ST. MARYS — The Elk County Humane Society is among animal shelters nationwide facing several challenges right now, as dedicated staff and volunteers do their best to find loving dogs and cats the homes they deserve.
Director of Operations Elizabeth Erich said the ECHS regularly faces overcrowding.
“Either at the shelter or in foster homes, we are responsible for about 85 cats,” she said. “There is also a waiting list with 42 people, some of whom have multiple cats to bring.”
Another problem, she says, is the increase in the number of stray dogs.
“Over the past three years, there may have been a few here and there in our area, but now we regularly manage about 15 to 20 dogs,” Erich said.
The shelter has received phone calls from people wishing to bring stray animals or return an animal, who have contacted several shelters in the area and also received the same response from them – they just don’t have the space or the resources, to absorb more.
Personally, Erich says she thinks the COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges of inflation have impacted adoptions, which have declined.
“Normally a 3-4 month old puppy would get more requests than you can count, and the staff have to go through them all to find the best fit for the pup,” she said. “This month we received two (requests) for a puppy.”
The kittens usually leave fairly quickly, but it has also been more difficult to find homes for them.
Some potential adopters who come have said they would love an animal, but either have a fixed income or are worried about the price increases that are happening.
“There is also the struggle to have a full staff at the shelter, as in all businesses now. Not having full staff or enough volunteers to clean and feed animals should be considered when welcoming animals,” Erich said.
“Kitten season” has also hit the shelter hard, apparently the worst in three years. Factors could be, she said, that when things shut down during COVID, the number of sterilization clinics went down, or having been out of work during that time, people don’t have the ways to fix nearby stray animals.
Prior to present times, the ECHS was able to reach out to help overcrowded shelters in the south, bringing some of these dogs to the St. Marys shelter.
“(Over) the past six months there has been so much wandering and surrender – mostly wanderers – of this area, that we have not been able to help with the overcrowding in the south,” said Erich said.
The public can help the shelter, and other shelters in the area that are struggling, in many ways. Volunteering, which can include in-person help at the shelter or fundraising, is the number one need right now.
“Donations are always welcome,” Erich said. “Without the donations and generosity of our supporters and the community, the shelter would not be able to do all that we do. “
Adoptions are, of course, ideal, because the more animals that go out, the more that can be brought back.
“Neutering and neutering any animal is the factor with dogs and cats. Think about it – you have an unattached cat, after three years you have almost 400 cats,” Erich said.
The ECHS still needs items such as cat and dog food, non-clumping cat litter, special dog and cat foods such as lamb and rice foods and treats .
Erich said that if one is able, adopting an animal can bring a person or a family a lot of friendship, companionship and unconditional love.
“There are also health benefits to owning a pet, like lower blood pressure and less stress,” she said.
There are animals at the shelter who have been there for far too long, including Tina, a Walker coonhound who will be there for a year in October, and Rain, a cat, who has also been there for almost a year, said Pam Gerarge , member of the board of the ECHS.
“No one is abandoning them, and we will find homes for them,” she said. “In the meantime, they are well cared for and protected.”