Marion County Dog Services has seen an influx of lost dogs in need of shelter over the past year, causing a strain on their system and growing concern when the shelter does not have enough kennels.
The county-run shelter is responsible for caring for stray and lost dogs in the county, with high demand for their services. They don’t welcome cats or other animals, and even without them they’ve been at capacity in the 40-kennel shelter.
“Animal shelters across the country are really struggling,” said Melissa Gable, canine services manager. “I’ve been doing this for 25 years and what I see here right now reminds me of what we had in Phoenix in the late 90s. Our shelters are full – they’re at capacity and it feels like it’s there is no end in sight.
Staff believed they had gotten a head start over the past two years as the number and number of receptions at shelters remained low during the peak years of the pandemic. However, this year the numbers are rising again to where they were before the pandemic.
Gable attributes this to a combination of issues, such as an increase in the number of people arriving due to a shortage of veterinary services and a growing puppy population.
“We consider ourselves at critical capacity or capacity when we have 10 or fewer kennels available,” Gable said. “So we’ve been at full capacity since the end of last year.”
The length of stay of dogs in the shelter has also become longer than in previous years. In 2021, Gable said the average length of stay for a dog in his kennel was about six days. Now, the average length of stay has increased to 10 days.
The shelter kennels have heated floors and allow the dog to go inside and outside. There are also smaller kennels primarily used for admission, which do not include outdoor space.
“If all these kennels are full, we have to look for other places to put the dogs. So, for example, I had a dog in my office for two weeks,” Gable said.
It’s a game of everyday roulette, shuffling puppies and trying to make room for new takes, but demand is high. This week, the shelter received nine new dogs in a single day.
Gable said they get dogs from many situations. Anecdotally, Gable said they believe many of the animals brought in were actually owner-owned dogs that were abandoned when their owners couldn’t rehome them. However, Marion County does not accept owned or abandoned dogs.
“It does a disservice not only to the staff and the team here, but it fills the kennel with a dog that really isn’t a lost dog,” she said. “Which means now, when I get a really lost dog, where am I going to put that one?”
They also saw people bringing their dogs in for medical attention due to a shortage of veterinary services. The pandemic also had an impact because businesses were closed, unspayed or neutered, so more puppies were born during the pandemic to add to the local population.
“It’s really disheartening for a lot of shelter workers. It becomes emotionally and physically difficult to deal with,” Gable said.
To try and help the problem, the county has taken a few steps, such as reducing adoption fees and trying to hold appointments for people to see selected dogs and help them find the right match. . But there are some things residents can do to help.
“A big goal here is to get as many dogs laid off in Marion County as possible and a lot of people don’t even know they have to do it and they don’t see the point,” Gable said.
When dogs are registered, it ensures they are vaccinated against diseases like rabies that might otherwise spread through the community, and it makes it much easier for them to return lost dogs to their owners. Most of the time, county animal control officers can look up the license and quickly get the dogs home themselves, without even having to bring them in and take up space in the kennel.
“The other message we’re trying to get across is that if you find a lost dog and you can safely contain them, put up signs and go to Nextdoor and post on Facebook,” Gable said. “Most dogs stay within a mile or two of their homes. If a neighbor finds them, they are usually reunited within 24 to 48 hours. This even prevents dogs from coming to the shelter.
Staff are also urging people to watch their dogs closely to make sure they don’t get lost and end up in the shelter taking a spot that might otherwise be used for another pup in need.
To find more information about Marion County Dog Services and to set up an adoption appointment, visit the website at www.co.marion.or.us/CS/DogServices