There were a lot of smiles at the Kaua‘i Humane Society on Wednesday afternoon.
A lot of joy.
Bambam had been adopted.
“He’s the biggest lovebug,” said Tanya Ramseth, KHS direct of development.
The short, powerful pit bull with a big grin has been adopted before. Ramseth said he’s gone out and come back two or three times.
This time, she hopes it’s for good.
And he deserves it, Ramseth added.
“He’s been one of my favorites,” she said.
But happy times can be hard to find these days at KHS, where a dramatic increase in canines has left the no-kill shelter scrambling to find space for them.
All told, it had 353 animals as of Friday, with 116 in foster care. It has about 90 dogs, with 49 kennels.
It has taken in more than 250 animals this year, often surrendered by owners due to issues related to housing and money.
That means it’s crowded, loud and noisy at the island’s only open-intake animal shelter. The barking of dogs fills the air, drowning out conversation, as staff and a potential adopter pass by.
And it’s stressful. Stressful for both animals and staff. And like most places, KHS has many open positions, putting more strain on those it has.
As a result, KHS is closed on Thursdays.
“We’re in crisis mode,” Ramseth said.
It may be the most-challenging time in the shelter’s history.
“We really need the community’s help,” said Bethany Guthman, animal-care technician who has worked there nine months.
She said they are doing their best to maintain a positive attitude, but days are difficult.
What keeps them going? The answer is easy: When an animal finds its forever home.
“The win is when we get to say, ‘Hey, you’re adopted,’” Guthman said.
Daniel Madeira, animal-care technician, has been with KHS nearly three years.
“It’s real gloomy, I’m going to be honest. It’s pretty bad,” he said on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
When he started there were many empty kennels. It was peaceful at times. Now, kennels are maxed out. It is not peaceful.
“It’s definitely one of the more-challenging times,” Madeira said.
A small staff tackles many daily tasks. They have to be sure the dogs get outside, are fed, have clean kennels, are ready for potential adopters who make appointments to see them, and hopefully go on a field trip.
“It gets a little bit hectic sometimes,” he said.
Caitlin Fowlkes, KHS marketing and communications specialist, said they are expanding services, such as providing low-cost spay-and-neuter clinics, to help people keep their pets.
But it’s difficult to provide the best care for animals and great service for the public when they have about half of the staff they need, some of which is due to COVID-19.
“We’ve had to be very careful with how we are handling the animals, because when animal populations get to the critical level we’ve seen at the shelter recently, the animals are more likely to become stressed and spread illness to one another,” Fowlkes said. “This is why it is vital that we have the time to properly sanitize the animal areas and provide enrichment to the animals daily.”
So everyone pitches in.
Administrative staff helps with adoptions and animal transfers. Vet staff have been working the front desk. Many staff have taken home neonatal kittens to foster.
“The staff are working tirelessly so that KHS will maintain its no-kill status,” Fowlkes said.
Its shelter partners on the mainland are facing similar issues of crowded kennels, which means KHS can’t transport dogs off-island.
“We don’t even have anywhere to send them right now,” Fowlkes said.
The increase in animal surrenders is due primarily to the island’s skyrocketing housing costs and rising rents. That has left many struggling to find an affordable home where pets are allowed.
A growing animal population on Kaua‘i exacerbates the problem.
“Animals are constantly reproducing,” Fowlkes said. “The island’s not great at spay and neutering.”
Another problem is that adoptions are down at least 25% from last year, when the average was about 100 a month.
The field-trip program, where tourists can take a dog out for a day, has been popular, and has led to many adoptions.
Foster care has been life-saving. KHS has 116 animals in foster care, but only eight are dogs.
“Most of our foster animals are kittens,” Fowlkes said. “Our foster volunteers are a huge reason why we are able to maintain our no-kill status.”
KHS Executive Director Nicole Crane said of the situation, “The current status is not great.”
They were prepared for the usual influx of summer kittens.
“Instead, we got a bunch of dogs,” she said.
Crane said KHS is “asking for a higher degree of understanding and patience.”
“Our staff is amazing,” she said. “It’s really important we don’t burn them out.”
It has reached a point where KHS can’t take every animal that comes its way.
Ramseth said she doesn’t like having to tell people, “I’m sorry, you can’t bring in that animal. You can’t bring in that stray. Try and find the owner on your own.”
KHS wants to continue to be the place where people can bring sick, injured or lost animals, Ramseth said.
Fowlkes said the public can help by trying to find a lost animal’s owner before bringing it to the shelter.
She said most dogs are found within two miles of their home. So if you find a dog, walk it around the neighborhood and see if anyone recognizes it. Post to on social media. Or foster the animal.
“We will give you all the supplies you’ll need to care for the animal and help provide you with resources to find the owner,” Fowlkes said. “If more people could do this, it would really help with the number of animals coming into the shelter.”
Source: The Garden Island