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Animal Lovers and Pet Parents, Listen Up!

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Mama is very playful and strives to impress.  She has been waiting nearly a year to be adopted.

Mama is very playful and strives to impress. She has been waiting nearly a year to be adopted. /Nicole Capizzi

This is Lefty.  He is very silly and playful.  He's been at the shelter for about 8 months.

This is Lefty. He is very silly and playful. He's been at the shelter for about 8 months. /Nicole Capizzi

Blue is a former sled dog rescued from the Double JJ Ranch.  She has been at the shelter for about 3 months.

Blue is a former sled dog rescued from the Double JJ Ranch. She has been at the shelter for about 3 months. /Nicole Capizzi

When walking through the Humane Society of Kent County, you see a more cheerful place than you may have expected.  You see "hope," says Karen Terpstra, the executive director. 

Dogs are typically paired in their kennels to alleviate boredom and loneliness.  As visitors approach, the dogs walk to the front of their kennels, wagging their tails as they greet potential adopters.  Cats that don't do well in kennels live in larger spaces with other cats, their playmates.  Contented and healthy rabbits greet you as you walk down the main hall, and one even rests behind the counter.  These are the faces of animals being cared for by staff and volunteers at the Humane Society of Kent County.  While some were strays, many were surrendered by their previous owners.  Karen attributes the majority of owner-surrendered pets to owners being unable to care for them due to the economy.  In spite of this, she believes the biggest impact of the economy has been declining adoption rates. 

"The biggest impact we've had is a pretty significant decrease in adoptions, and that's been frustrating," says Karen.  "I can't give you a scientific answer for why, but I think a lot of people are afraid to take on another fiscal responsibility or add another mouth to feed."

All sorts of pets

As you can imagine, there's a very large number of animals at the humane society, the majority of which are cats and dogs.  "I'd say right now we're at about 120 to 130 dogs, and cats, we're somewhere between 150 and 200, and you can add fosters to that, but those are at least in our facility," Karen says. 

There's a diverse array of breeds among these animals.  Some of the cats are "higher end" breeds, such as Siamese, and Karen speculates that about one quarter of the dogs are purebred.  While some seek out purebred dogs and are hesitant to adopt "mutts", mutt dogs (mixed breeds) also have a lot to offer, and potentially have less health problems.  "I would recommend adopting a mutt because they don't have the extreme medical or behavioral issues that a lot of purebreds do have," states Karen.

There are clearly more cats at the Humane Society of Kent County than there are dogs.  One explanation for this is that some cats are let outside without being spayed or neutered.  As a result, there are more cats and kittens being surrendered to the shelter.  "West Michigan has been, is, and will continue to face a crisis in the cat overpopulation problem that could most easily be solved by people spaying and neutering," explains Karen.  "Any efforts working towards that I think are critical."

Animals enter the shelter at different rates throughout the year, and often for different reasons.  While the shelter is inundated with cats and kittens during kitten season and owners are more likely to surrender their pets during the summer because they're moving, dogs in particular end up at the shelter around the fourth of July.  The reasoning for this is simple, as some dogs become frightened when they hear fireworks and try to find a way to escape.  "I would recommend against taking any dog to a fireworks show or having your dog outside in a place where it can get out if it gets frightened because when a dog is frightened, it's fight or flight, and they're going to try to get away if they're scared," says Karen.  Sometimes a pet parent might not bring their dog to a fireworks display, but noise nearby still frightens the dog enough to where it finds a way to escape from its home.  Thankfully, there are some simple precautions that can be taken to prevent this from happening.  "I would say shut your windows, even if it's hot and you don't have air conditioning, because the number of dogs that pop through screens and screen doors is pretty high...", explains Karen.  In addition to closing household windows, Karen also recommends creating a loud, distracting noise for the dog by turning up the TV, radio, or a fan.  Following these steps should help prevent dogs from running off during fireworks.

Sources of funding for the Humane Society

When entering the Humane Society of Kent County, visitors will also notice a small retail store in the front of the building.  This store offers numerous products for pet parents including collars, crates, crate beds, toys, grooming accessories, food, cleaning supplies, and some health-related products.  Common flea/tick prevention medications and heartworm preventative are popular.  "If you acquire your dog from us or you bring in a negative heartworm test you can buy heartworm preventative from us," says Karen.  "We also sell Frontline Flea and Tick Prevention for cats and dogs.  That's a pretty big revenue source for us if people choose to come in here." 

Why is this extra source of revenue so important to the Humane Society of Kent County?  Because they are completely donor funded.  Everything they do and all of the services they offer are because of the generous donations from the public.  What do they offer in return?  Besides running a clean facility and doing their best to ensure the animals they currently house are happy and healthy, they also have a variety of programs and services they offer to the public and to potential adopters to help pet parents keep their pets safe and healthy, and to encourage the adoption of often "overlooked" animals.

Programs and Services

One of these valuable programs is the Pet Care Assistance Program.  Through this program, the Humane Society of Kent County helps low-income pet owners with low-cost vaccinations, spay/neuter vouchers, behavior counseling for their pet, and pet supplies.  The Kibble Konnection program, a part of the Pet Care Assistance Program, is a pet food bank that offers pet food for low-income pet owners. 

