LARGO — Fewer dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and hamsters are being surrendered to shelters or taken in as strays, animal welfare organizations’ data suggests.
About 18 months ago, four groups – Pinellas County Animal Services, SPCA Tampa Bay, Humane Society of Pinellas and Pet Pal Animal Shelter – started compiling data on animals at their facilities. That includes where the animals came from and whether they were released or euthanized.
In 2013, 64 percent of animals that were brought in as strays, surrendered by their owners, transferred or brought in by some other means were either returned to their owners, adopted or sent to another facility. That number was 58 percent in 2012.
Shelter officials weren’t ready to pinpoint any single cause for what they consider a successful couple of years, but they said public awareness has been a key factor.
“I think our community continues to evolve into a community that cares about animals,” said Pinellas County Animal Services Director Maureen Freaney.
Last year, about 11,072 animals were euthanized, 1,810 of which were “owner requested.” In 2012, those numbers were a little higher: 12,275 and 1,960, respectively. Animals typically are euthanized because of poor health if they are potentially dangerous to humans and other animals. The group does not count owner-requested euthanasia in its calculation of the live release rate, which sparks the ire of critics.
“What really needs to be looked at, is the total number of animals that have come in and the total number of euthanized animals, and that includes owner-request euthanasia,” former PCAS volunteer Tina Eisbacher said in an email.
Both SPCA and PCAS euthanize some animals, but maintain that they only do so out of necessity.
“We’re here for three reasons: public safety, public health and animal welfare,” Freaney said. “You do have animals you just can’t release back into the public.”
Reducing the number animals that are surrendered helps reduce the number of those that get euthanized, she said. Encouraging residents to spay or neuter their pets or spreading the word about programs that help needy families feed their pets with donated food and supplies will help.
“I think people are just realizing what resources are out there and I think a lot of the shelters and other agencies are stepping up to be able to help people keep their pets,” said Sarah Brown, executive director of the Humane Society of Pinellas.
Freaney said Animal Services has been tracking their intake and adoption numbers for five years, and have seen some positive numbers. The numbers could reflect a national trend.
“It certainly appears that adoptions are increasing, and live release rates are increasing in many places around the country,” said Emily Weiss, vice president of Shelter Research & Development for the ASPCA.
While live outcomes jumped from 2012 to 2013, adoption numbers dropped from 10,457 to 10,275. Animals transferred to other facilities, namely rescue groups or foster homes, went from 1,695 to 2,147.
“I think having all the active rescue groups in the community aside from our shelters that are willing to help pull the animals from animal services and really work at getting them into good homes, I’m sure that’s a contributing factor as well,” Brown said.