Save this content for laterSave this content on your device for later, even while offline Sign in with FacebookSign in with your Facebook account Close

Out-of-state shelters dogs find hope in Colorado

By: KEVIN SIMPSON , The Denver Post via AP
March 3, 2018 Updated: March 3, 2018 at 5:18 pm
0
Caption +
In this Jan. 31, 2018 photo, Denver, a 9 year old labrador retriever mix, gets some love from volunteers as he gets checked into the Denver Dumb Friends League Buddy Center in Castle Rock, Colo. Nearly 30,000 documented dogs from out of state, predominantly to the south, made their way in 2016 to Colorado shelters and rescues, where the live-release rate hovers around 90 percent and virtually no adoptable dogs are euthanized for lack of space to hold them. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via AP)

DENVER — The black Labrador retriever mix with a splash of white on his chest gazes quizzically at the Denver Dumb Friends League volunteer snapping his photo — a freeze-frame soon to be posted online in the hope that his beseeching eyes might connect in a life-changing way with a receptive human.

At 9 years old, he's mellow and in good health, except for the dental work that will briefly delay his availability for adoption. And he's road weary from the 14-hour journey that brought him here with a van load of other dogs abandoned, surrendered or otherwise cast off to the Peaceful Animal Adoption Shelter in rural Oklahoma.

"You've come to the right place, bud," says one of the volunteers.

His prospects for living out his dog-years with an attentive adoptive family rose exponentially once the van crossed the state line. He and his 36 fellow canine travelers, except for a few puppies too young to be adopted yet, will find new homes within days. They make up just one sliver of a far-flung pet transport effort that counts Colorado among the most desirable destinations.

Nearly 30,000 documented dogs from out of state, predominantly to the south, made their way in 2016 to Colorado shelters and rescues, where the live-release rate hovers around 90 percent and virtually no adoptable dogs are euthanized for lack of space to hold them.

That number has risen steadily from about 17,000 in 2014 as demand for family pets has led to a patchwork of partnerships between local shelters and rescues with organizations in regions where overpopulation continues to be a vexing problem. In all, 135 registered Colorado shelters or rescues transported adult dogs from out of state in 2016, according to state records, with 90 of them also taking in puppies.

Shelter Dogs
In this Feb. 22, 2018 photo, ill Holtus, left, his wife Jen Holtus and their son Michael, 3, right, are one big happy family with newly adopted dog Kadie, right, and their other dogs Jazzy, middle, and Kodie in Thornton, Colo. Nearly 30,000 documented dogs from out of state, predominantly to the south, made their way in 2016 to Colorado shelters and rescues, where the live-release rate hovers around 90 percent and virtually no adoptable dogs are euthanized for lack of space to hold them. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via AP) 

Coloradans from pet owners to welfare experts attribute the state's status as an extremely pet-friendly landing spot to demographic, geographic, economic and cultural factors, as well as a largely successful, decades-long push toward normalizing spay and neuter procedures. A highly educated populace, an outdoors-oriented region and a culture that tends to place significant value on pets as family members coalesced around heightened expectations for animal treatment.

"We believe that years and years of humane education, responding to animal cruelty and neglect and making animals have value in our community has really been successful," says Apryl Steele, CEO of the Denver Dumb Friends League. "It's been this step upward for animals in society, and our community has buy-in about the value of animals, especially cats and dogs."

Culturally, Colorado has come to recognize pets as integral members of many families, giving rise to more dog-friendly policies among landlords and businesses and creating a burgeoning market for four-legged companions.

That stands in marked contrast to areas of the U.S., primarily in the South, where live release rates in some areas can dip as low as 30 percent — seven in 10 are euthanized, even healthy animals that would be highly adoptable in Colorado. Warmer year-round weather conditions allow stray pets to more readily survive on their own and reproduce, perpetuating the cycle.

Roger Haston, chief of analytics for Arizona-based PetSmart Charities, and other experts stress that the relationship between organizations with a surplus of dogs and those with access to an eager pool of adopters has to extend beyond simple supply and demand to address the root causes of overpopulation.

"Transport is not a solution but a temporary release valve," says Haston, whose group doles out millions in grants and was an early supporter of the practice. "When we get that collaborative effort, it's pretty amazing."

