Helping homeless hounds rebound

A proactive animal group enables dogs without homes to avoid the perils of the shelter

Photos by Collin Riche

While Companion Animal Alliance works to lower the euthanasia rate among Capital Region dogs, one local rescue group has improved the odds for unwanted animals to survive and thrive with a proactive program. To discourage the leaving of dogs and puppies at the city shelter (managed by CAA), Positive Alternatives to Shelter Surrender helps qualified owners and individual rescuers find homes for canines they cannot keep.

“Some people really don’t want to take a dog to the shelter, but they don’t have another option and don’t know how to rehome a dog responsibly,” says Cheryl Dispenza, who has volunteered as PASS’s first and only coordinator.

Modeled after an Austin Pets Alive! program, PASS is an integral part of Friends of the Animals Baton Rouge. After working as a shelter booster group for several years, FOTA recognized the best way to keep canines from being euthanized at the city shelter is to prevent their admission or expedite their exit.

Shelter staff frequently suggest PASS to individuals who call or come to relinquish their own dog or a stray.

Not all dogs or owners meet the program’s criteria.

To determine eligibility, owners must complete a questionnaire about the dog’s temperament and medical background of the dog they are placing in PASS’s care (if it’s theirs). They must also foster their dog and commit to the dog’s being adopted after a suitable home is found.

In addition to certain requirements, Good Samaritans at PASS who intend to place found dogs must attempt to locate an owner by asking a vet to scan for a microchip, adding the dog to the city shelter’s registry, and posting the animal on local lost-pet Facebook pages.

And, since FOTA’s central aim is to reduce the number of dogs euthanized at the municipal open-intake animal shelter, all PASS participants must live in East Baton Rouge Parish.

Once dogs are accepted into the program, FOTA makes sure they are spayed/neutered, vaccinated and microchipped before becoming available for adoption or transfer to a breed rescue group. Besides having their dog’s profile posted on five high-traffic pet adoption websites, PASS participants are encouraged to bring pets to the FOTA Adoption House and weekly meet-and-greets at Orvis in Perkins Rowe.

“For adopters, seeing and interacting with a dog on-site is so much better than just looking at a picture online,” says Dispenza. Potential adopters also fill out an application and submit a vet reference.

PASS now places an average of 16 dogs a month, who would otherwise have risked being euthanized at the shelter. Since October 2011, PASS has saved the lives of 350 dogs and enhanced the lives of Baton Rouge families by providing their perfect pup.

“I think PASS is successful,” Dispenza says, “because owners and finders [of stray dogs] have never had an avenue like this, and they are willing to work with us.”