MSPCA-Angell Sees Lower Shelter Numbers

Written by Samantha Peters

Samantha Peters
BU News Service

Rusty, a three-and-a-half-year-old mini long-haired dachshund, was one of the 71 dachshunds surrendered to the MSPCA-Angell from Westminster, Mass. this past January. Despite his initial lack of training and “puppy-like” demeanor, Rusty won over the heart of Kim Attuschul.

“He’s a lovebug,” Attuschul said. “We don’t know what we’d do without him.”

Rusty is one of the 150 MSPCA-Angell shelter dogs who has found a home through adoption this year. And with a sharp reduction in the number of animals the MSPCA-Angell has received in the last 10 years, the chance for canines like Rusty to be adopted is likely to increase.

The MSPCA-Angell, or Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals-Angell Animal Medical Center, is a private, non-profit organization that works to protect animals, advance their health and welfare, and prevent cruelty.

Founded in 1868, the MSPCA-Angell is the second oldest humane society in the United States. In its three adoption centers in Massachusetts, the MSPCA-Angell can house up to 2,000 animals, including birds, cats, dogs, horses, pigs, rabbits and various rodents. The MSPCA-Angell also has the flexibility to transfer animals to other non-affiliated shelters in the state to ensure that as many animals as possible are served.

Despite their large capacity, fewer and fewer animals are being surrendered to the MSPCA-Angell. This is in part a result of the thousands of spay and neuter surgeries conducted at the MSPCA-Angell’s Animal Medical Center and other hospitals in the area. By “fixing” the animals in their residences, the MSPCA-Angell can monitor population control and prevent the births of unwanted litters.

Increased leash laws in Massachusetts may also have contributed to the decline in the number of animals the MSPCA has received. As part of the Massachusetts animal control law passed in 2008,  existing leash laws for all free-roaming dogs were enforced in an attempt to reduce the number of dogs on the prowl.

MSPCA-Angell foster programs have also radically expanded the numbers of animals the organization is able to shelter. The MSPCA-Angell currently relies on 400 foster families to provide temporary homes for animals that are not quite ready for adoption, freeing up space in shelters.

“It’s really a great development for the animal community at large,” Rob Halpin, director of public relations for the MSPCA-Angell, said. “Most animal shelters in Massachusetts with too many animals that they can’t house isn’t a reality anymore.”

As many as 70,000 pets have came and left the shelter over the last decade. And with only about 250 to 300 animals currently in their shelters per day, less than 10 percent of animals have to be euthanized at MSPCA-Angell. Media attention and advocacy groups like PETA have focused on overpopulation and killing in shelters. While each year approximately 2.7 million animals are euthanized in shelters nationwide due to overcrowded facilities, the only reason for the MSPCA-Angell to euthanize, said Halpin, is if an animal is too sick or violent to be saved.

“People still think that if you take an animal to an animal shelter they are going to end up being killed, but that’s just not true,” Halpin said.

With the absence of overcrowding, the MSPCA-Angell focus has shifted. The organization now has more time and resources to devote to training the animals and assessing their individual needs. Dogs learn “housebreaking rules,” including relieving themselves outdoors and not destroying furniture, before they leave the shelter. The longer a dog stays in the shelter, the better obedience training it has, and the more likely it is to be adopted. As a result of these developments, the MSPCA-Angell has been able to place up to 90 percent of the animals they have in their shelters in new homes, an increase from only 30 percent in the last decade.

MSPCA-Angell staff member shows off the skills of a shelter dog available for adoption.

MSPCA-Angell staff member shows off the skills of a shelter dog available for adoption.

As part of the MSPCA-Angell’s eighth annual Walk for Animals in September, over 500 dogs and their owners completed a one-mile trek around the Boston Common. Feline lovers participated in the walk as well, donning costume cat ears in commemoration of their pets who could not be present at the event. It was one of three concurrent walks taking place around Massachusetts to raise funds for the organization.

The $350,000 the MSPCA-Angell expected to raise in donations from the event is utilized to support animal adoption, advocacy, law enforcement and the Angell Animal Medical Center.

Awareness of animal cruelty has significantly affected the number of animals in MSPCA-Angell shelters. The MSPCA-Angell’s Law Enforcement Department is commissioned to investigate and enforce Massachusetts animal cruelty laws. 85 percent of cases the Law Enforcement Department receives are complaints about educating pet owners about proper care while only 10 to 15 percent are more serious cases, including incidents of animal abuse or neglect. Last year, the Law Enforcement Department investigated 1,883 complaints, which resulted in the surrendering of 559 animals (animals voluntarily given up to shelters) and the seizure of 50 animals (animals forcibly removed from their owners) to MSPCA-Angell shelters. Still, the Law Enforcement Department strives to lower these numbers by increasing consciousness of animal justice through outreach programs in the community.

“Our officers try to educate students at schools and inform the public about proper care [of animals],”  Richard Leblond, chief of law enforcement, said.

The MSPCA-Angell hopes to continue to lower its shelter numbers through other educational programming and fundraising events, including the Run Fur Fun 5k in the spring.

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