You can hear the howls and barks from outside. They’re a cacophony of different timbres and pitches, but they all seem to say the same thing: “Take me home.”
With 28 dogs and 40 cats, the Warwick Animal Shelter is close to running out of room to house their animals.
The shelter is always busier in the summer, according to director Ann Corvin, but this season they’ve seen more animals than usual. Corvin thinks it might have to do with the economy, but she can’t be sure. All she knows for certain is that she now has nearly 70 animals sitting in cages, something that puts a strain on her staff, her budget and her heart.
“We’re really full,” said Deb Niosi, the animal caretaker at the shelter. “We’re at our max.”
A stroll through the shelter reveals that most of the cages are occupied; and with just three full-time staff members, taking care of 68 animals is not an easy task.
“We’re going from the time we get in to the time we leave,” said Corvin.
Though Corvin wasn’t sure of the exact cost per animal, she said many things, like food, maintenance and health care, factor into it. According to the city’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, the shelter’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year was roughly $192,000. In addition to municipal funding, Corvin said they also rely on donations made by the public and the Friends of the Warwick Animal Shelter.
Corvin said, on average, animals stay at the shelter for two to three months. Pitbulls tend to average five months because of the negative stigma surrounding the breed. Then there are special needs or elderly dogs, which Corvin said are also difficult to find homes for. Corvin said they have a tough time getting black cats and dogs adopted, too, something she said research has linked to the animals’ hard-to-read facial expressions.
A 3-year old, black cat named Levi was recently turned in by his owners. He doesn’t like being in a cage and spends most of his time roaming exam rooms. He’s friendly and loves to snuggle; but still, he’s homeless.
In addition to the 39 other felines at the shelter, there are 28 dogs, including several Chihuahuas rescued from a hoarding situation in July. They also have several dogs that were trapped after being found running free in Goddard Park.
Niosi said cats are able to catch a bird or a mouse if they need food, but it’s different with dogs.
“Someone was feeding them,” said Niosi of the large dogs brought to the shelter.
Niosi and Corvin said they’ve seen an increased number of dogs that come in without identifying tags. Niosi said she’s heard people say they just gave their dog a bath and had simply forgotten to put the tags back on; Corvin’s not sure why people are so neglectful.
“If your dog has one of those $5 ID tags, we can find you,” she said.
But worse than a lack of identification is a lack of follow-up – when an animal comes into the shelter and no one calls to report it missing, Corvin and Niosi know they’re going to add another homeless animal to their ranks.
“I know of a lot of animals that have been left behind,” said Niosi, who said she has gotten calls from concerned neighbors. Abandoning an animal, said Niosi, is never a good idea.
Recently, the shelter trapped a small, off-white terrier mix they’ve named Mr. Von Trapp. The dog was found running around Pilgrim Estates. Both Niosi and Corvin are disheartened and confused when people choose not to seek out a missing pet.
Dogs that are unclaimed after a week become available for adoption. Corvin said she has seen an increase in the trend of adopting animals from out of state.
“It’s impacting Rhode Island shelters,” she said. Corvin worries that the importation of dogs from other states will begin to affect the numbers of animals in local shelters.
“When I started, the number of dogs in shelters was double what it is now,” said Corvin, who credits the decrease to spay and neuter laws. “When we move their [southern states’] problems around, our numbers could go up again.”
Though she knows of some local shelters that bring in animals from other states in the proper fashion, she warns potential adopters of adopting a dog sight unseen. Without proper veterinary care, many dogs come into the state with health issues that the new owner will have to remedy, driving up vet bills from the get-go. The other problem, said Corvin, is determining if the dog’s personality fits with your own.
“What if it’s a bad match?” said Corvin. “Now what do you do? When you adopt a dog, you need to interact with it.”
Corvin said people should be open-minded when adopting. She said she remembers a couple that requested a young, non-Pitbull.
“They ended up adopting an 8-year-old Pitbull,” she said.
“It was the best fit for them.”
Adoption costs for dogs range from $65 to $155, and all animals leave the shelter spayed or neutered and with the proper vaccinations. Cats generally cost $90 to adopt.
Corvin encourages people to always visit their local shelter before looking out of state or visiting a pet store. Although Warwick strives not to euthanize their animals, it is something they have to do from time to time.
For more information on how to volunteer, or to view available animals, visit www.petfinder.com/shelters/RI59.html or call 468-4377.