Why does the North NOT have a pet overpopulation problem? I am asked this question a lot. How is it possible that we are sending 40-50 dogs every 3-4 weeks to New York and they are getting adopted within days? How is it possible that there is a line of adopters waiting for our truck to arrive each Saturday?
I love to answer this question. First, pet overpopulation is NOT “solved” but many cities and states in the North and Midwest have a much better handle on it than we do. For example, New Hampshire and Colorado boast no kill status for the state while cities like Seattle, Portland, San Francisco are also fortunate enough to have a live release rate of 90% or higher. No-Kill is defined as the euthanasia of 10% or less of healthy, adoptable pets. In other words, 90% or more of healthy, adoptable pets leave the shelters alive.
Preventing Euthanasia With Underdog Express
Even with this great progress, an estimated 1.5 million cats and dogs are still euthanized every year. Locally, our euthanasia rate is 47% (for 2017). This is substantially lower than the 90% it once was and even more importantly, the number of unwanted pets taken in each year decreases. Let’s break down the avenues that cats and dogs have to leave our shelter alive. First, our city shelter is called Animal Services Center and is located on Hatton Rd. Not to be confused with the Humane Society of Wichita County located on Old Iowa Park Rd. Animal Services Center or ASC for short is responsible for taking in strays and relinquishments within the city limits. The Humane Society of Wichita County takes in strays and relinquishments from outside the city limits but within Wichita County.
During 2018, an average of 285 cats and dogs entered ASC every month. Live Release happens a few ways:
- The pet can be reclaimed by its owner
- The pet can be adopted through ASC
- The pet can be pulled by the Humane Society of Wichita County
- The pet can be pulled by one of our local rescues
- The pet can be pulled by PETS’ Underdog Express Program
- The pet can be sent to a non-local rescue
Obviously, ASC tries to maximize all of these roads but there are too many unwanted pets and not enough homes. Rescues are full and resources are limited. So with that out of the way, let’s get back to Underdog Express and how we do it.
How Does Underdog Express Work?
Through Underdog Express we pull dogs that are out of time at local shelters (Wichita, Graham, Electra) and occasionally take in owner relinquishments to keep them from having to go to ASC. This is rare but does happen. When dogs are out of time and not tagged for the ASC adoption program or they have had all the time the shelter can give them in their adoption program, we are allowed to temperament test and pull if they meet our criteria. I say our criteria but actually our rules are set by the receiving rescue in New York. We partner with a wonderful organization called Helping Hounds in Dewitt New York. We have an amazing relationship with this team. We have been there and they have been here. Together we have saved 2268 dogs. We appreciate and trust Helping Hounds adoption process and are confident knowing the dogs we send are getting loving homes. In many cases, the adopters stay in touch with our local fosters.
There are still pet overpopulation problems in and around Dewitt New York so there are rules. Sadly, pit bull breeds and pit bull mixes are the most overbred breed in the US so we rarely get to send one but occasionally a special needs or a special story will earn a ticket to New York. Chihuahuas are also over bred so although we send some regularly, they have to be more choosey. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t send the best of the best to New York. I hate even typing that because to me all dogs are the best but some people are under the assumption that we and other transport programs only send cute pure bred puppies to New York. We post pictures of every dog we send and I think it’s quite clear we simply send what we have the most of which luckily happens to be what our partners have the least of. Labs and lab mixes, shepherd and shepherd mixes.
In fact, here is the first load we sent in January of 2019. See any “high dollar” dogs in the mix below?
When we go to the shelters, we look for behavior first. We have to choose dogs whose temperament will be suited to ride in a crate for 3 days with strangers getting them in and out for potty breaks. We need dogs who are not too fearful and certainly not aggressive towards people or other dogs. We then send pictures to Helping Hounds for approval. If approved, we have to find a foster and then we beg for money. Another myth to dismantle is the fact that any one is making money. It costs us $200 per dog and that is if the dog is healthy. When a dog is sick or has an injury, the cost skyrockets. We are blessed to have some financial support in the form of grants but a minimum of 60% of the cost is literally raised on Facebook peer to peer for each individual dog. We do not recover any of this cost. It is simply the cost of saving lives and we are grateful that with your help we can do it.
Helping Hounds is responsible for paying the transit. The dogs are transported at a cost of $150/dog on a big rig from Texas to New York over a three day journey. Helping Hounds is then responsible for housing the dogs, managing adoptions, paperwork, etc. Although, they do get to charge an adoption fee, they still have a building, a small incredible staff, and associated cost to maintain for housing, feeding and caring for the dogs we send. No one is making any money except maybe the transport company but business is business and hiring reputable transportation that you know is kind and patient with your dogs is paramount.
Fosters Make It All Happen
Now that we have the ugly financial mess out of the way, let’s discuss our fosters. Perfect dogs don’t exist and we expect a lot out of them. How insanely scary to be in a stressful, noisy shelter one day and then in a stranger’s home the next where there are guaranteed to be other strange dogs and possibly kids and/or cats. Our fosters are tasked with crate training, introducing the dogs to a leash and many times working with them on socialization. They are also responsible for the extensive vetting required of each dog. Not only do we have rules from Helping Hounds to contend with but there are rules for dogs that cross state lines.
Add all of that to the heartbreak of saying goodbye and it’s a miracle we have such a devoted network of fosters. Why do they do it? That’s easy! Because doing all of that is ALWAYS better than watching a dog die. As I mentioned above, many of the fosters receive communication and updates from the adopters up North and all of them get to sleep at night knowing they are LITERALLY saving a life. How many people get to say that?
Underdog Express pulls at risk dogs from area shelters because without us, 609 dogs would have been dead in 2018. There are not enough cages. There are not enough shelters and certainly not enough rescues. We are all doing the best we can but we cannot magically create enough homes for these unwanted pets. Underdog Express is simply another way to get dogs out alive. Unfortunately, there is not a demand for cats at this time so their fate is far worse. This is why spaying and neutering ALL of your pets is crucial. 40% of pet overpopulation is the result of an accident. Well intentioned pet owners are accidentally costing our city tax dollars and lives.
Can You Help?
Shameless plea for help! We could save more dogs if we had more fosters. The average length of stay is 4-6 weeks and you save a life. We cover all vetting costs and we can loan you a crate. Will you consider saving one single life this year? It can be a family project that teaches your kids they can make a difference and don’t have to settle for euthanasia. If fostering is an absolute no because you travel to Europe every other week, donate to our program. Saving lives isn’t cheap but can you look at any of these faces and say they’re not worth it? Please contact us for more information, visit our Underdog Express page where you’ll find our foster application!