Big-hearted islanders respond to pet shelter’s plight


Three weeks after having to temporarily cease accepting animals for the first time in its 70-year history due to a surge in surrenders of family pets, the Humane Society of Vero Beach has re-opened, thanks to an outpouring of support from island residents.

According to Humane Society Board Chairman Susan Schuyler Smith, after the organization’s plight was featured on the front page of Vero Beach 32963 and Vero News, “the community really stepped up. It was great. We adopted out probably 102 cats and dogs that week.”

The nonprofit H.A.L.O. animal shelter also helped take in additional pets when the Humane Society’s admissions department closed, and since Aug. 1, local residents have adopted 35 of H.A.L.O.’s dogs and cats. At an adoption event Sunday on the Sebastian riverfront, five out of the eight dogs brought out as “special guests” were adopted.

But the Humane Society shelter and H.A.L.O are both still operating at near capacity, and both are struggling to solve the local version of what has become a nationwide crisis of homeless pets.

Smith says that now, when an animal is brought to the Humane Society to be surrendered, the owner is asked “What do you need?”

This, she explains, is to determine whether there might be a way the Humane Society can help the owner keep an animal they love and consider to be part of the family, but simply feel they aren’t able to properly provide for it. “Do they need pet food? Help with the vet?

We can even provide tips on how to re-home their pet. Any way we can help, we and our vet staff are more than happy to.”

In this way, Smith considers the Humane Society “a social service agency,” and notes that, while there is a local government contract and the organization receives 10 percent of its budget from government funds, the remainder of the $4.5 million annual budget is “from the foundation, grants and donations.”

These days, as the shelters deal day-to-day with the critical overcrowding, when an animal is brought in to surrender, Smith continues, “we ask whether they can keep it for two more weeks so we can foster it out and try to find a home for it. A foster home is much better for the animal than the shelter, with so many people in and out, and noise and other animals.

They just do better in a foster situation. Even those two weeks can help.”

She suggests that pet owners in that situation ask family or friends whether they’d foster the animal, while a permanent home is being sought.

H.A.L.O. CEO Jacque Petron agrees that it would be a great help if people would agree to keep their pet just a little longer and, during that time, use social media to let others know it is available for re-homing.

“If we can’t figure something out, we give them a referral list for other shelters, and we ask they keep their pet and do a courtesy post. Our Facebook pages are currently flooded with them. At least the animal can avoid the stress of the shelter and overcrowding and be re-homed from family to family.”

H.A.L.O.’s August Clear-The-Shelter adoption event “is going well,” Petron says, “but nothing like previous years. (173 pets found forever homes during last August’s event.) In good news, some of our long-term cats have found homes, so we are thrilled about that.

“Our surrender list continues to grow beyond our abilities and our medical needs have more than tripled. People are still bringing and dropping daily. We use pop-up crates, fosters, our personal homes to make anything work that we can.

“Honestly,” Petron admits with some exasperation, “people taking responsibility to re-home their one pet is a lot more doable than shelters having to navigate hundreds. And, let’s not even talk about the funds it takes to maintain all these lives, especially with vet, medications and food costs through the roof, employees (with no experience in the field) wanting starting pay of $15/hour or not interested in working, etc.”

Ultimately, says Petron, who started H.A.L.O. in 2005 with nothing but an all-encompassing love of animals, “I am not sure there is an answer or an end, we just try to focus on the life in front of us, give them our best and know every life saved is a win!”

Both the Vero Beach Humane Society and H.A.L.O. work closely with their local communities and with a statewide network of other shelters. Both are designated no-kill shelters, and, as they deal with full houses day after day, that commitment is non-negotiable. “We don’t euthanize for space,” says Smith.

Photos by Brian Storey

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