WEST PALM BEACH — For more than a year, Palm Beach County’s main animal shelter has taken in more animals than it was ever built to handle. The solution, its leaders say, may lie not in adoption but in foster care.
Foster care for pets means taking them home from the shelter for at least two weeks. Bringing an animal to a loving home reduces their stress levels – even if just for a limited time, said Jan Steele, who directs the shelter for Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control. The shelter provides medical care, food, a collar, a leash and a crate for the time that a pet is fostered.
Spending time in the community and away from the shelter increases the pet’s chances of finding someone who wants to give them a forever home, Steele said. And its benefits to the pet are clear.
“Fostering definitely helps give the animals an environment that they’re happier in,” said Stephanie Sejnoha, Palm Beach County’s director of public safety, which oversees Animal Care and Control. “When they are out of a kennel, the animals are less stressed. They are in a loving environment where they are getting walks every day.”
Seven things to know:Want to adopt a pet? Need to surrender one? Here’s what you should do.
A banner year for wild-animal babies:Lion Country Safari says 31 births show its formula is working
Meet Peach, the clouded leopard:The future of a species may rest on her and her siblings.
The shelter is working on getting as many people as they can to foster animals. With more than 100 registered volunteers, they still need more.
“We need to set up a system,” County Commissioner Maria Sachs said after touring the main shelter May 22, when 314 dogs, cats and other animals called it home.
“There are a lot of people in this district that may feel lonely or isolated. If they don’t know if they want a pet, they can foster, which is a win-win for the pet and the person.”
Animal Care and Control also has been conducting special promotions with reduced adoption fees to get animals adopted sooner.
The typical $60 to $100 adoption fee has been reduced to $5 for the entire month of May, a promotion shelter directors are calling “Cinco de Meowo.” The next promotion will be a $19 adoption fee for Juneteenth from June 17-18, and then the fee will drop to $4 for July 1-4.
“I know we are losing revenue by reducing the adoption fees, but it’s more important to get these animals into homes,” Steele said.
Along with promoting fostering, Sachs plans to work with local animal organizations to try to relieve some costs to the shelter and coordinate with programs that offer service-animal training for eligible dogs who need homes.
When did the Palm Beach County shelter reach capacity?
The facility reached its maximum capacity in February of last year. It is still receiving an average of 30 surrendered animals every day, Steele said.
The shelter has 144 kennels but has had to come up with alternate options to hold the 176 dogs that resided there May 22.
The shelter now doubles-up dog kennels, meaning that they keep two dogs in kennels built for one, and uses overflow kennels placed in the shelter’s hallways.
Just a few months ago, the shelter introduced a “doggy day-out” program, where a member of the community can take a dog into their neighborhood or to a local dog park in hopes of meeting someone willing to adopt.
Why are so many people surrendering their pets?
Local animal advocates and shelter staff members point to inflation as a major cause of pet surrenders.
Rising costs of pet food and veterinary care have given some pet owners across the county no choice but to leave their animals at the shelter.
“We have so many people come in to tell us that they love their animals, but have to choose between feeding their kids or feeding their dogs,” Steele said.
The shelter hopes to achieve no-kill status one day
The shelter must reach a consistent 90% adoption rate to attain no-kill shelter status.
It hasn’t been able to achieve this rate since the uptick in pet surrenders last year. As of May 23, its live release rate was 88%.
“This isn’t a shelter problem. This is a community problem,” Steele said. “If everybody just adopted animals from within our county, we would be a no-kill shelter.”
Currently, about six to 10 animals at the shelter are euthanized each week for one of two reasons: severe medical complications or behavioral problems.
Steele says behavior problems in animals may develop from the overcrowded conditions at the shelter. The loud barking at the shelter at all hours of the day and contained spaces stress out the animals.
“I don’t want to make the decision to euthanize an animal simply because there’s no space. We give them every possible chance to make it through,” Steele said. “It’s so overcrowded that the animals become too stressed out. They want a loving home environment.”
The shelter soon will be enlarged and remodeled.
Ten years ago, the shelter developed plans to remodel its facility, and in six months, it expects to receive permits to begin construction on the project, budgeted at about $48 million.
The remodel will include a new dedicated quarantine and isolation space for sick animals; heating and air-conditioning systems to help stop the spread of diseases among the animals; and changes to the lobby.
While the remodeled space will help the shelter staff have better control of the environment, they will need the community’s help to solve their overcrowding problem.
“The solution is community,” Sejnoha said. “We need to make sure that everybody is aware that we cannot solve this problem on our own. Even our rescue partners are reaching maximum capacity. Fostering is a big part of our solution.”
If you are interested in fostering an animal at Palm Beach County Animal Care and Control, submit a foster application here:https://survey.pbcgov.com/s3/Foster-Volunteer-Application