Homeless pet populations are down, but officials – and owners – say rescue dogs are still the way to go

ST. GEORGE — Videos of abandoned or neglected dogs do exactly what they’re intended to do: tug at our heartstrings and give a call to action. In Southern Utah, that call is being answered in a unified way that truly benefits animals in need.

April Jewell, St. George Animal Shelter Supervisor, St. George, Utah, May 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

Thursday is National Rescue Dog Day; however, would-be pet owners in Southern Utah are finding there aren’t a lot of dogs to rescue right now. April Jewell, supervisor at the St. George Animal Shelter, said the pandemic has kept their rescue population way down.

“We had a lot of adoptions during the pandemic,” Jewell said. “We also didn’t have a lot of animals getting surrendered.”

In non-pandemic times, the shelter in St. George usually has between five and seven dogs available for adoption. Jewell said most of the dogs that come in are surrenders. Dogs typically stay at the shelter for about two weeks, but in some cases they will hold an animal up to 90 days.

Jewell said there are lots of advantages to adopting a rescue dog, one of them being the price. The adoption fee at the St. George Animal Shelter is $60, which includes a number of services.

“Animals that come from shelters are fixed, current on vaccinations and micro-chipped,” Jewell said. “Animal shelters always have a variety of mix breeds and even pure breeds of all sizes and ages.”

Working together to save animals

It takes a village to raise a child and also to keep animals safe. That’s why various rescue agencies in Southern Utah work together to help homeless pets. For example, the Ivins City Animal Shelter has a contract with the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to care for stray and surrendered animals.

Ivins City Animal Shelter, Ivins, Utah, Jan. 26, 2021 | Photo courtesy of Bailee Mabe, St. George News

The Ivins facility is a “no kill” shelter, which means a 90% survival rate with a 10% euthanasia option. Ivins City Animal Shelter director Bailee Mabe said her organization exceeds these minimums, with a 98.6% adoption rate, a remarkable feat given that the shelter takes a lot of higher risk dogs. Mabe says they’re able to handle difficult cases thanks to a training program they underwent at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab.

“We’re able to restructure them here and adopt them out,” Mabe said.

Despite these efforts, some animals still have trouble getting placed. To resolve this issue, Mabe created a rotation program with dogs in Washington County shelters as well as the shelter in Mesquite, Nevada. Prior to the pandemic, Mabe said dogs and cats that weren’t being adopted in one shelter were moved to another.

“We can have different eyes, different training programs, different environments and be able to reset that animal,” Mabe said.

Loving homes

Many dogs wind up in shelters because their owners are moving and can’t have pets in their new home.

Hurricane resident Sarah Reister with rescue dog Neko, location and date not specified | Photo courtesy of Sarah Reister, St. George News

However, Sarah Reister didn’t think twice about relocating her rescue dog, Neko, and two other pets to Hurricane from her previous home in Wisconsin.

“The trip here was pretty crazy,” Reister said. “We packed our minivan with the necessities, including Neko, Kero (our chinchilla), and Snaker-Doodles (our ball python) and drove the 1,500 miles nonstop.”

Reister adopted Neko from the Orphans of the Storm Animal Shelter in Deerfield, Illinois, several years ago. Neko is a Shiba Inu breed with a fox-like face, pointy ears and a curly tail. Despite his cute appearance, Reister said Neko came with some challenges.

“He was a puller on the leash, hated being kenneled and had been returned to the shelter for biting,” Reister said. “None of that mattered to us. We had instantly fallen in love and knew he was the one.”

St. George resident Bonnie Pendleton has long been a believer in providing a good home for animals in need. Pendleton and her husband, Steve Flannery, are now on their third rescue dog.

When their second rescue dog, Sammy, passed away unexpectedly earlier this year, Pendleton and Flannery went looking for another companion. They quickly discovered the pandemic had left the shelters in Washington County relatively empty, so they expanded their search to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab. Pendleton said Best Friends still has hundreds of dogs available. That’s where they found and adopted a dog they call Sunny.

Bonnie Pendleton and Steve Flannery with rescue dog Sunny, St. George, Utah, May 2021 | Photo by Adele Park, St. George News

“You can tell right away when you meet your match,” Pendleton said. “He was ready to go with us, and we lucked out.”

Not only did Pendleton find a dog that she loves, but in doing so, she said she saved a life.

“He was a transfer from a kill shelter in New Mexico,” Pendleton said.

Get involved

Just because shelters in Southern Utah are enjoying a brief period of not having a lot of animals to place doesn’t mean the problem of homeless pets is going away. There are lots of things animal lovers can do to help keep curb the problem of stray and surrendered animals. Fostering is one way to get an animal out of a shelter until they find their “forever” home.

Local shelters welcome volunteers, and donations are always appreciated. But perhaps the best way to keep the homeless animal population down is though spaying and neutering. With everyone pulling together, shelters in Washington County can use National Rescue Dog Day to celebrate their successes rather than needing a special time to encourage pet adoption.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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