Arundel's lost cats and dogs more likely to find new homes

January 31, 1994|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Sun Staff Writer

An orange and white kitten meows and frantically pokes his paw from the cage, trying to attract attention. In the next room, a bright-eyed chow mix puppy barks excitedly. Dozens of dogs and cats peer out from their cages, seeming to beg for a new home.

Because they are wards of the Anne Arundel Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the chances are better than average that their wishes will come true.

The shelter's adoption rate is 45 percent -- more than twice the state average, according to a survey conducted last year by an animal welfare group in Calvert County.

The group surveyed 25 animal shelters throughout the state and found that Anne Arundel's SPCA shelter on Bay Ridge Avenue in Annapolis ranked first in percentage of dogs and cats adopted.

According to the study, the shelter took in 2,046 cats and 1,509 dogs. Workers there found homes for 33.8 percent of the cats and 61.2 percent of the dogs.

Frank Branchini, executive director of the Anne Arundel SPCA, attributed the high adoption rate to several factors. The shelter does not accept strays, and so takes in fewer animals than some agencies. Anne Arundel's Animal Control shelter, for example, took in 10,377 dogs and cats in 1993.

Mr. Branchini said the SPCA shelter also benefits from the relative affluence and high education level of the county's residents, who are less likely to give animals up for adoption.

He also said the high adoption rate is due in part to an aggressive effort to find homes for the animals.

The shelter regularly runs classified ads in local newspapers and includes pictures of animals available for adoption in its advertisements. Pictures of the shelter's dogs and cats also are posted in pet supply stores and veterinarian offices.

The shelter maintains a list of people wanting purebred animals and can usually find homes for any such animals that come to the shelter. The SPCA works with animal rescue clubs organized around certain breeds of dogs.

And the shelter maintains evening and weekend hours to make it easier for people to see the animals.

Mr. Branchini said the shelter has a policy of keeping animals as long as they are healthy and as long as there is room for them. In the winter, the shelter has many empty cages, but those quickly fill in the spring and summer when cats have their litters.

Despite the shelter's high adoption rate, a little more than half of the animals received there are euthanized.

The agency's adoption policies remain strict. Prospective owners are interviewed, and shelter workers try to ensure the right match between pet and person. People who adopt animals are required to have the animals spayed or neutered.

"I'd rather euthanize it than give it to a home where they keep the dog tied up on a 3-foot chain 24 hours a day out in the cold and rain," Mr. Branchini said.

The Anne Arundel SPCA, founded in 1920, is one of the oldest in the state. The shelter employs a staff of about a dozen workers and is helped by 300 active volunteers.

Mr. Branchini has worked as the executive director for five years, after becoming involved in animal rights issues 10 years ago.

He had spent several years as a political consultant, fighting for legislation to outlaw the use of shelter animals for medical research and for a law allowing police to break open cars to rescue animals in danger of exposure.

He blames his mother for his love of animals. She wouldn't allow him to have a dog when he was a boy, so now he has four of his own, in addition to the dogs that come to the shelter.

Although he said he enjoys working with animals, the job can make him sad.

"I always so badly wanted a dog that the idea of people abusing them is painful to me," Mr. Branchini said.

He tries to encourage people to have their dogs and cats altered to avoid unwanted litters. He has been lobbying for cat licensing so that lost cats may be more easily returned to their owners. And he supports increased fines for owners who allow their pets to roam at large.

Mr. Branchini said he sometimes becomes depressed at the numbers of animals his shelter must destroy because homes cannot be found for them.

"Sometimes you get sad," he said. "Sometimes you go home and cry about it."

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