Pet predicament

Shelters struggle under the weight of an animal surplus

Pet shelters across the Tri-Valley are straining to find homes for cats and dogs amid a busy summer season.

Shelters are typically inundated by animals this time of year for two main reasons: Kittens are being born en mass and owned animals have a tendency to get frenzied and lost during fireworks around the Fourth of July.

While shelter officials prepare for Fourth of July and so-called "kitten season," both end up putting a strain on area shelters. Kittens are typically born between April and October, so most of the early births are of an adoptable age by July and August.

Rich Avanzino, president of Maddie's Fund, a Pleasanton-based pet foster and advocacy organization, said it's common for shelters across the country to struggle with space this time of year.

"Kitten season is a difficult time for shelters. There are so many being born and so many surrendered," Avanzino said. "While kittens are adorable, there is usually such a huge supply in that they all come in in a short period of time."

The county-run East County Animal Shelter in Dublin had about 100 animals mid-July, Valley Humane Society in Pleasanton had 33 animals and East Bay SPCA's shelter in Dublin had about 70 animals, according to shelter officials.

Shelter officials said they still have some room left -- East County, for instance, can hold about 200 animals -- and these numbers are typical for this time of the year. Some shelters have backup cages, such as the East Bay SPCA, which lined a wide hallway with kennels of mewing kittens for summer camp participants to admire last week.

But shelters don't have as much room as they'd like, and kittens are often kept in cages with their mother or other kittens until they grow big enough to need their own kennel, which saps up much of shelters' free space.

To make room, many dogs and cats are sent to foster families through independent agencies and shelter volunteers.

Maddie's Fund had 32 animals in homes in mid-July. Tri-Valley Animal Rescue, a foster group that takes animals from East County Animal Shelter, had 155 animals in homes, according to their administrators. Valley Humane Society also had 22 animals in foster care, and East Bay SPCA had 34 animals in foster care via its Dublin location.

Pleasanton resident Nancy Lyness fosters kittens or adult cats about twice a year. She said she felt sorry for the animals that are euthanized because there isn't enough space in shelters, and she wanted to help change some animals' fates.

She gets her children involved, and she said they've latched onto the responsibility.

"They absolutely love helping to care for the animals," said Lyness, who helps prepare the Pleasanton Weekly's "Streetwise" column. "They love the idea of saving lives, too. It doesn't ever get old to them. It's always exciting and wonderful."

Shelters are also feeling a negative impact from owned and stray animals found on city streets in recent weeks. Dogs will often flee from their backyards, terrified by the roar of Fourth of July fireworks, according to Valley Humane Society executive director Melanie Sadek.

"Dogs will freak out during the fireworks. Though you have a dog that would never dig a hole under a fence or jump over a fence, dogs are in a panic," Sadek explained.

Shelters across Pleasanton and Dublin work to contact owners if a pet is tagged or microchipped. Carol Stabert, supervisor of the East County Animal Shelter in Dublin, said her shelter returned about 10 tagged animals within first day.

Staff at the East County Animal Shelter worked to move animals into foster care or into nonprofit shelters to make room for the inevitable crush. By the time animals started coming in from nearby neighborhoods, staff scrambled to identify their owners and reunite them as quickly as possible, Stabert said.

"We were moving as fast as we could," she said. "Prior to the Fourth of July, we were doing pretty well. It's been since the Fourth of July that it's definitely picked up."

If an owner is searching for a lost pet that isn't tagged or microchipped, shelter administrators recommend calling each of the area's shelters and foster organizations to see if any animals match the pet's description and checking their online pet profiles.

Stabert said foster-run volunteer organizations were a huge help in pulling animals out of the East County shelter to make enough room there, and now they're trying to find homes for all those animals.

"The rescue groups are phenomenal," she said. "They pull as fast as we can get them in."

One of the challenges at the county-run shelter is the fact they could be forced to euthanize animals if they exceed their space, Tri-Valley Animal Rescue executive director Jill Cooney said.

That shelter has a live release rate of 67%, representing the percentage of animals who are adopted, transferred to another agency or returned to their owner, according to Avanzino. That's a little better than the national rate, which is estimated between 55% and 62% because shelters nationwide aren't reporting to just one agency consistently, Maddie's Fund spokeswoman Sharon Fletcher said.

Rosalyn Simon, a Tri-Valley Animal Rescue volunteer who housed seven foster kittens in mid-July, said the county shelter and the rescue organizations work hard to get shelter animals into foster care and then adopted.

She said she's fostered kittens for years, and they're typically adopted a few weeks after she gets them.

Shelter officials said there are hundreds of foster families, if not more, in the Tri-Valley area alone. Some take in new animals as soon as their current wards are adopted, and others are one-time foster homes. All of the local shelter and foster administrators praised the hard work and kind hearts of these foster families.

Simon said she knows many foster families who take in an animal over the summer just so their child can have the experience of raising an animal, and then it gets adopted by someone else before the school year starts.

"Everyone's heart is in the absolute right place," she said. "They've got a heart for those who can't speak for themselves."

Residents interested in adopting or fostering can contact the following agencies:

Valley Humane Society

Where: 3670 Nevada St. in Pleasanton

When: Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Adoption fees: $100 for a cat or kitten and $150 for a puppy or a dog

Extra: They can also visit to fill out a compatibility survey, which will be used to pair residents with adult cats with specific traits. Applications for adoption are not posted online because shelter staff want residents to meet the animal they will adopt before taking the pet home. The organization hosts frequent foster workshops. Adoptable animals can be viewed at

East Bay SPCA

Where: 4651 Gleason Drive in Dublin or 8323 Baldwin Street in Oakland

When: Wednesday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at both locations

Adoption fees: $25 for a senior cat, $50 for a senior dog, $50 for a cat, $75 for a kitten, $125 for a dog and $150 for a puppy

Extra: Adoption paperwork is available online, and adoptable animals can be viewed at

East County Animal Shelter

Where: 4595 Gleason Drive in Dublin

When: All week from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Adoption fees: $25 for a dog or cat, $12 for a rabies voucher plus an additional fee for spaying and neutering, which are usually around $100, will be determined individually by the contracted veterinarian. A full list of typical fees is available at Adoptable animals can be seen at

Maddie's Fund

Where: Adult cats can be adopted at Dublin PetSmart, 6960 Amador Plaza Road on Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; plus various one-time adoption events. Animals can also be viewed at

Adoption fees: While some animals are free, the adoption fee for a cat is $50 and the fee for a dog is $150.

Tri-Valley Animal Rescue

Where: Pleasanton downtown during farmers market at First Street and Angela Avenue every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., and in front of the Dublin PetSmart, 6960 Amador Plaza Road, every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Animals can also be viewed at Foster volunteers will coordinate a meet-and-greet with adoptable animals when contacted by prospective families.

Adoption fees: $95 for one cat; $150 for two cats

In other animal news

The 18th annual Pooch Parade will take place Aug. 5 at Lions Wayside Park at First Street and Neal Street. Bring your four-legged friend for competitions, a doggy playground and a day full of dress-up and pet merriment. For more information, visit and click on "Pooch Parade."

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