Contrary to trends in other areas of the state, Kenai Peninsula animal shelters did not see an increase in the number of unwanted pets dropped off after the Christmas holidays, but they still face the ongoing challenge of getting people to spay and neuter their pets.
Animal control officers at the shelters in Kenai, Soldotna, Seward and Homer all said they had people come in before Christmas looking for a pet to give as a present. Most of these people were talked out of that idea.
"In their own mind, the recipient may want a specific breed, and if someone gets something different they may not be happy with it," said Marianne Clark, animal control officer at the Soldotna Animal Shelter.
Selecting a pet for someone else is never a great idea, since choosing a pet is such a personal experience and depends so much on one's taste in animals. Giving a puppy or kitten as a Christmas present can be even worse, because it needlessly causes stress to the animal.
"A puppy in a box under a tree may be very Disney, but it may not be in the best interest of the animal," said Brett Reid, animal control officer at the Kenai Animal Shelter. "Christmas morning, especially in families with young children, is not a typical morning. It may not be the best time to introduce a companion to a family."
Animal control officers instead encouraged prospective pet-givers to purchase pet food and toys to put under the tree or a gift certificate from an animal shelter, pet store or veterinarian to get the pet vaccinated and spayed or neutered. That way the recipient can be involved in selecting the animal they want.
"If you give a kitten or puppy to a friend of yours and they don't really like it, they may be inclined to not really like it for a long time," Reid said. "Kittens and puppies should live for about 15 years. That's a long time to not like a present."
Another reason animal control officers discourage giving animals as presents is because many of the animals, especially puppies, tend to be returned about six to eight months later. Puppies, in particular, start chewing and becoming a handful at this age, and if the owner isn't invested enough in the pet they tend to bring them back to the shelter. By that time, the animals has lost its baby cuteness and tends to be harder to adopt back out.
The number of animals shelters dealt with in 2001 compared with the previous year were similar and even declined at two shelters.
The Kenai shelter reported business as usual as far as the number of pets processed this year. Reid said the shelter seemed to be quite busy this year and that the types of animals shelter workers have dealt with has changed. For instance, laboratory rats have passed rabbits as the No. 3 animal the Kenai shelter processed during the year, behind cats and dogs.
The Homer shelter dealt with 800 animals last year. Of those, 540 were returned to owners or adopted out, and 238 were euthanized. These numbers are down from the 1,030 animals the shelter processed in 2000, said Sherry Bess, director of the Homer Animal Shelter.
The Soldotna shelter processed 555 animals in 2001 -- 350 dogs, 188 cats and 17 other animals. Of those, 48 dogs, 46 cats and five other animals were adopted out, and 122 dogs, 10 cats and 2 other animals were returned to owners. The shelter euthanized 160 dogs and 116 cats.
These numbers are down in all areas for the shelter. It dealt with 638 animals in 2000 and 814 in 1999. Clark attributed this decline to the spay and neuter clinic in Sterling.
"I can't say enough good things about it," she said. "We're not seeing all the litters we used to."
Clark said the importance of spaying and neutering cannot be overemphasized.
"The more people I can reach, and the more I can stress to people the importance of getting their pets spayed or neutered, the better," Clark said. "I always tell them, put me out of a job -- get the animals spayed and neutered."
Jennifer Carrick, at the Seward Alice Picket Memorial Animal Shelter, said her numbers were about the same from 2000 to 2001. The shelter euthanized less than 15 dogs and cats last year, which is appropriate for a community the size of Seward, she said.
Carrick also stressed the positive effects of spaying and neutering. Aside from reducing the number of unwanted pets in a community, she said, spaying and neutering pets has health and behavioral benefits for the animals as well.
"Sure, by spaying and neutering you're taking away their ability to reproduce. But if they were wild animals, they wouldn't all reproduce, because that's not how wild packs operate," Carrick said. "We've created them to be domestic animals, and it provides them with a little more comfortable domestic lifestyle."
In looking ahead to the rest of 2002, animal control officers voiced some wishes they hope will be fulfilled this year -- like pet owners keeping their animals contained, giving them plenty of exercise, making sure they have identification, and that owners make a greater effort to take their pets with them when they move, rather than abandoning them or leaving them at a shelter.
"If people could see how pets behave when they're left behind, it's really sad," Carrick said. "I think everyone should hang out in shelters to understand the repercussions of animals bonding and then seeing them confused when they're left behind. It's not fair. So if you're not willing to commit to the whole life of the animal, it's better to get a stuffed animal."
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