Owners discuss lives of sheltered dogs

October is Adopt a shelter dog month and the perfect time to add a furry family member

Her pleading eyes peer out from behind the chain link fence.

“Take me home,” they seem to say. “I could be your new best friend.”

October is Adopt a Shelter Dog month, and the local shelters are the perfect places to find a new best friend.

Tristan, a brindle bulldog mix, is one of nearly 230 animals living in the Florence-Lauderdale County Animal Shelter.

“Tristan has been in the shelter since May,” said Senior Animal Control Officer Joni Lovelady.

Junior Whitney Pacil said her family includes three rescue dogs.

“I think there are a lot of misconceptions about shelter dogs being broken,” she said. “If anything, shelter dogs are probably the most grateful, probably the most loyal dogs you’ll ever have.”

With the animals in the shelter right now and the approximate 350 in foster care, the shelter is over capacity, said Director of Animal Control Vinny Grosso.

The shelter sees approximately 15 cats and dogs dropped off every day, he said.

“During the peak season, we can have 30 to 40 dogs per day,” he said. “Now we’re down to five or six per day.”

The fee to adopt a pet from the shelter is $75, he said. This amount covers the spay or neuter fee as well as vaccines.

The shelter is a low-kill shelter, Grosso said. The goal is to keep it that way.

“Right now our euthanasia rates are the lowest in the state,” he said. “We average about 545 per year. Because of that we’re keeping a lot more animals in our system.”

Grosso said the shelter budget is about $650,000 per year.

This money pays for employees, keeping the shelter running 24/7 and all vet care.

The public has been important in keeping the shelter low-kill, he said.

“Thanks to the public, (Florence) city council and the mayor have jumped on board and given me what I need,” he said. “My budget has almost doubled since I’ve changed the outlook of the shelter.”

There are other ways the public can help, he said.

Grosso said keys to keeping the shelter running smoothly are donations, both supplies and financially, volunteering, adoption and fostering.

“We have three types of volunteers—community service, court-ordered and animal-lover,” Grosso said.

Volunteers are a big part of how well adjusted our animals are, he said.

Duties range from walking animals and providing much needed TLC to cleaning cages, he said.

Senior Sam Satterfield, member of Alpha Tau Omega, said the fraternity enjoys helping the shelter.

“We try to go at least once or twice a semester to help out,” he said.

Sponsoring an animal is another way people can help, Grosso said.

“It’s the animals that are here the longest that really need that,” he said.

People can donate money to an animal to sponsor it, he said. This reduces the adoption fee and gives them a better chance of adoption.

While some dogs are negatively impacted by their painful pasts, most are kind and grateful, said Debbie Rappuhn, Founder and Director of Heart of Alabama. Save. Rescue. Adopt., a no-kill shelter in Killen.

“We have one right now that’s paralyzed from the waist down,” she said. “He looks at us like we are the greatest things in the world. You can tell by the way they look at you and treat you that they know you saved them.”

The Florence-Lauderdale Animal Shelter did not always have the support of the community, Grosso said.

“Eight to 10 years ago, when we were euthanizing over 3,000 animals a year, there wasn’t a lot of community involvement,” he said. “Now that we’ve turned things around, we’re in the spotlight a lot. There’s some good and bad in that.”

People have the perception the animal control officers are going to pick up their animals, bring them to the shelter and kill them, but it is just the opposite, he said.

“It’s hard on the employees,” he said. “I won’t hire anybody here that isn’t an animal lover.”

If an employee has to put an animal down, he wants the last person that animal is with to be compassionate, he said.