Sometimes when she’s trying to fall asleep, Linda Oeller can’t get her mind off of the suffering she witnesses.
As executive director of the Hood County Animal Lovers Organization (HALO), Oeller is one of many people in the middle of what appears to be a losing battle – trying to rescue an endless stream of dogs and cats that have no home.
“It’s a tough situation. Some nights I can’t sleep at night, worrying about them,” Oeller said. “Anybody in animal rescue will tell you it’s a heartbreaking place to be. We’re doing what we can.”
Hood County Animal Control has the task of trying to control the stray animal population – with an eye on preventing disease outbreaks.
The best scenario to reduce the number of unwanted animal births, officials say, is for owners to take the responsibility of having their pets spayed or neutered.
Some pet owners find that they simply can’t afford to feed and care for a litter of puppies or kittens. But that’s where the concept of low-cost spay and neuter clinics comes into play. Animal Control partners with HALO to stage low-cost spay/neuter clinics on the first Thursday of each month through a local veterinarian.
Animal Control Sergeant Kelly McNab said that representatives from the Texas Coalition for Animal Protection provide spay and neutering services at a low cost. They come to Hood County Animal Control once a month, pick up the animals after the appointments are set, and bring them back the same day.
Even so, the numbers of animals taken in are staggering, and space is limited.
McNab said that in a recent one-week period earlier this month, 58 dogs and 50 cats were taken in by Animal Control. The facility takes in an average of 186 animals per month, McNab said. An average of 102 per month are reclaimed or adopted. That’s a problem, because there are only 24 dog kennels and 21 cat cages at the current facility, 240 Bray St.
“We try to get as many as we can to rescue groups, and there are a few volunteers who will foster for Hood County Animal Control,” said McNab, who will have far better space for animals when a new Animal Control facility is built, possibly next year.
Animal Control holds animals as long as possible, but the specter to euthanasia is always there.
Nationwide, the numbers are astronomical. According to statistics from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA):
Only 10 percent of the animals received by shelters have been spayed or neutered. Up to 7 million animals are taken in by shelters in the U.S. each year, and between 3 million and 4 million are euthanized.
An average of about 18,165 cats are born in homes per day, which comes to more than 6.63 million. This does not include feral – or wild – cats.
About 16,559 dogs are born in homes every day, or approximately 6.04 million.
In comparison, there are more than 11,200 people born each day, which adds up to more than 4.1 million.
Although the ASPCA states that it’s impossible to say how many stray dogs and cats live in the United States, some estimates place that number as high as 70 million.
“So there will never be enough of us,” McNab said.
Oeller said, “I could have 70 kittens a day if I could take them. When I get phone calls and we have no space, I think what’s going to happen to these.”
One other organization, called Just Before Heaven’s Gate, is active as a cat rescue facility in Hood County. Space limitations are a reality there, as well.
In 2006, Hood County Commissioners enacted the County Rabies Control Order, which mandates that all feral cats picked up by Animal Control must be destroyed. The primary concern with feral cats is the possibility they could spread diseases such as rabies.
Dumping pets in remote areas is a problem Animal Control and pet rescue groups also find, surprisingly often.
Oeller said the domesticated pets usually won’t survive such an ordeal.
“That’s an awful death,” Oeller said. “(The pet owners) think, out of sight, out of mind. They have no water, no food. It breaks your heart.”
Oeller said those who discard their animals like that are “people that just don’t care. They have no heart. They should take them to Animal Control.”
Some pet owners who can’t afford to have their pet stay in a boarding facility have actually dumped out their animals before leaving town on a vacation – only to purchase a replacement pet after returning home. Some will allow their adult pet to have a cute kitten or puppy for their children to adore – but try to turn a profit by selling off the rest of the litter. Others try to breed dogs, but often find that the cost of keeping them fed and healthy can quickly erase any profit they anticipated.
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