PHOTO/IRENE MORAN-PAULEY: Pippa, born with a malformed heart and expected to die within a month, has been living an active life with a Reno family for the last six years.

When John Westcamp, a retiree from Reno, was looking for a dog to adopt last year, he occasionally checked the listings on the Nevada Humane Society’s website.

When he went to the shelter in November, he saw a dog he’d noticed online for weeks. “It was love at first sight, and I decided then and there to adopt her,” he said.

“Emmy is an 8-year-old shorthaired pointer, but she is full of energy,” said Westcamp. “… She had been at the shelter for months. She was a stray that weighed 106 pounds when she got there, so they put her on a diet and treated her with thyroid medicine. She weighs about 75 pounds now. She has turned out to be a really great dog.”

Thanks to the efforts of local animal adoption centers, elderly pets and those with special needs have been able to find “forever” homes even at a time when shelters are overcrowded, and their resources are stretched. The SPCA of Northern Nevada and the Nevada Humane Society both report that in the wake of the pandemic, more animals are being surrendered than in previous years, and it’s been harder to attract people to adopt them.

The Nevada Humane Society, at 2825 Longley Lane in Reno, is overcrowded, and staffers are seeing an increase in bigger dogs.

“We are seeing a lot more animal surrenders due to landlord issues,” said Nikki Moylan, marketing assistant at the Humane Society. Fewer rental properties allow animals, she said, and even when dogs are permitted, landlords often impose breed and weight restrictions. In addition, some rental units are small and lack backyards—unfit conditions for big dogs that need room to roam.

When the shelter’s population increases, the Humane Society temporarily waives adoption fees for any dog that is older than 6 months and weighs more than 25 pounds. The society waived fees in early March, Moylan noted, and “we adopted out over 51 dogs in the first weekend.”

Other issues also can impede an animal’s chances for adoption. When pets have been at the shelter for a relatively long time, they are enrolled in the Lonely Hearts Club, whose members are older, recovering from a medical condition, or have anxiety issues caused by being in a shelter. The society waives adoption fees for those dogs and cats.

“They have been with us the longest,” Moylan said. “… They are the ones that need the most help.”

Other pets qualify for the Lonely Hearts Club based on less-serious medical conditions or because they have been at the shelter a long time.

Raider, for example, is an adorable 4-year-old Labrador mix weighing 51 pounds. Despite his undeniable charm, the Lab has been residing in the Reno shelter since Dec. 26 and requires a nurturing home environment. He doesn’t get along with small dogs or cats, Moylan said, but he would thrive in a more dynamic household where he can enjoy leisurely strolls and engaging games of fetch.

Other club members included Margarette, an 8-year-old dog diagnosed with osteoarthritis and a possible old pelvic injury who recently recovered from bite wounds on her ears and would do best as the only dog in a home; and Stryker, a 10-year-old male dog who suffers from skin allergies and canine cognitive disorder. Those and other Lonely Hearts Club members are profiled on the Humane Society’s website.

The organization also has dogs who need hospice care, meaning they are not expected to live very long and are given a chance to spend their final days in a home rather than the shelter. Sometimes, however, miracles happen. Pippa, a Jack Russell terrier puppy, was surrendered to the shelter after his owners found out she had a malformed heart. The pup was expected to die within 30 days when Irene Moran-Pauley of Reno adopted her. That was six years ago. Pippa, Moran-Pauley said, is still alive and “is a scruffy, white bundle of joy” weighing 6 pounds.

“The vet said she only has half a heart,” Moran-Pauley said. “Who says you need a whole heart when you are surrounded by love?”

Foster homes provide care

PHOTO/DAVID ROBERT: Nevada Humane Society volunteer Pamela “Pam” Philpot holds Stryker, a 10-year-old dog who has skin allergies and canine cognitive disorder. The pooch is a member of the society’s Lonely Hearts Club.

The society has a fostering program that helps pets become more adoptable, Moylan said. The harder-to-place animals stay with people in homes, away from the cacophony at the shelter. That respite, she said, provides a stress-free environment for the pets to unwind and learn crucial behavior skills, increasing their prospects of securing a loving home.

“Fostering helps with the transition. A lot of the animals get very anxious and can’t adjust properly in a shelter,” Moylan said.

The Nevada Humane Society placed 4,818 animals in foster care in 2022; that’s 2,652 more animals than in 2021. Those pets include puppies, kittens, hospice animals and special-needs pets. The dramatic increase in foster care, Moylan said, came about in part because more people signed up to be foster homes, “and we’ve noticed some younger animals having babies. That’s why spaying and neutering pets is so important.”

The society, Moylan noted, is always in need of volunteers, donations, fostering help and, of course, people wanting to adopt pets.

Pandemic adoption boom and bust

The COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for overcrowding in animal shelters and adoption centers. More than 23 million American households adopted a pet during the pandemic, according to The Washington Post. As the shutdowns ended, some adopters surrendered their animals to shelters. Affordability also is a factor in decreased adoptions, particularly in Northern Nevada, where the cost of living is high, and inflation continues to squeeze household finances.

The increase in pet surrenders and a downturn in adoptions has put a strain on adoption facilities. Even young, healthy animals sometimes have a hard time finding homes. Still, there are many adoption success stories at the SPCA of Northern Nevada, at 4950 Spectrum Boulevard in Reno. Hobbes, for example, is an 8-month-old puppy with a broken leg who in November was surrendered to a rural shelter partner of the SPCA. The medical staff in Reno amputated the limb, which had been left untreated for some time. Hobbes recovered and was quickly adopted by a young couple. The adoption center covered his medical costs.

The SPCA of Northern Nevada is hosting its annual Spring Into Saving Lives Fundraiser, which runs until May 15. During the event, donations made will be matched dollar for dollar.

“The medical care we provide here at SPCA of Northern Nevada is not funded by any government or national organization,” said Emily Lee, communications manager. “We receive zero financial support from the (national) ASPCA. Our ability to care for these homeless pets and provide community programs is made possible by community members donating to our mission. Every dollar given to the SPCA-NN has a local impact on pets and people in our community.” 

The SPCA also has special-needs pets that can be viewed on the organization’s website. The SPCA, she said, conducts thorough behavior assessments of all animals that come to its facility. If an adoptable pet needs additional behavior support, they undergo a comprehensive behavior-modification program until they’re deemed more appropriate for adoption.

The organization aims to dismantle breed biases and demonstrate that every animal is capable of becoming a loving companion for the right family, Lee said. In 2022, the SPCA of Northern Nevada had a 6% return rate, a low percentage that reflects the care and consideration the facility puts into matching a pet with an adopter, she said.

“A lot of times, we have an animal that will be in our shelter for an extended period of time, and then someone walks in and asks for that exact pet,” Lee said.

Although the staff tries to make good matches, she said, there should be no shame or embarrassment connected with returning an animal that may not fit a given household.

The organization currently is hosting its annual Spring Into Saving Lives Fundraiser, which runs until May 15. During the event, donations made will be matched dollar for dollar, and all proceeds raised will directly benefit pets in need throughout the region, Lee said.

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