Welcome to Dogtown USA

In DOG FANCY'S search for the best cities in which to be a dog, we discovered innovative shelter programs, generous amenities, thoughtful policies, and many wonderful dog-lovers.

By | Posted: Tue Sep 25 00:00:00 PDT 2001

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The statistic surfaced s hortly after the shelter stopped taking in animals as a result of its now 5-year-old board decision to end euthanization of animals that have a chance of being adopted. Having promised to take in all animals and to put down only those deemed physically or temperamentally unfit, the center's population swelled to 400 (it was built to house 170 animals).

To deal with the crisis, the humane society started a waiting list for admissions. While talking to people who called only to learn they would be placed on a waiting list, shelter employees learned most people loved their dogs but couldn't deal with them. They couldn't afford dog food. They didn't know how to curb problem barking, chewing, or aggression.

The organization helped these owners until space became available. They paid for food, obedience classes, and veterinary care. And it worked.

People learned how to solve behavior problems, which account for most shelter drop-offs. Now, people must wait 45 days before dropping off a dog at the shelter. During that time, shelter employees and volunteers assess and try to resolve the situation.

If dog owners still want to turn over their pets to the humane society, they must first run an ad in the local newspaper offering the dog to another owner. If that fails, the shelter will take the dog.

But by the time the dog arrives at the shelter, it's almost ready for adoption. Shelter officials know its medical history and its ideal home situation. "In most cases it's not going to have a lengthy stay in the shelter," Thornburg says. "It's ready to go."

The program, born of necessity, taught center officials an important lesson: If you're going to be an open-admission, no-kill shelter, you had better be creative. The organization encourages the community to spay and neuter their pets and asks people who can't afford the procedure to donate time to the shelter.

It also holds four "adopt-a-thons" throughout the 150-mile area of 63,000 residents. While on the road, volunteers sometimes hand out vouchers for free spay/neuter procedures. "People wait in line for hours to get them," Thornburg says.

Since switching to the no-kill policy in 1996, the area's pet population has grown by 34 percent. However, the shelter's population and the number of

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