By Kathi Bliss
She is no more than 10 years old, but in her short life, May has known love and loss. Now, all she wants in the world is a second chance.
May, a “senior” dachshund, is a resident of the Lockhart Animal shelter and one of 17 animals involved in the recently introduced “Guardian Angel” program, an adoption drive of sorts that allows reduced or waived fees for “guardian angels” who are willing to adopt long-term residents.
“Most of our ‘Guardian Angel animals’ are just long-term residents, who have been with us more than 45 days,” said Animal Services Director Melanie Tucker, while May sat on her lap listening intently to the conversation. “They’re great animals, and they’re always adoptable. But often, there is something about them that makes them less desirable than a puppy or a kitten.”
In May’s case, her “something” is a heartworm-positive test, and a need for extensive dental work.
“May was brought in by someone who said that she’d been at his property for the last three or four days,” Tucker said. “Someone, at some point, loved her, but the man that turned her in said that no one put up posters or came looking for her, so he decided he had to bring her in.”
It would be uncommon for a small-breed dog to survive to “senior age,” [which Tucker estimates to be 9 or 10 years] and be as well-mannered as May is, without having come from a loving home.
“A lot of time what we see happen is that someone will bring in a senior animal that has been the lifelong companion of an elderly person who either passes away or goes into a residential living situation,” Tucker said. “When that happens, either there is no family to take care of the animal, or no one steps up and they wind up surrendering the animal to the shelter.”
Often, “senior” animals are not as popular as their newborn counterparts, and wind up at the shelter for extended periods of time. After 30 days, provided they are otherwise adoptable, the animals are evaluated for the Guardian Angel program.
“We screen them all before we release them for adoption in the first place,” Tucker said, scratching May’s tummy in exchange for kisses on her hand. “All of our adoptable animals are wormed and tested. We see how they respond to other animals, and we see if they have any food aggression or other aggressive behaviors before we make them available. The Guardian Angel animals, for whatever reason, just stay around a while longer.”
If an animal is at the shelter for 30 days and is placed on the Guardian Angel list, adoption fees are decreased to $25. After 45 days, adoption fees are free. Currently, all 17 animals on the Guardian Angel list have been in the shelter more than 45 days, and are free to adopt.
“Of course, they are still subject to the spay and neuter requirements, as well as the rabies vaccinations [and other stipulations addressed in the animal control ordinance],” Tucker said. “But if someone is looking for an animal, and gets turned off by the adoption fees, this is a great alternative.
If an animal stays in the shelter for more than 60 days, Tucker said, she and her staff have to start making “hard decisions.”
“If an animal is adoptable, we want to do everything we can to find that animal a home,” she said. “When I’m out running errands, I take an animal with me almost everywhere I go. Others, especially the healthy cats and the small dogs, we let stay in the office with the staff, where they can meet and greet the folks that come in. But we do have to control our population, and sometimes, if an animal is with us longer than 60 days… we just have to start making tough choices.”
While the Lockhart Animal Shelter is not what is termed in the vernacular a “no kill” shelter, Tucker said she and the staff take great pains to either return strays and find adoptable, abandoned animals a home. Still, she noted with sadness, feeding May a treat, sometimes it isn’t possible.
Tucker displayed a list of more than 50 animals brought to the shelter last week, stray dogs and cats whose owners have not yet come to claim them.
“This is a lot of our population this week, the guys who get lost,” she said. “Right now… we have this many [gesturing] that we picked up or that were brought in that just lost their people.”
While she encourages all pet owners to put collars and tags on their animals, she also reminds them that the shelter has a 72-hour policy on strays.
“If we pick them up or someone brings them in as stray, we have to hold them for 72 hours, in case their owner comes for them,” she said. “After that, we have to decide to put them up for adoption or – …”
Population concerns, she said, were among the reasons she asked the City Council to approve the Guardian Angel program. She noted the success of other programs elsewhere in the state, and said the reduction and eventual waiving of fees was seen, in many cases, to be an encouraging factor in animal adoption.
“It’s kind of the last chance for these guys,” Tucker said of the six cats and 11 dogs on the current Guardian Angel list. “But they deserve to find people to love, and we’re going to do everything we can to help them find their people.”
To check the availability of your new Guardian Angel animal, call the shelter at (512) 376-3336, or visit the Lockhart Animal Shelter at 547 Old McMahan Road (one-half mile off FM 20 East). They are open daily for adoptions, from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Monday – Friday, and from 8 a.m. – 3:30 on Saturday and Sunday.