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Fewer pets euthanized at local shelters

Training helps problem dogs get adopted

Rochelle Carr, Sissy's new owner, said "She is a very, very loving companion. We call her a love bug."

Rochelle Carr, Sissy's new owner, said "She is a very, very loving companion. We call her a love bug."

Sissy had several things working against her, and in the past that may have been enough to doom her.

The year-old pit bull – a breed with brutal reputation – wasn’t potty trained, had a few anxiety issues and constantly chewed on things that were not supposed to be chewed.

But instead of being euthanized, Sissy was recently adopted by the Carr family, which took her in despite her faults.

Thanks to new shelter programs, increased awareness and a network of rescue groups, Sissy and hundreds of other animals in Pima County are getting a second lease on life.

The percentage of animals euthanized after being taken in at the Humane Society of Southern Arizona and Pima Animal Care Center is at a three-year low.

In fiscal 2007-08, the Pima Animal Care Center euthanized 13,118 of the 21,446 animals it received, or 61 percent. That’s down from 63 percent in 2006-07 and 69 percent in 2005-06.

The Humane Society euthanized 3,545, or 28 percent, of the 12,482 animals it took in in 2007-08. That’s down from 36 percent in 2006-07 and 29 percent in 2005-06.

“We are doing everything in our power to get these animals adopted,” said Humane Society spokeswoman Sheena Stewart, “even the hard-to-place ones.”

The society’s new “Hidden Gems” program has already made an impact.

“The Hidden Gem is a special dog or dogs we choose to give special attention to so they are more easily adoptable,” Stewart said. “Instead of spending all their time in the shelter, they spend a majority of the days in employees’ offices, in training classes, or out for walks.”

Sissy was in the program, which included her brief appearance on morning TV.

“She looked really sad and really lonely, like she needed some love,” Rochelle Carr, 47, said of first seeing Sissy, who was named Ciera at the time.

Carr woke up her daughters, Jensen, 19, and Jade, 17, so they could take a look at the sad little pooch on the screen.

“For her to be put down would have been really, really sad. She is a very, very loving companion. We call her a love bug,” Carr said.

Jiggly, who is still seeking a permanent home, is another dog that would have been doomed to die.

“This cute boy unfortunately makes for a hard dog to place in a home,” Stewart said. “He has three strikes, if you will.”

Jiggly is deaf. He suffers from mild separation anxiety, crying and barking when left alone. He’s also a pit bull.

Jiggly has become a staff favorite and gets lots of attention. He’s in the midst of being crate-trained to quell his separation anxiety, and his new owner gets a free crate.

Discounts and reduced fees, holiday specials and additional outreach to the community have worked to reduce euthanasia numbers at both the Humane Society and Pima Animal Care.

Neutering or spaying animals before they’re put up for adoption at Pima Animal Care has also probably helped boost adoptions, said shelter spokeswoman Jayne Cundy.

Once the shelter got its own clinic, staff began neutering or spaying a small number of animals and included more as they were able.

“We started with the purebreds,” Cundy said. “Then altered the ones that were kind of cute. Then we went from the kind of cute to you’ve got four legs and wag your tail.”

Rescue organizations have also been a huge factor in saving the animals.

“We have the Animal Rescue Foundation, or ARF, and one of their biggest efforts has been staffing the adoption area seven days a week,” said Justin Gallick, animal care advocate at Pima Animal Care.

“Without them we wouldn’t even be open on Sunday. They are kennel hosts and match up the right dog or cat with their family.”

The Humane Society works mainly with purebred organizations while Pima Animal Care works with all groups, even issuing a rescue list.

“Rescue groups usually take in every animal that is on the list,” said Susan Scherl, executive director of HOPE Animal Shelter, Tucson’s only no-kill dog and cat facility. “That doesn’t mean we get every animal out there.”

Some folks say even the lower euthanasia numbers are still too high.

“Not all animals arriving at a shelter can be saved,” said Mark Mason, a member of the group Citizens for a No-Kill Tucson. “There are always a small percentage, generally around 7 percent, who are actually untreatably terminally ill and in great pain.”

Those are the only animals that should be euthanized, he said.

Mason cites Reno, Nev., as a place that has made no-kill work. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Northern Nevada is the area’s pioneer no-kill shelter, and the Nevada Humane Society has dramatically increased its adoptions and lifesaving rate.

Mason said Tucson has a similar geography and population and actually takes in fewer animals per capita than Reno shelters.

Gallick said a no-kill community is possible but would require a lot of effort and full community support.

“That would mean the average Joe Citizen becoming a foster parent, volunteering, making donations – food, blankets, monetary, anything,” he said. “Those are the things it’s going to take.”

In the meantime, dogs like Jiggly and Sissy are reaping the benefits of programs already in place, as is the Carr family.

“After eight weeks she’s not chewing things. She’s house trained. She sits on command, gets on her leash, she listens. She’s very well-behaved and receptive to anyone,” Rochelle Carr said.

“I feel really fortunate I saw her on TV. I feel like we’re blessed.”

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Jiggly, a 5-month-old pit bull, is up for adoption as part of the Humane Society of Southern Arizona’s “>



Donations, volunteers and foster families are always needed.

Humane Society of Southern Arizona

3450 N. Kelvin Blvd.



Pima Animal Care Center:

4000 N. Silverbell Road



List of area rescue organizations:


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