The county faces an increase in adoptable pets.

The line at Hitchcock Road Animal Services was quite long the day after Christmas.

A young couple came to see the puppies. Three different families had not yet decided whether cats or dogs would be part of their homes. All were eager to see what was available and used the app to reserve a spot in line. The shelter limits the number of people who can be in the lobby.

A woman carried a load of beam blankets and placed them in the donation box at the door. She returned a few seconds later with 20 pounds of dog food and dropped it there too.

Another woman arrived to claim her dog, which had left home before the holiday. Fortunately, an identification chip implanted under his skin allowed the shelter to contact him.

Since the pandemic, Monterey County has seen an increase in stray cats and dogs. Animal shelter officials say the increase was due to a lack of services and pet care options available during the statewide shutdown.

Cindy Burnham, Hitchcock Road Animal Services Administrator, says the shelter is working to educate the public about pet ownership and the importance of spaying and neutering.

A partnership to help the four-legged residents of Monterey County

Burnham has worked on the details of a joint power agency for the past several years, which combined Salinas’ Department of Animal Services with Monterey County.

The deal was finalized last January. However, the shelter and the county have worked together since the beginning of the pandemic, Burnham said. Monterey County is the lead agency.

“We’re all county employees and the county owns the building,” Burnham said. “We have contract services where they only bring animals to us from Marina, Greenfield and Carmel. We are required by law to hold them for three days.

With the number of rescued animals increasing, the shelter is expanding its social media presence to let people know animals are available for adoption.

Burnham and his team are also working to increase the public image of their services. They bought the domain. HitchcockRoadAnimals.organd hope to have a new working, user-friendly website up and running by the end of January.

Strays go up to the shelter’s website as soon as they come in, Burnham said.

“There is a steady flow of animals to shelters across the country,” he added. “There wasn’t a lot of pet grooming or spaying and neutering going on during the pandemic.”

Burnham cited statistics from the National Animal Shelter.

“Shelters are seeing 6% to 8% more animals this year, with the number of puppies and kittens increasing because spaying and neutering programs were lagging during the pandemic,” she said.

Further complicating pet care is the shortage of veterinarians and veterinary technicians and the cost of these services.

“It’s hard to get an appointment,” Burnham said. “We’re seeing animals that look like they haven’t received basic care. When problems and allergies are left alone, they become much bigger problems.

The window to find the owner of a lost animal is short, so the team must act quickly.

“If an animal is reclaimed, it happens in less than three days,” Burnham said. “If people are going to reclaim them, they’re usually hot on their trail.”

If the animals are not claimed, the team talks about routes.

“We get a lot of fearful dogs, meaning they’re not aggressive but they’re just scared to death because they’re not socialized,” he said. “We will likely find a way for a rescue partner, usually working with them in a foster home.”

Burnham believes the number of animals adopted through the program has doubled.

If adoption is not an option and rescue is not an option, then they have to find a way to make the animals happy.

“We ask ourselves, can’t we do something else? We can’t hold them off indefinitely,” Burnham continued. “Since we’re charged with public safety, our question is: That ‘are we keeping a dog there that threatens public safety?’ If our answer is ‘yes’ then we cannot do it.

The shelter contracts with local veterinarians to provide essential medical care to rescued and euthanized animals.

Finding Forever Homes

Gail Kelly, a longtime volunteer, greeted guests as they entered the shelter. She was eager to explain her role working with shelter cats.

“A social cat will be adopted more quickly than an unsocial cat,” she said. “All the kittens I actually work with are adoptable. They just need some socialization, some human contact, some play.

Kelly insists that healthy feral kittens can be flipped.

Kelly and Mia Windham, who both volunteer with the cats, were quick to point out Coral and Peaches. They are brother and sister, cream-colored tabbies who bond and love to play together.

They share four interconnected cages and run between them but will stop and offer a paw to anyone who smiles at them.

Kelly said he is now about 10 months old. “Older kittens are difficult to adopt, but these two are so ready to find a permanent home that one donor has already paid their adoption fee.”

Buddy is a boxer mix that was abandoned, ears and tail undocked. He came with a skin condition that was now on the mend. Buddy is sharing an office with one of the employees and a wire fence extends his range to the corridor. He still needs nutrition but the team is waiting for him to grow a bit bigger and regrow more hair.

The shelter will only accept spayed or neutered pets. Application process and minimum fees involved. Adoption must be done in person. Future pet owners are also given advice on ownership and responsibility.

Become a volunteer today.

Hitchcock Road Animal Services is looking for animal lovers who have the time and patience to volunteer. They offer a variety of jobs that all increase the chance that a shelter animal will be adopted. To volunteer or visit the shelter, call (831) 769-8850.

To report a missing animal or an animal in distress, call the field office at 831-769-8856.

Hitchcock Road Animal Services, located at 160 Hitchcock Road, southwest of Salinas, is open for adoptions Tuesday through Saturday, 1 to 4 p.m.

Information online at the County of Monterey website: https://www.co.monterey.ca.us/government/departments-ah/health/monterey-county-animal-services

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