Humane Society to require counseling before surrendering pets

More mixed breed dogs
The Animal Humane Society last year received about 33,000 animals turned in by owners and others, and placed about 20,000 in new homes. Many of the dogs placed by the Animal Humane Society are younger, mixed breeds.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Starting January 1, the Twin Cities-based Animal Humane Society will require people who want to turn in pets to make an appointment and go through a counseling process before they can surrender the animals.

Humane Society officials say they're getting far more animals than they can place, and they hope the new system will reduce the number of animals that must be euthanized.

One main reason for the higher surrender numbers is the poor economy. People are turning in their animals because they can no longer afford to pay for their care. Animal shelters themselves are under more financial strain because they're at capacity. And one shelter in Burnsville closed recently.

The state's largest shelter, the Animal Humane Society, is taking the overflow of animals at its five Twin Cities metro area facilities -- amounting to thousands of additional dogs, cats and other critters.

Animal Humane Society officials say an decline in the number of animals being adopted means more must be put down.

Humane Society president Janelle Dixon says nearly one-third of the 33,000 pets turned in at their Twin Cities locations last year were euthanized.

"Many of those have significant health and behavior problems, but some of them we believe have treatable problems we could address," said Dixon.

Animal Humane Society president Janelle Dixon
Animal Humane Society president Janelle Dixon says kittens are often easy to place in new homes. About 40 percent of the felines turned in must be euthanized, either because of age or health problems or because no homes can be found for them.
MPR Photo/Dan Olson

Dixon said the new appointments system will require anyone turning in a pet or a stray animal to call ahead, to set a time to discuss the animal's condition and review options.

Kathie Johnson, the Humane Society's director of animal service, says officials visited cities already using the appointment system -- San Diego, Portland and Erie County, New York -- and found that fewer animals were surrendered, and fewer were euthanized.

"We're hoping that by having a conversation with these people, that we'll be able to provide options and resources for them that might actually help them be able to keep their pet in their home," said Johnson.

Johnson said their staff can help owners find affordable veterinary clinics if pets have health problems, or can help owners change destructive or nuisance pet behavior.

Humane Society chief operating officer Ray Aboyan said asking owners to take time for the counseling appointment does not appear to lead to increased rates of animals being abandoned on the street.

Aboyan says early efforts to implement the idea are already showing results.

"We have a seen a reduction in our euthanasia rate of 7 percent," Aboyan said. "We have also seen an increase in our placements of 5 percent."

Humane Society officials say a short-term effect of the new system is higher costs as they add staff.

Officials say they're also expanding an affordable spay and neuter program for pet owners with modest incomes.

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