By Shelley A. Sackett
Last week, Old Fella Animal Rescue in Burke County, Georgia sent 39 dogs and eight cats to the Northeastern Animal Shelter on Highland Avenue in Salem. It was their fifth transfer in 2016.
“Georgia has a high kill rate in their shelters. They don’t quite get the spay and neutering part of owning a dog,” said Jane Taubenec, whose job as canine coordinator includes deciding which out of state animals are eligible for transfer to the Salem shelter.
Georgia has no leash or spay-and-neuter laws (except for stray or unwanted animals adopted from a shelter). It is the Northeast Animal Shelter’s biggest source of animals.
The three different Georgia shelters and rescue services Taubenec takes dogs from send her pictures and a short description of prospective adoptees. She then sends them the list of medical and behavioral protocols the animals must meet to be eligible. A lot of them can’t meet those requirements.
“We always want healthy, adoptable dogs. Being the size that we are and the number of animals we can handle, we have to be strict about what’s done prior to them coming,” she said. Under the current arrangement, Georgia performs the initial medical work and the Northeast Animal Shelter reimburses them for a portion of it.
“These private rescue groups are like us. For most of them, it’s their own money or their friends pay for it,” said Laurie McCannon, who has worked at the Salem shelter for 25 years and is now its Executive Director.
The Salem shelter placed 4,606 dogs and cats out its current space in 2015. With no local, state or federal funding, the shelter depends on private donors who are “looking to save pets.” McCannon estimates it costs between $150 and $200 per pet to pay for a portion of Georgia’s medical expense, transportation, and then follow up medical care in Salem.
Some of the pets arrive healthy and ready to be adopted. Others end up costing the Salem shelter a lot more money. “We don’t want to send people home with problems,” McCannon stressed.
One of the biggest issues is socialization. “Pets being in a shelter — it’s tough on them. Most of them are used to having a family, somebody who’s stable in their lives. They’re natural pack animals. When they don’t have their pack, you can understand why their behavior is tough,” she added.
For example, two dogs from the recent Georgia group will require extensive training before they’re ready for adoption. “They always lived in a group of nine or ten dogs, and now they’ve been taken away from their pack. They’re scared,” she said.
McCannon’s face reflects pride and compassion as she describes the shelter’s programs for animals that need behavior modification training before they are adoptable. “That’s a pretty regular subject around here. ‘What can we do for them?’ They’re here. Let’s help them,” she said.
The Salem shelter works with Loyal Canines of Beverly, a local trainer who takes the pets for a couple of weeks to try to work on specific behaviors. “We’re constantly putting in various programs,” McCannon said. There are volunteers who work with the more difficult pets. There is even a treadmill to help the animals “work off a little steam.”
And there is a doggie bed in each office so staff can either bring their own pet to work or have a shelter pet for company. “We try to keep them social and from getting frustrated and lonely,” she added.
Despite the training and the willingness of adopting pet owners, the match is not always made in heaven and sometimes the adoption just doesn’t work out for a variety of reasons. While there is no guarantee, there are situations where the Northeast Animal Shelter will take the pets back. “Sometimes we don’t have a big history, so we don’t know every situation that an adopter is going to run into,” McCannon said.
At some point, however, McCannon has to draw a line. “When you adopt a pet, it’s your pet. That’s just kind of a reality. You have to commit to them and try to work through things,” she said, emphasizing that that was her personal opinion and not official policy.
After New England’s big push for “spay-neuter” laws in the early 1990s, the Northeast Animal Shelter experienced a diminished list of pets awaiting placement. “It’s not fool proof yet, but we started to see the effects. There are still plenty of issues here, but it isn’t what it once was,” McCannon said.
The shelter took its first out of state group of pets from Nebraska in 1994. In 1995, the first group came from Puerto Rico, “basically street dogs that were rescued by private people.” The program has gone on from there, and expects to place even more pets in 2016 than it did in 2015.
For both Taubenec and McCannon, their greatest satisfaction comes after watching a particularly difficult pet that they have worked with go home with an adoptive owner. “When they finally get adopted, everybody is crying because they’re leaving, but they’re also crying because they’re so happy,” McCannon said.
But the biggest reward? “When the adopters get back in touch with us and tell us how great they’re doing,” she said with a huge smile.