There’s a foster shortage at Heber City animal rescue: ‘They need a home’
The see-through panel in the door to Jessie’s room remains covered with a sheet of paper to prevent her from growing anxious and worked-up when others pass by while she must remain.
When Jessie does get to socialize, her agility, excitement and anxiety become apparent as she’s eager to greet everyone willing and unwilling to humor the Labrador mix’s salutations.
Her friend Coraline, a pit bull-husky mix, displays the same behavior as the two wrestle and tease each other, their long tongues flailing as they push one another to the ground and take turns chasing each other.
Though they can be compelled with belly rubs and treats, they’re slow to calm down and rarely stand still long enough for a photo.
According to their trainer, Christina Cody, this behavior is not abnormal for dogs in their position — both are currently in Francis, but are without families or steady homes. Jessie has spent most of her life in this situation, and consequently without the attention, Cody said she likely needs to retain training.
Though Cody tries to make sure they spend at least an hour outside each day, she said she doesn’t have time to give them the individual attention they need.
“They need a home,” Cody explained.
While Jessie’s and Coraline’s lives may not be perfect, the alternative to their situation likely would have been euthanasia. The two dogs were rescued by Paws for Life Utah, a Heber City-based animal rescue that aims to keep shelter pets from being killed and get them into permanent homes.
Though Jessie and Coraline are foster dogs, Paws for Life does not have enough foster homes to go around, and so they are currently living at Premier Pet Lodge in Francis, which boards the dogs at a discount for Paws for Life.
“During COVID, of course, we had record number of adoptions because people were home, so they had time for pets,” said Karyn Fragomeni, the operations director of Paws for Life. “After everything kind of went back to normal and people had to go back to work, there was just a huge influx of animals being returned.”
Many dogs, she explained, developed separation anxiety as they were suddenly left alone after becoming accustomed to their owners staying home. Since January of last year, the organization has had over 130 adopted dogs and cats returned.
Fragomeni said the rising cost of living also has been a factor as people have struggled to both find housing that allows pets and to pay whatever additional fees they are charged for their furry companions. Consequently, as more and more dogs and cats need foster homes, there are fewer and fewer people who are willing or able to host them.
“Let’s say we have several dogs that are at risk for euthanasia,” Cathy Boruch, Paws for Life’s executive director, explained. “We post for a foster, and we’re really noticing that fosters are harder and harder to come by, particularly for large dogs.”
If current trends continue, they could result in disheartening endings for dogs like Coraline and Jessie.
According to Boruch, no-kill shelters are growing concerned that they may need to begin euthanizing adoptable pets as they grow past capacity.
“Kennels are small enough and then they’re putting two dogs in them,” Fragomeni added. “One of the local shelters just said they just put crates in their garage because they have no room for any more dogs.”
Though the effects of shelters meeting capacity can be felt locally, it is also a problem on a state and national level.
According to a May 23 press release from Shelter Animals Count, a national nonprofit working to collect data on animal shelters, the rate of dogs being euthanized in shelters has almost doubled when comparing the first quarter of 2023 to the first quarter of 2021.
Boruch and Fragomeni suggested several actions the community could take to help alleviate the strain on shelters.
They emphasized the importance of pet owners spaying and neutering their animals, and the commitment an individual makes when they bring a pet home.
“This pet that you’re taking is not just something to have for a little while while it’s fun,” Fragomeni said. “A lot of people are returning animals and they’re just not taking the commitment seriously.”
Boruch said people searching for a pet can also help by looking to adopt an animal rather than buy one from a breeder.
“You can now find many pure breed dogs sitting in shelters,” Fragomeni said, explaining some breeders will relinquish pets that nobody buys.
Edison is another dog that’s been rescued by Paws for Life. A Pomeranian mix, he’s smaller than Coraline and Jessie, and his foster owner — Beth Falk — calls him Wolfie. Within the past few weeks, he had a rough experience that has left him tentative and nervous around men — but Falk has noticed him beginning to calm.
Information about fostering dogs at Paws for life is available at pflu.org/volunteer.
The Utah Department of Agriculture took one of the animals for testing, and it’s been unable to determine the cause of death thus far.
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