Puebloans staying home more in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic made for a “very interesting year” at the Pueblo campus of the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, according to Gale Caron, the shelter’s associate director.
Despite having to navigate constantly changing guidelines meant to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus and several changes to shelter operations, Caron said the shelter saw very positive outcomes in 2020.
“Overall, what we have noticed — and this is a national trend, it’s not just specific to Pueblo — is that shelter intakes are down, which is absolutely something to celebrate,” Caron said.
“That’s the goal — we want to have less animals coming through our doors and more animals staying in their homes.”
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Intakes and adoptions
Even with fewer animals ending up at the shelter at 4600 Eagleridge Place, overall adoption numbers in 2020 went up.
Last year’s intake and adoption numbers compared with 2018 showed significant improvements — 2019 was an atypical year for the shelter and therefore a poor year for comparisons, as the city- and county-contracted shelter was briefly run by a different organization, PAWS For Life.
In 2018, HSPPR saw 6,199 animals come through its doors; in 2020, that figure dropped to 5,582, marking a near 10 percent decline in shelter intakes.
Caron said it’s hard to pin down the exact reasons for the decline but said if she were to guess, it likely correlates with people spending more time at home with their pets.
“They’re engaged with their pets more, maybe they’re doing more training and maybe (their pet’s) smaller behavior issues are something they now had the time to work on,” Caron said.
“Or, the pet’s needs were just being met differently — they’re getting walked more, they’re getting more exercise, more one-on-one engagement with their humans. And that can result in much improved behavior, as opposed to being alone for extended periods of time without those social, physical and mental needs being met.”
Fewer intakes, Caron said, presented the shelter with other opportunities for the animals in its care.
“We receive a fair amount of pets that have some challenges. And they need some time and they need some work,” Caron said.
“And if we can dedicate more time and resources, because our volume is lower, to those specific pets, that’s fantastic.”
Adoption rates at HSPPR also improved in 2020 — more than 130 additional pets were adopted last year compared with 2018: 1,744 adoptions in 2020 and 1,603 in 2018.
The shelter also saw some adoption trends it has literally never experienced before.
“(HSPPR) actually for the first time in 2020 adopted out more cats than dogs,” Caron said.
“That was because our dog intake definitely decreased and our cat intake did as well, just not to the same volume … so it’s just a very interesting outcome of seeing those lower numbers — people were looking to adopt and if we didn’t have a dog, that was OK, they went ahead and took a look at the cats and found somebody who caught their eye and took them on home.”
With a lower supply of pets and still plenty of demand from the public, Caron said the shelter “successfully placed 100% of every healthy and safe pet that walked through our doors.”
HSPPR also improved on its lives-saved rates in the pandemic.
The shelter had an overall lives-saved rate of 89.75 percent in 2020 — an 89 percent rate for cats and a 90.45 percent rate for dogs — compared with 88.5 percent of lives saved in 2018.
Challenges and innovations
One of the biggest challenges HSPPR had to contend with in 2020 was the suspension or reduction of certain services, particularly early in the pandemic.
For about a seven-week period, beginning at the end of March and lasting into May, HSPPR could not perform elective surgeries, including spay and neuter services.
Caron said the surgery suspension was particularly impactful for HSPPR’s Trap-Neuter-Return program, which sterilizes colony cats and then returns them to their home territory.
The timing of the suspension — although impossible to avoid due to the progression of the pandemic in Colorado at that point — could not have been worse.
“Spring is a very difficult time for the cat population; it definitely starts to increase as litters are typically starting to be born around that time,” Caron said.
Pueblo cat colony managers found themselves dealing with new litters of kittens, so HSPPR developed a new initiative, the Community Kitten Care program, to address the influx.
“Through that program, the kittens stayed in the care of the colony manager, which is great and they loved it,” Caron said.
“And we provided different sorts of support while that care was going on, such as doing health checks, providing vaccinations … providing some medical care. And then food support as was needed for the colony managers as well.”
The kittens needed to be at least 8 weeks old and 2 pounds before being adopted out by the shelter, per Colorado law, so once they hit those marks, they were brought into the shelter, spayed or neutered, and then adopted out.
Caron said HSPPR will continue to operate the Community Kitten Care program after the pandemic.
There are other pandemic-necessitated innovations the shelter will seek to implement long-term.
It began allowing adoptions by phone, where in the past all adoptions had to take place in person. And it moved to an appointment system for its mobile veterinary unit, the Wellness Waggin’.
One area that remained relatively consistent for HSPPR in 2020 was its overall funding.
Caron said HSPPR’s contracts with the City of Pueblo and Pueblo County have remained the same and private donations — which account for about one-third of HSPPR’s overall funding — have remained consistent.
“We are very grateful that has continued to remain consistent even during what is really quite a difficult time,” Caron said.
Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, Caron said it’s difficult to anticipate what to expect.
“We’re only six-ish weeks into 2021, so I think a lot of us in the sheltering world, us included, are just wondering: Was 2020 a one-off ? Or is this a trend as far as the reduction of animals in the shelter?
“And again, that’s what we want. Our goal is to have as few animals come through the shelter as necessary and for those few pets to be the ones that truly need a safe haven. We are a socially conscious shelter, we are open admission, that means we never turn away a pet in need so we will always be here to serve the pets in the community.”
Chieftain reporter Zach Hillstrom can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter: @ZachHillstrom