The Humane Society of Kent County also holds their Chips N Clips event at Chow Hound.  "That is microchips and nail trims," explains Karen.  "We do it once a month and we rotate at the various stores."  They offer a reduced price of $15 for microchips and $5 for nail clippings at these events.

Another great service offered by the humane society, particularly for the younger members of the community, are the various humane education classes taking place throughout the year.  "We have several different camps for different ages," says Karen.  "One of our most popular ones is a precursor to being in the junior volunteer class, because you have to be 15 to volunteer on your own...."  They also offer some basic classes on animal care.  "Then there's just basic pet care, like what to do if a scary dog approaches, what to do if you find a baby bird, that kind of thing, kind of understanding how animals fit in the community," Karen states. 

The Humane Society of Kent County also offers classes for your canine furry kids, whether they are adopted from the shelther or not!  Besides offering basic obedience classes for puppies and adults, they also offer Canine Good Citizen (helper dog) training classes and AKC Puppy S.T.A.R. classes.  A special class called The Bully and the Beautiful is designed for those with "bully breeds", such as pit bulls, rottweilers, dobermans, and german shepherds, to name a few.    If you are having specific behavioral problems with your dog and would like one-on-one help, there is also the Behavior Assistance Program where a certified trainer assesses the issue either at the shelter or at your own home.

More often than not, older animals at the humane society are overlooked for adoption in favor of younger ones.  Karen speculates this is because people want to know they will have a lot of time left with the pet they choose to adopt.  Still, Karen encourages adopting older pets over puppies and kittens.  "...I'd rather have a cat that already uses its litter box and has got the crazies out of it than kittens who are going to be climbing up my legs and drapes," explains Karen.  "Same with a dog.  I'd much rather have a housebroken dog who already knows how to walk on a leash and knows basic obedience."  To encourage the adoption of more aged pets, the Humane Society of Kent County recently created the Silver Paws Society.  Through this program, the adoption fee is waived for pets that are over 7 years of age and who came to the shelter already spayed or neutered.  Potential adopters still have to go through with the rest of the qualification process, but it is hoped that this program will encourage people to adopt older animals who still have a lot of love to give.  Karen explains "...we really want to make sure they're getting out of here and getting good homes."

In addition to offering all of these great services, the Humane Society of Kent County also works hard to ensure that when you're adopting a pet, you're bringing home the animal that's right for you.  "We've got a great selection here and we offer a lot of services in terms of helping you find the right animal and making sure it fits in well in your home," explains Karen.  "We really offer a full service that you're not going to find in a pet store selling puppies."  To ensure you're adopting the right dog or puppy, the humane society uses the ASPCA's Meet Your Match personality survey.  According to Karen, " uses color coding, and once the person answers the questionnaire we can determine which color best fits what you're looking for and then we just say, if you just look for the purple cards or the orange cards you're going to find the ones that match." 

The Humane Society of Kent County is very helpful throughout the adoption process.  While they want to find suitable homes for the animals, they are very accommodating.  For those who adopt "bully breeds", they offer rebates for obedience classes under the Argus Friend Program.  They will also understand if your newly adopted pet isn't doing well in your new home and you feel the best decision is to bring it back for an exchange.  Karen explains, "We're most concerned with the welfare of the animal.  We're not going to make you feel badly if you need to return an animal." 

With all of the services the humane society offers for those who wish to adopt a pet, Karen encourages taking advantage of their services rather than going to a pet store.  "You're saving a life," Karen says.  "If you get an animal from us, you're saving a're doing a good thing.  If you could find a good, quality product, so to speak, and you're doing a good deed, why wouldn't you pick that over buying?"

If you believe an animal is being abused or neglected, Karen recommends calling your local humane society, animal shelter, or police.  She warns that if an animal is being abused, it's very likely that another person in the same home is also being abused.  "It's kind of a cliche thing, but a lot of the people who become serial killers started off by abusing animals, so there really is a sign of a deeper problem in the person, so it's important to report it to try to get the animal into a safer situation, but also getting it in the records this person may have an issue...", Karen explains.  If you are concerned about reporting it because you fear retaliation, you can also report it anonymously.  Even if you're not sure if there is an abuse situation, it's better to report it than not.  "If you're wrong, no harm no foul," Karen states.  "It's better to look into something than assume everything is okay."

Volunteering and further information

Are you interested in adopting an animal, or in helping the humane society?  This Friday and Saturday is the Black Friday and White Saturday Adoptathon.  On Friday, animals with black fur will have special adoption fees, and on Saturday, animals with white or tan fur will have special adoption fees.  The following Monday is Cyber Monday, where you can log on to the Humane Society of Kent County's website to find coupons for the retail store and for some of the services discussed earlier.  Perfect for Christmas!  On Friday, December 4, the humane society has it's first Art to the Rescue Holiday Artist Market and Open House.  For more details on these events and others, check out the events page.

If you would like to know more about what's going on at the Humane Society of Kent County, you can download current and past issues of their Animal Advocate newsletter.  Here you can find not only up-to-date statistics on animal intake and adoptions, but you can also read about the Hurricane Katrina animals they've saved, and also read an update about Hadley, the cat who was cruelly set on fire this past summer after his family let him outside.

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