Long-timers: Life in a shelter

ACARF has seen an increase in dogs that have spent a year or more in the shelter. Not only is it more costly to keep animals on a long-term basis, it's stressful to the animal. The shelter recently celebrated the adoptions of dogs who set records for longest time at ACARF.

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May 2, 2022 - 4:22 PM

It’s not easy to convince three long-time shelter dogs to pose for a photo at the Allen County Animal Rescue Facility (ACARF). Volunteers hold on to Willow, left, and Jaden. At right, shelter director Brittni Dilley holds on to Hank. Willow and Jaden have spent nearly a year at ACARF; as a bonded pair, it’s more challenging to find a willing owner. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Gary, Tyler and Cosmo spent more than a year at the Allen County Animal Rescue Facility (ACARF) before they were adopted. 

They’re all good dogs, shelter director Brittni Dilley said. They’re also big dogs, which maybe intimidated potential owners. 

“It’s hard to tell why some dogs are here longer,” Dilley said. “For them, I think it was just their sheer size.”

At least three other dogs are coming up on their one-year anniversaries at the shelter.

In recent months, the shelter has seen an increase in long-term dogs. Dilley said she hasn’t seen so many at one time in the seven and a half years she’s been at ACARF.

“Before, I could count on one hand the dogs we’ve had a year, but that has doubled,” she said. 

The staff do what they can to encourage people to adopt the long-timers. 

They promote them on social media, such as their Christmas card campaign to help Gary find a home. Gary was approaching his one-year anniversary when they asked people to send cards to decorate his kennel.

Gary, adopted after 404 days.

Gary and his brother came to the shelter when they were 10 months old. His brother was adopted fairly quickly.

Gary spent 404 days at the shelter — more than half of his life — before he was adopted. His new owner couldn’t be reached for this story, but Dilley said she isn’t sure what took so long for Gary to find a new home. He was great with other dogs. And even though he was a very large dog, he was very timid.

“He was the biggest chicken we had in the building,” Dilley said. 

Cosmo was sent to another shelter, where he was immediately adopted. 

Tyler, adopted after 419 days.

Tyler, though, holds the record for longest tenure at ACARF. He was at the shelter for 419 days before he was adopted. His new owner didn’t want to be identified, but said she adopted him for her fiance. Tyler’s story touched her heart, she said. He was so excited to leave the shelter, she had to pull the truck over three times just to calm him down. 

He’s since been renamed Hauz. The first three days, he didn’t want to come inside to sleep, preferring the hard concrete. He’s adjusting, and now has a family with kids and another dog that he’s already warmed up to.

“He’s actually a very big couch potato,” his new owner said.

Among the long-term dogs still available are Willow and Jaden, a brother and sister who need to be adopted together. They came to the shelter in May of last year, and it’s been difficult to find someone willing to take both. 

Shelter director Brittni Dilley visits one of the dogs.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

IT ISN’T easy for a dog to live in a shelter. 

Some don’t survive, Dilley said. 

“Dogs go stir-crazy,” she said. “It stresses them out.”

After about six months, staff will notice signs of stress. A dog that hasn’t been aggressive will start to become so. The animal will lose weight. It might be more susceptible to illnesses, even if vaccinated.

“Their health can go downhill fast,” Dilley said. “It makes it difficult, especially when you see them every day and you see them start to backtrack.

“I cry for the ones that don’t make it out of here.”

Staff increase efforts to find homes for the long-timers, as they did with Gary. 

In addition to a social media campaign, ACARF highlights two animals as “Pets of the Week” in The Register and on the acarf.org website.

If ACARF doesn’t have success finding a home for an animal, they will seek a foster home or other no-kill shelters. 

They prefer to find foster homes, rather than transfer to another shelter. That can be stressful, too. But often, those shelters are full. 

Though it’s difficult to predict which dogs will have a tough time getting adopted, Dilley and her staff have noticed some patterns. Black or dark-colored dogs are less likely to be adopted, as owners prefer unique colors and patterns. Labrador retrievers tend to stay longer at the shelter. Older and bigger dogs are tough to find homes for, too.

It’s harder to find homes for big, darker-colored dogs and Labradors.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

IT’S COSTLY to keep a dog at the shelter for a long time.

The adoption fee charged at ACARF is rarely enough to recoup costs for an animal. That’s why the shelter relies on donations.

Each animal must be vaccinated and receive monthly flea treatments. Dogs will need rabies vaccines and a shot to protect against parvo. 

Along with food costs, Dilley estimates it costs at least $100 a month to house a dog. That’s not including the spay or neuter fee, as required for every animal.

When a dog has been at the shelter for a year, they’ll need another round of annual vaccines. 

“We’re in the hole before they ever get adopted,” Dilley said.

SO FAR this year, ACARF has taken in 178 animals. 

They’ve adopted 186.

Though it’s positive that the shelter has adopted so many animals, Dilley is concerned because the intake numbers are higher than usual. 

Last year, the shelter brought in 520 animals for the entire year, and adopted out 504. 

She’s seen an increase in dogs left in the shelter’s outdoor drop-off pen, as well as an increase in people who find strays or who allow their dog to have puppies. 

Iola’s animal control officer has brought in more dogs, as well. In January, animal control brought in 20 dogs. The monthly average is 16. 

Some of those dogs will go home when the owner is identified. Those with microchips go home immediately. 

Sometimes, the shelter receives cases of animal neglect. Dilley recalled a recent case of a mother dog and seven puppies, all emaciated. The mother’s health was so poor, she couldn’t produce milk.

The shelter also has seen an increase in returns, which happens when an adoption doesn’t work out. Shelter staff do their best to match the right person with the right dog; when that doesn’t work out, it’s usually because of “unrealistic expectations,” Dilley said. 

The shelter currently has a waiting list of 55 dogs whose owners want to surrender an animal. The shelter offers a nationwide rehoming website that can be accessed at acarf.org. Dilley encourages those owners to list their pet on that site while they wait for an opening at the local shelter.

Cat adoptions, though, have ticked up lately. That has allowed the shelter to reduce its waiting list for cats. 

On top of all that, Dilley said the shelter has received more requests for help from owners who cannot afford dog food. The shelter tries to donate food to owners in need when it can. 

“It’s been a little wild lately. Having to turn people away is hard,” Dilley said.

WHEN A dog has been in the shelter for awhile, they learn the adoption routine.

They see visitors come and go. 

“They get excited to see people. It’s hard to see the look on their faces when people leave and they don’t get to go,” Dilley said.

ACARF staff make adoption days a big deal. Volunteers take a lot of pictures. The dog gets a bath, and he can tell something special is about to happen. 

There’s excitement in the air as they wait for their new owner to arrive. Some might be a little fearful, but most are ready for a new adventure.

“They seem to know it’s their time,” Dilley said. “A lot of dogs will literally pull their owner out the door.”

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