Nearly five years after the Fayette County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals shelter was shuttered, resources are limited to care for unwanted pets.
Fayette Friends of Animals, a small, privately run shelter, is shouldering the heavy burden of unwanted pets in Fayette County on its own. The shelter must turn many animals away with its building filled to capacity. Police departments often take in lost dogs before owners are found.
“There’s really nowhere for people to turn,” said April Gaines, the shelter’s office manager.
On Wednesday the shelter was filled to capacity. They can house between 55 to 70 dogs and about 40 cats. They had 71 cats Wednesday, finding extra space for kittens. She said she has to turn away between 10 to 15 cats every day.
“We were flooded with phone calls. Cats definitely, but dogs too. We’d have to say ‘Sorry, we don’t have room,’” she said.
Most people tell her they are giving up their pets because they are moving and a landlord will not allow pets, or the owner died and no one in the family could care for the pet. The shelter also turns away dogs that are aggressive for the safety of the other animals and volunteers.
“It’s unfortunate we don’t have an SPCA. We are it,” said Marge Dugan, the shelter’s board president. “Because they’re closed now, we never have room.”
Dugan said she has heard some talk among county officials about restarting an SPCA, but nothing that takes root.
The no-kill shelter is run by donations and does not receive any county funding.
“We have good people,” she said of their donors. “We do get a lot. Not enough to sustain us. But we do get a lot.”
Each of the cats has a medical chart for routine checkups and their names are listed on a board. The dogs spend much of their time in large outdoor kennels with a dog house, shaded areas and pools. On hot or cold days, the dogs have indoor kennels. Volunteers walk and bathe the animals. Some of the volunteers are completing community service hours for Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition programs or for school projects.
Social media has been a boon for locating lost pets to both the shelter and local police departments.
Uniontown City Police and Connellsville Police frequently run calls to pick up loose dogs. They have contracts with humane officers, but always try to locate an owner before handing over a lost pet. That is usually successful, they said.
“We’ve had great success in locating the owners, and a lot of times if we can’t locate the owner we have a lot of people who want to foster,” said Uniontown City Police Lt. Tom Kolencik. “It’s a community effort as it always is, and it’s worked well.”
He said the success rate of locating owners through social media or finding a foster home is “almost 100 percent.”
Connellsville Police Cpl. Bryan Kendi said SPCA closing “hurt a little bit.”
“You don’t want to send the dogs to a kill shelter,” he said.
He encouraged dog owners to have their dogs tattooed or micro-chipped.
“At the very least – and it is the law – get the dog license and put it on the collar so we can identify the owner and get the dog back home,” he said.
He encouraged residents to call police if they observe animals abuse or if they locate a lost pet.
State law, updated in 2017, now includes harsher penalties for animal abuse or neglect. Fayette and Westmoreland counties have seen several cases recently where owners have been charged more harshly than in the past.
A woman and her husband, Fayette City residents, were charged last week when leaving a dog outside in the heat without adequate food or water. The dog died.
In summer’s heat, the law bars people from leaving a dog tethered outside for more than 30 minutes when the temperatures are 90 degrees or above. Dogs are also not permitted to be left tethered outside for more than nine hours in a 24-hour period and must have access to water and shade.
“We’re all animal lovers here, and we do our best to care for the animals,” Kendi said.
Fayette Friends of Animals holds monthly fundraisers and is gearing up for its annual open house and community fun day 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 29 at the shelter. The day will include games and crafts, food, a Chinese auction, animals meetups and other activities.
The shelter is also hosting a low-cost spay and neuter clinic for cats Aug. 6.