Flathead Animal Shelter at Full Capacity

By Beacon Staff

The Flathead County Animal Shelter is running at full capacity with more animals showing up each day; a situation that officials say may lead to turning away owner-surrendered pets.

It’s not unusual for the Flathead County Animal Shelter to operate at 95 percent capacity. It’s also not unusual for the shelter to look for extra space when new animals arrive.

However, according to county health officer Joe Russell, the shelter is at over-full capacity, which means each dog kennel and cat cage is being used. Many of the animals are owner turn-ins, Russell said.

The shelter is doing all it can to accommodate the new arrivals, but when it overfills, the staff has to assess its ability to take care of the animals already housed there. Too many animals start to erode the quality of care, he said.

The facility is only legally obligated to house stray animals. However, ever since the economy tanked, many owners are at a loss of what to do with their pets as they try to downsize their lives.

Russell said the shelter hears stories of how new landlords will not allow pets or how a family has to move and cannot accommodate their pet.

“We get a lot of those stories and they’re real, we know they’re real,” Russell said.

He stressed that owners should first check all the other options available to them before bringing their pets to the county shelter. This includes an active search through the owners’ existing social network to see if anyone can take the animal, checking websites for potential owners and contacting rescue organizations.

“We should be the last resort on owner turn-ins,” Russell said.

The weather is also hampering the housing situation at the shelter, he said, because most dog breeds cannot survive in temperatures hovering at or below zero. Last winter, the shelter took in a load of huskies that were able to stay outside, but that is not possible for other dogs.

The shelter also uses a network of foster families to house cats and dogs, which makes the shelter’s census higher than the number of animals in its building, Russell said. But this network is already at capacity, and more foster families would be very welcome, he said.

Of course, it would be preferable if people adopted the cats and dogs at the shelter, Russell said, but those interested should be sure they could handle all the details that come with owning a pet, such as what will happen when the owner goes to work.

The county animal shelter operates under a low-kill policy, Russell said, which means animals can only be euthanized if they are aggressive, sick or injured.

“We don’t euthanize healthy, adoptable animals,” he said. “It’s a policy we all believe in. We’re not going to euthanize for space.”

Flathead Shelter Friends, a local 501-c-3 organization not affiliated with the county but dedicated to supporting the shelter, has multiple ways to support animals financially if adoption is not a possibility. The organization’s website also offers links to step-by-step instructions on how an owner can find a new home for a pet before opting to bring it to the shelter.

Russell said he is aware of the dilemma owners can find themselves in, but added that they should never abandon their animals or turn them loose in the cold.

“We don’t want people as a very, very, very last resort to turn a dog out in the winter,” he said.

To contact the Flathead County Animal Shelter, call 752-1310 or visit their website for a list of adoptable pets at www.flathead.mt.gov/animal. The Flathead Spay/Neuter Task Force is available at 892-7387 and the Humane Society of Northwest Montana can be reached at 752-7297.

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