Exchange Shelter Dogs
In a Jan. 31, 2018 photo, PAAS (Peaceful Animal Adoption Shelter) volunteer Jim Snipes brings an armload of puppies off of their van as they arrive at the Denver Dumb Friends League Buddy Center on January 31, 2018 in Castle Rock, Colorado. After a 14 hour overnight van ride from Vinita, Oklahoma, the dogs are checked into the Buddy Center. There they get weighed, are given vaccines, get health evaluations and fed. Once the dog is ready they will be put up for adoption. PAAS, a relatively new organization in Vinita, Oklahoma, brings 30-50 homeless animals a week to the Buddy Center in hopes of finding them new homes. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post via AP) 

Even Colorado shelters far removed from the Denver metro area, like La Plata County Humane Society in Durango, also serve as a conduit that not only sends dogs from their own area to the Front Range but dogs from other states as well. Director Chris Nelson takes in up to 700 a year through what he terms a "pipeline" from the Southwest and Texas. Most find homes in the Durango area, but last year he sent about 40 to the Denver-Boulder area.

His shelter progressed from a 30 percent euthanasia rate in 1997 to less than 2 percent now, reflecting spay and neuter awareness that has lifted the entire state.

If Coloradans are quick to open their homes, Nelson adds, they're also ready to open wallets when a story touches them. He recalls the case of a German shepherd puppy named Lieutenant Dan, who appeared to be paralyzed and was about to be euthanized when workers discovered he actually had feeling in his leg. A plan was hatched to put the dog in swimming therapy and raise money for a wheelchair that would make him mobile.

They put the story on Facebook and reached out to some TV stations. In a week, $32,000 poured in — with $20,000 of that from Front Range communities. The money paid for the wheelchair, but also for orthopedic procedures on four other dogs and more surgeries over the next couple of years.

"It doesn't work if you do it every week," Nelson says. "But if you've got the right story, it helps."

It doesn't hurt the cause that more and more people have found companionship with dogs that come from rough — or maybe just indeterminate — beginnings.

Nelson, the director of the Durango shelter, figures the same people who used to crave Golden Retrievers now find a certain cachet in adopting rescue dogs. He calls it the Katrina Phenomenon. People would call him wanting to adopt dogs transported after the 2005 hurricane and he'd tell them that while he didn't have any of those, he did have dozens of other wonderful dogs ready to go.

The paradigm shift that has made Colorado such an enthusiastic home for so many cast-offs from other states eventually will spread, figures Nelson, the director of the Durango shelter, raising the profile of pets as family members.

"As jaded as I am about humanity in this job, I think culturally we're changing," he says. "Even if the trend of getting a rescue or shelter dog will fade, it'll be strong enough to last generationally. My mom didn't want dogs on the couch. Her mom didn't want them in the house. We've changed as a society, for the better."

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Incognito Mode Your browser is in Incognito mode

You vanished!

We welcome you to read all of our stories by signing into your account. If you don't have a subscription, please subscribe today for daily award winning journalism.

Register to the Colorado Springs Gazette
Subscribe to the Colorado Springs Gazette

It appears that you value local journalism. Thank you.

Subscribe today for unlimited digital access with 50% fewer ads for a faster browsing experience.

Already a Subscriber? LOGIN HERE

Wake up with today's top stories in your inbox

Wake up with today's top stories in your inbox

or
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?
 
This is your last FREE article for the month
This is your last FREE article for the month

Subscribe now and enjoy Unlimited Digital Access to Gazette.com

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?

 
You have reached your article limit for the month
You have reached your article limit for the month

We hope that you've enjoyed your complimentary access to Gazette.com

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber?
Already a digital subscriber?
 

Exclusive Subscriber Content

You read The Gazette because you care about your community and the local stories you can't find anywhere else.

Only 99 cents for Unlimited Digital Access for 1 month
Then $2.31/week, billed monthly, cancel anytime
Already a print subscriber? Get Access | Already a digital subscriber? Log In
 
articles remaining
×
Thank you for your interest in local journalism.
Gain unlimited access, 50% fewer ads and a faster browsing experience.