Anyone who has a Facebook page has seen them over and over: pictures of a lost or found pet with a plea for help finding the owner.
The posts reunite a lot of lost pets with their owners, and the’ve changed some of the way things work for Animal Services in Thurston County.
“We still get a lot of great animals, but more and more are finding their homes on Facebook pages,” said Connie Patterson of Animal Services.
For comparison, in the first six months of 2013, Animal Services received 930 dogs. For the same period this year, it was 805.
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Because a lot of dogs find new homes or are reunited with owners via social media, the dogs that do wind up in the shelter are more apt to need medical care or to have behavior issues, Patterson said.
Even so, the rate of dogs returned to their original owners has increased, adoption rates are up slightly, and euthanasia rates are down, according to Deanna Johnson, licensing officer.
That’s all good news to Lisa Beers Kirry, who is an administrator for the Facebook page Lost or Found Pets in Thurston and Surrounding Counties.
Animal Services staff are among the page’s 3,763 members, and the result is satisfying, Kirry said.
On Oct. 20, a Corgi was reported lost or stolen during a home burglary on South Bay Road, and multiple posts were shared on the Lost or Found Facebook page. Eighteen hours later, Dustin Wade, who works for Animal Services, posted that someone had brought the dog to the shelter, and it had been picked up by its owners.
Both Animal Services staff and Kirry emphasized that it’s important not to assume that a loose pet is neglected or abused. People who find animals should not be too quick to take them in or to find them new homes, they caution. Most can be reunited with their owners.
Kirry’s Facebook group is public, so posts can be shared.
“The goal is to find their owner,” Kirry said.
Kirry has some advice for people who have found an animal.
“Check that people claiming the animal have photos of their pet,” she said. “Don’t give it to just whoever says it’s theirs.”
“Big picture, we’ve got to go back to reinforcing the message to license and microchip pets,” Patterson said. That way, a lost pet can be scanned for owner information.
Licensing is just one role Animal Services plays. Ricord “Ric” Torgenson recently became executive director and is faced, like many agency directors, with doing more with less. The agency has three control officers, down from five in 2004. Staff will pick up a stray animal if it’s been confined, or if an animal has been menacing or bites someone. But Animal Services is not staffed to respond to reports of at-large strays.
“Our budget has been flat for more than 10 years,” he said, adding that everyone there plays multiple roles.
To keep animals out of the adoption pipeline, Animal Services has programs to help low-income people provide shelter for their dogs. The Roof Over Rover program accepts donated dog houses and gives them to people in need.
Once dogs are put up for adoption, they stay until they are adopted, Patterson said.
Adoption rates are rising slightly, from 62 percent for the first six months of 2013 to 64 percent for the first six months of this year.
The rate of dogs returned to owners in 2010 was 53 percent. So far this year it is 64 percent.
By statute, Animal Services can euthanize a dog that is deemed by a veterinarian to be too badly injured to save. Or, after four days, if a dog has serious medical or behavior issues and is not adoptable, it can be euthanized. Owners also sometimes surrender dogs for euthanasia, 182 in the first six months of this year.
Euthansia rates are falling, though. In the first six months of 2013, 21 percent of incoming dogs were euthanized. So far this year, it is 18 percent.
“(Animal Services) have done an amazing job paying attention to pets that are posted and finding owners,” Kirry said.
“Our mission has always been to get stray animals back to their owners,” Johnson said.