When adoptive homes for shelter dogs can’t be found in Bartholomew County, they get new life in Eastern states that have adoptable-pet shortages.
It’s part of a public/private partnership to reduce the number of dogs in the Columbus Animal Control shelter and to prevent unnecessary euthanasia.
The effort has been credited with helping lower Columbus Animal Care Services’ euthanasia rate from 40.6 percent in 2010 to 16.7 percent last year.
The program has shipped out 112 local dogs since it began a year ago, mostly to New England and Ohio communities, said Nicohl Birdwell Goodin, animal care services director.
The local effort is part of a larger, south-central Indiana program known as CanINE Express, based in Brown County. CanINE Express has transported 9,117 homeless Indiana dogs to new homes in the past decade.
As soon as this month’s transport of dogs left, the Columbus shelter already was preparing a list of prospects for the next one, which will be Feb. 6.
The “INE” in the organization’s name represents the partnership between Indiana (IN) and eastern partners (E), said Cathi Eagen, who founded the organization in Brown County in 2004.
Eagen began the program while working as an Indiana University assistant dean in the graduate school. After retiring in 2011, she now volunteers full time, coordinating monthly transfers, driving vans full of dogs to East Coast shelters and lobbying for better spay-neuter laws in Indiana.
Eagen’s inspiration came from a distraught feeling when realizing that too many adoptable dogs were being euthanized in Brown County.
After learning that strict spay-and-neuter laws in New England resulted in shortages of adoptable dogs there, she formed partnerships with East Coast shelters that already were accepting healthy and well-socialized dogs from other parts of the country.
Photos of unwanted dogs, including those at the Columbus shelter, are posted to CanINE’s central website and then chosen by the receiving shelters. By the time the dogs leave, some already have homes lined up, while others are simply chosen as popular breeds in the areas where they are sent.
The dogs sent this month from Columbus included a German shepherd mix, a beagle and a three-legged puggle.
Volunteers walked and then loaded the dogs into a van, which would meet up with the CanINE Express van on Columbus’ west side.
One of the dogs, a pit-bull mix named Elaine, was friendly and excited at the bustle of activity. She had been at the Columbus shelter since June because of her breed.
Pit-bull mixes, or dogs that resemble pit bulls, tend to remain in shelters because “people buy into the hype,” Goodin said.
“It’s certainly not a breed for everyone,” she said, adding that if the dogs are socialized and trained properly, they are adoptable.
Elaine fell into this category.
The monthly pet transfers free up more space in the Columbus shelter so homeless pets that aren’t adopted for months, such as Elaine, don’t have to be euthanized, Eagen said.
In the past two years,
the only dogs killed at the Columbus shelter were those with severe health or behavioral problems that made them unadoptable, Goodin said.
In 2013, 676 local dogs traveled through the shelter, with 452 as strays, 216 surrendered by their owners and eight that were emergency boarders. Of those, 279 were adopted, 281 were returned to their owners or released to another agency, one was stolen or lost, two died at the shelter and 113 were euthanized.
In comparison, three years earlier, 831 dogs traveled through the shelter, with 582 as strays, 228 surrendered by their owners and 21 that were emergency boarders. Of those, 151 were adopted, 340 were returned to their owners or released to another agency, three died at the shelter and 337 were euthanized.
Any CanINE Express transfer dogs that exhibit problem behaviors, such as aggressiveness or anxiety — whether from the stress of the transfer or their new surroundings — get a third chance through the program.
These dogs could become part of a residential training program Eagen has set up through East Coast rescue groups. After their transfer, these dogs live with a trainer for a period of time to socialize and relearn good behavior. They then head off to adoption.
“Every dog that rides on this transport, we owe a home to that dog,” Eagen said.
Receiving shelters pay for gas mileage, but the time and housing for the volunteers are all provided at the volunteers’ expense. Most transport runs take two drivers, who sleep in shifts, so the animals don’t have to spend the night in a stopped vehicle.
The runs always need volunteer drivers, Goodin said.
Locally, the city pays about $100 per dog per trip because of the extra vaccinations and other medical tests that must be performed before the dogs can be shipped out, Goodin said. The city shelter also puts the dogs through a behavioral test, which checks their aggression; how they handle toys, food and other animals; and their sensitivity to human contact.
Mayor Kristen Brown made it a priority to eliminate the unnecessary euthanasia of dogs for space reasons at the Columbus shelter when she took office in January 2012.
The shelter was renamed Animal Care Services to better reflect its new mission and an agreement was reached to set an “ambitious 100 percent adoption goal,” for healthy dogs, she said.
By partnering with CanINE Express and C.A.R.E., Inc. (Community Animal Rescue Effort), adoptions increased, the euthanasia rate has declined, and the number of strays going into Animal Care Services has declined significantly, Brown said.