Local Animal Care Association houses pets for owners in case of emergency
Visitors to the Monroe County Humane Association animal care campus can’t help but notice a little wet nose sticking out of the office reception. There, a dog with shy eyes and a honey-colored coat nestles in a worn bed.
The dog, aptly named Buddy, can usually be found lazy around the MCHA office, waiting for one of his frequent walks or the occasional ear scratch from passing staff. When one of his favorite staff members walks into the room, you can hear the slow, beating sound of a tail against the floor.
At the end of the workday, Buddy is taken back to his large kennel, which has several blankets and toys spread out on the mattress of a child’s crib. On the bed, a stuffed sloth pops up halfway under the covers.
Before the last MCHA staff member leaves for the night, they switch the radio to Buddy’s favorite station. Some pets might like to listen to classical music with sharp strings and shimmering piano keys, but Buddy prefers classic rock.
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Buddy is a Monroe County pet who is currently at MCHA’s E. Susan Bartlett Emergency Shelter. Since becoming an official program in 2020, the shelter has been a safe haven for pets who reside there temporarily while their owners go through difficult circumstances. For many of the program’s clients, this translates into housing insecurity, sudden medical complications or domestic violence.
“In emergency situations, you’re not always prepared for ‘Where is my dog going?'” said Rebecca Warren, executive director of the Monroe County Humane Association.
Over the past year, MCHA has housed 14 dogs and nine cats, with a typical stay of about two to three weeks.
MCHA works primarily with local service providers such as New Hope for Families, Beacon, and Middle Way House, so a third-party case manager helps the homeowner find their place. Each week, an MCHA attorney, Alex Acosta, will check in with the owner to give an update on how their pet is doing and hear about the owner’s progress toward stability.
“That usually leads to trying to get back on your feet and trying to get back into a situation where you can get your pet back safely and securely,” Acosta told the Herald-Times.
For Warren, one example in particular stands out that demonstrates the need for a large, structured program like MCHA’s Emergency Pet Housing.
Warren recalls a woman, her children in the car next to trash bags full of their clothes and belongings, who stopped at MCHA to drop off their dog before driving straight to the Middle Way House, which serves the survivors of domestic violence and other forms of abuse. In the parking lot, the woman began to have second thoughts, telling Warren, “I have to go home. He’ll be home soon. He’ll know we’re gone.”
Warren said she was able to convince the pet owner that her dog would be safe, waiting for her, at MCHA while she sought help to escape an abusive situation and imagined her next steps.
“That was probably the most humbling moment we’ve had and why we really needed to have the whole setup optional,” Warren said.
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At the center, each animal will be fed, walked and cared for, but each routine is a little different. While Buddy is described as an empathetic dog who prefers human companionship, other pets can be less social. MCHA staff, such as a trainer, work with each animal to carefully discover their temperament and comfort level, such as being around other animals or being touched by a staff member.
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During off-peak hours, such as holidays or weekends, staff members come to the center to care for pets. Warren said MCHA is currently considering allowing volunteers to come and spend some of that time with the animals.
When a pet is brought into emergency accommodation, MCHA will ensure that the animal is spayed or neutered and up to date with their vaccinations.
“If any of them are out of date, or haven’t been spayed or neutered, it’s part of our mission to make sure those things are covered,” Acosta said.
A payment plan is usually established for the client to cover these procedures. For emergency housing, MCHA waives boarding fees for 10 days. After 10 days, the owner will pay a subsidized fee between $13 and $23 per day.
While most pet staycations are brief, Buddy is a special case, MCHA staff said. Last November, Buddy’s owner suffered a debilitating fall. Buddy has remained with MCHA staff ever since. At first, it was hard for Buddy to adjust to being separated from his owner for the first time, Acosta recalls. He was a jittery ball of energy, moaning and shaking often in his kennel.
“But the more we familiarized our staff with him, the more we engaged with him and used positive reinforcement, we just established a really good thread of trust there,” Acosta said.
Buddy’s progress has been a complete transformation, Warren added. He will now play and paw at trusted staff members and sometimes even take a treat from a familiar stranger.
The emergency center isn’t equipped to house a pet for that long, so MCHA searches for potential temporary foster homes for Buddy while his owner continues to recover. In the meantime, Buddy stays there, comforted by the MCHA staff and the smooth guitar riffs of his favorite music.
Contact Rachel Smith at rksmi[email protected] or @RachelSmithNews on Twitter.