Holy shih tzu! Confiscated dogs add to swelling population at Orange County animal shelter

·4 min read

One unfortunate sign that life is slowly returning to normal is the growing population at the Orange County animal shelter.

In pre-pandemic 2018 and 2019, the shelter took in about 17,000 animals each year, but it got 5,000 fewer dogs and cats in 2020, a welcome surprise to Diane Summers, manager of the county’s animal services, which operates the often-crowded facility on Conroy Road near the Mall at Millenia.

“Honestly, the entire time [last year] we were bracing for a wave because we felt as people were financially impacted by the pandemic, we would see a surge of animals coming in. But it was actually the opposite,” she said. “We weren’t seeing as many surrenders or strays coming in. I think with people being at home, they were more willing to adopt or foster and there was a lot of community support too during the height of COVID.”

But with the pandemic waning now, the numbers of stray, surrendered and seized animals are creeping back toward pre-COVID levels.

“I don’t want to say we’re in a worse situation than we were in June two years ago but we’re definitely feeling a change,” Summers said.

Over the Independence Day weekend, the shelter cared for more than 300 animals. Tuesday, the shelter had 178 dogs, 139 cats and a raccoon.

Many kennels hold more than one dog or cat. Doubling up isn’t ideal, Summers said.

Crowds in the kennels this year are partly the result of cruelty and neglect investigations, which led animal welfare investigators to seize 155 animals in April alone, more than triple the average number of monthly seizures over the past three years. They seized 133 dogs, nearly half from two cases.

On April 11, investigators confiscated a pack of scruffy Shih Tzu from a minivan in a parking lot off Lake Underhill Road.

The motley mob of mop-headed mutts — 34 in all — were surrendered by a transient couple who were living in the vehicle with them.

The floppy-eared, playful dogs, ranging in age from two weeks to four years, were checked out and cleaned up by shelter staff.

“Once they were groomed, I will say, they were downright adorable,” Summers said.

All were quickly adopted or taken in by rescue groups as most puppies and friendly small breeds generally are adopted faster.

But the shelter still has about a half dozen of the 32 mixed breed pit bulls taken from cages in the backyard of a Parramore home in April.

One of the confiscated dogs, Prince, had a deep wound to his shoulder, likely the result of a scrap with another dog, Summers said.

Another, an older dog named “Watermelon,” couldn’t walk or stand. It was euthanized.

The owner, who had a previous history with animal services, wanted to keep the dogs but a judge sided with the agency.

In Seminole County, more animals fill the dog runs than last year or even last month, said Carole Coleman, animal services’ administrator.

“We’re not at capacity but is it more than a month ago? Yes. By a lot? I would not say by a lot. If I had to guess, I’d say maybe we’re up about 10% or so,” Coleman said. “We are very fortunate we have not filled up probably as much as Orange County yet. We still have a little bit of room here.”

Fewer pet owners gave up their companion animals in 2020 compared to 2019, according to Shelter Animals Count, which tracks shelter data.

Stephen Bardy, executive director of Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, credited a confluence of factors for fewer surrenders including programs that offered free pet food and discounted veterinary care. “Some people probably were at home working and decided they wanted a companion there,” he said.

The animal welfare agency which serves Orange, Osceola, Seminole and other counties helped find homes for the confiscated dogs.

Bardy said most shelters will probably see an uptick in strays this week, a traditional occurrence after the Fourth of July.

Dogs and cats often get spooked by fireworks and runoff.

“They’re just looking for a place that’s quiet where they can hide,” he said.

Bardy said the summer is also part of “kitten season,” when stray and feral cats give birth to litters.


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