If foreclosures and high unemployment weren’t ample evidence of a recession, the animals coming into Foothills Animal Shelter might be.
Facing hard times, many pet parents are having trouble footing vet bills and keeping food bowls full. Consequently the shelter, which celebrated its first year of operation this month, is seeing more paws coming through the front door, and animals are overall in worse health than they were only a year ago.
“The economy, we believe, is affecting people, and they’re relinquishing their animals,” said Foothills executive director Heather Cameron. “We are seeing a lot of sad customers. … Some people have their cat of 16 years, and they just can’t afford to take care of them anymore.”
From January to July, the number of healthy animals brought into the shelter was slightly less than the number seen at the former Table Mountain Animal Shelter during the same time period in 2010. However, the number of adoptable older animals, sick animals and those with mild behavioral problems rose by more than 30 percent. The number of animals deemed unhealthy — having a bite history or severe health problems — increased by 4 percent.
“We’re just seeing higher treatment needs,” Cameron said. “Some of the animals are so unhealthy that the kindest thing to do is to euthanize them.”
But despite the overall condition of the animals arriving at the shelter, Foothills’ rate of live release, or animals adopted or transferred to another shelter, increased from 72 percent to 78 percent when comparing the seven-month period in 2010 and 2011. During that time frame in 2010, the shelter was operating in the TMAC building.
That puts the new shelter’s rate on par with that of the Denver Animal Shelter and Denver Dumb Friends League, both of which recorded live-release rates of 78 percent in 2010. During the entirety of 2010, Foothills’ rate was 75 percent.
Of the 3,997 adoptable animals taken into the shelter from January to July, including older special-needs animals, 344, or 8.6 percent, died via lethal injection, 1 percentage point less than during the same period in 2010. During 2008, 2009 and 2010, the rates were 12.6 percent, 12.4 percent and 9.59 percent, respectively. By contrast, Denver Animal Shelter’s rate in 2010 was 4.2 percent.
Though Foothills’ capacity is approximately equal to that of the former TMAC location, the new building’s capabilities have a better impact on animal health, Cameron said.
The room available for cats to roam, for example, is three times larger. And the new building’s air filtration and circulation system is vastly improved, leading fewer animals to contract illnesses from air-borne pathogens.
“What had changed was the kind of shelter we were able to provide for those animals. … We have healthier animals, honestly,” Cameron said. “Their rates of upper-respiratory infections were very high. … There’s no longer this stagnant, disease-ridden air in the shelter.”
The shelter’s capacity can fluctuate depending on the makeup of its population at a given time, Cameron said. Dogs take up more space than rabbits, for example, but the shelter’s available space is also somewhat flexible.
Typically, Foothills can hold about 530 animals. But on July 21, the shelter’s population skyrocketed to 724, after the Sheriff’s Office brought in 194 rabbits seized from an Arvada farm. Foothills initially kept the rabbits in a barn at the nearby Jefferson County Fairgrounds but later moved them into the shelter’s garage, Cameron said.
The new $9.7 million shelter was constructed after Jefferson County agreed to contribute $3 million, in addition to $5.2 million raised through dog-licensing revenue and $1.5 million in donations. Of the donations, which are projected to be reached by 2015, the Foothills Animal Foundation has so far raised $1.2 million in gifts and pledges. The building is expected to be paid off in 2029, Cameron said.
The shelter’s 2011 budget is $1.9 million, up substantially from the prior budget of $1.48 million at the TMAC site. Funding comes from animal-adoption fees, donations and municipal and county assessments.
Though revenue is largely down for counties and municipalities across the country, the Foothills 2012 budget could actually increase, Cameron said.
“If anything, our budget will go up, because the number of animals coming through our door continues to increase,” she said.
The 30,000-square-foot facility has a staff of 33, including one full-time and one part-time veterinarian. Foothills also has 511 volunteers.
The shelter doesn’t have a set time limit for any animal, and Foothills works with other locations to trade dogs and cats that haven’t had luck being adopted, Cameron said.
“You’re hoping that with the right amount of care and attention … those animals are going to do fine. … (But) it’s a very difficult living situation,” she said. “We’ve had animals here over a year. … We have no time limit. It’s all about the individual animal.”
But despite its resources, more animals come in every year than can find homes. Consequently, hundreds of potentially adoptable dogs, cats and small animals are put down.
“No one works in a shelter because they want to euthanize an animal. It’s the most heartbreaking part of the work,” Cameron said. “You don’t work in a shelter to get rich. You work in a shelter because you love animals.”
Foothills Animal Shelter
580 McIntyre St.
Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Dog adoptions range from $80 to $500 depending on age and breed.
Cat adoptions normally range from $35 to $150, though the shelter is currently adopting all cats seven months and older for only $25.
Rabbits, including those from the Arvada farm, can be adopted for $25, and the shelter is currently offering a two-for-one rate.