November 30, 2023

Hoping for Homes: Local humane societies share triumphs and challenges

By Karl Klockars | Oct. 22, 2022

It’s been a couple of years since the phrase “pandemic puppy” entered our lives, and for those among us who helped empty the shelters and added a new pet to the family in 2020, it might be almost time for another Gotcha Day. But how are our humane societies and animal shelters doing in the wake of the global pandemic? How have they adapted, where are they now, and what do they need from us?

We checked in with three major NoMi shelters to find out. Collectively, they have nearly two centuries of animal-care experience among them, and they help find homes for everything from puppies and kittens to guinea pigs, lizards, livestock, and more. Here’s what they’re up to.

Cherryland Humane Society
For the team at the Cherryland Humane Society in Traverse City, there are a few different ways Executive Director Heidi Yates describes the last few years. Phrases like “incredibly emotional” and “a rollercoaster” come up, but above all is praise for the people that have helped keep the shelter going for over 65 years.

“I have an amazing staff that I literally cannot do this without because you never know what’s going to come through your doors. It’s a very difficult and very rewarding job at the same time,” she says.

Even though their overall adoption level has slowed somewhat, that job has gotten more difficult this year thanks to a few different factors.

“What we’re seeing now are seeing more owner surrenders due to not being able to afford how much it costs to care for a pet,” says shelter manager Tia Barbera. “We’ve seen an uptick in not only strays and surrenders, but neglect. Abuse. Hoarding. And dogs adopted through COVID are returning because they haven’t had the proper training or socialization. So it’s very cyclical.”

Some of that neglect and abuse can be ascribed to what were dubbed the “Disney dogs,” the 160+ animals rescued from an East Bay Township home in February. Many of those dogs were adopted within the first two months, but others were pregnant or needed medical care before being ready to house. “You can say you prep for disaster, but you can’t prep for that. So to watch this team seamlessly not just house them, but … it was just amazing,” Yates says.

That event helped prompt a lot of immediate donations, but right now, there are still needs across the board. “It changes every day,” Yates says. “We might need fosters. We need more dog walkers. We need cat volunteers. We need supplies. So we kind of always need it all, so to speak.”

That help comes through the vast community of staff, volunteers, and pet lovers the society has built over the decades. “It really takes a village to do what we do and we’re just so thankful that we can do it,” Barbera says. “Any support that we can continue to get from our village and our community is just going to help us continue what we’re doing and growing to help as many as we can help.”

Little Traverse Bay Humane Society
Since opening in 1951, Little Traverse Bay Humane Society (LTBHS) of Harbor Springs has expanded beyond just sheltering animals into a one-stop shop for animal-care needs. They board animals and provide doggy daycare and grooming, as well as veterinary services for pets and shelter animals alike.

Even with all of that, LTBHS’s mission is still all in service of housing stray animals, according to Marketing and Communications Coordinator Jessica Evans. “The primary focus is, and continues to be, homeless animals in our care that need help. Everything goes back to our shelter in our mission to save lives here,” she says.

The shelter takes in an average of 500 animals each year, a number that quickly changed in early 2020.

“We did see that spike in 2020. We tried to get all of our shelter animals into foster homes within a week’s time when the pandemic hit [and] our community was incredible responding to that,” Evans said. “I would say the majority of those foster homes that took in an animal just as a temporary thing ended up adopting, which is just the best possible thing.”

Adoptions this year are creeping back up this year as well, up by over 50 animals since this time in 2021.

Which animals need the most help at the moment? It’s easiest to find homes for young pets, and even older cats and dogs are finding families to go home with. It’s the animals with special health or behavioral needs that take the longest to house. “[Maybe] they have to be the only animal in the home or they’re extremely shy and fearful,” Evans says. “Those are the ones that are a little more challenging—we have to work a little harder to find that right fit.”

If you want to lend a hand, there are a few ways you can contribute. “We’re always in need of foster families to help out: maybe you’re fostering litters of kittens, or maybe caring for an animal who’s going through heartworm treatment, or volunteers to come in and spend some time with animals or do some walking,” Evans says.

Donation supplies and monetary donations are always welcome as well, but anyone with a pet can also help out in one simple way, Evans says: “Utilize our clinic or daycare or boarding services. All the proceeds from those businesses go right back to the shelter.”

Cheboygan County Humane Society
The team at the Cheboygan County Humane Society (CCHS) has to cover a lot of ground in their efforts to house homeless pets: They’re responsible for running the shelter for not just Cheboygan County but Presque Isle County as well, covering over 1,500 square miles of territory for all kinds of animals.

“We handle anything from horses to goats, guinea pigs … whatever we can find a home for,” explains Director Mary Talaske. “We recently had [someone] lose their home and [they] had hedgehogs, chinchillas, rabbits … and we were able to place all those animals.”

The immediate effects of the pandemic actually weren’t that bad for the shelter, though some pivots were required. “We learned how to limit our intake to just the number of animals that we can handle and we did adoptions by appointment to limit the number of people coming in and out.” Turns out, that wasn’t the hard part. “The worst of it has been the last four or five months,” Talaske says.

Prior to the pandemic, Talaske and her team were starting to get where they needed to be for a healthy pet population. “If people have their animals spayed or neutered, eventually you’ll get to the point where there’s just enough animals born to fulfill the need for people that want to adopt them,” Talaske said. “Then when the pandemic hit and the governor closed the veterinary clinic, all bets were off. People were at home. They were bored. And they were getting dogs not necessarily from shelters.”

As people adopted pets from neighbors or found litters on Facebook, those animals often didn’t get spayed or neutered and also weren’t properly socialized. Two years down the road, CCHS shelter is seeing animals come back in from people that weren’t prepared for them. “And now the shelters are filling up with these dogs that are almost impossible to place. That’s a real problem,” Talaske says.

CCHS could currently use some more volunteers and more help with their fundraising efforts, but one little thing that goes a long way right now is very simple: food. “If we can help people get through the winter with their pets, then they don’t have to take them into the shelter,” Talaske says. “If we can get them through the winter by giving them a bag of dog food every few weeks, it’s well worth it. That’s one less pet we have to worry about.”


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