most shelters, have methods to decompress their pets, so it’s a stress-free experience. ARLGP employs physical and mental enrichment, as well as calming music, aromatherapy, and holistic treatments. “At one point, we even had a volunteer violinist play for our dogs once a week,” Roth said.

PAWS became a certified Fear-Free Animal Shelter – all staff have completed the program. “We use all of the fear-free approaches to help reduce the stress of the animals while in our care,” explained Butler. “A shelter is a place where dogs and cats will be confined, separated from their previous families or living environment, and exposed to more noise and smells due to the close proximity of other dogs and cats. These environmental changes are very stressful for most cats and dogs,” said Butler. This fear-free approach, coupled with all their care, has proven successful as PAWS has a 96% animal placement (save) rate.

If adopting a dog isn’t right for you, consider volunteering for or donating to a local animal nonprofit. The staffers at the shelters who care for these pets are remarkably giving and selfless in following their mission.

Shelter Costs

According to Roth, ARLGP’s cost of care for each canine is about $530.82. “We spay or neuter all dogs before they are adopted, in addition to providing them with necessary medical care (vaccines, treatments, and specialized surgeries, if needed).” Obviously, dogs who require surgeries or have special medical needs are going to run more.

At PAWS, Butler shared their per dog costs are about $500-plus. Included in that is a $100 spay or neuter, $75 for all vaccines, plus food, preventatives, staffing, and essential veterinarian time.

Midcoast Humane out of Brunswick shares on their website that average costs for each dog in their care is $600. This includes medical expenses such as spay/neuters, surgeries, vaccinations, medicines, and other equipment used daily.

Midcoast, like other shelters, has a special donating arm for shelter dogs’ orthopedic surgeries, trauma and emergency care, dental procedures, and cardiological and neurological consultations and treatments. This urgent and specialty veterinary care falls under their Columbo Fund, so named for the Georgia dog who was rescued by his Maine mom while there and needed extensive medical care.

Animal shelters always welcome monetary and tangible donations. For Midcoast, midcoasthumane.org/donate/. For ARLGP, arlgp.org/make-a-gift/donate/. For PAWS, pawsadoption.org/donate-now.