SPCA reaches out with new mobile unit

Pets: The society's `RV with cages' brings animals and potential owners together.

Anne Arundel

April 09, 2004|By Liz Boch | Liz Boch,SUN STAFF

Marilyn Sylvester was nearly beside herself with excitement. Behind a makeshift fence at Annapolis Harbour Center, an 8-week-old puppy named Diane - a Labrador-German shepherd mix - yipped and wagged her tail and captured the 3-year-old's heart.

"Can we buy her? I want to buy that one!" Marilyn told her father, with as much conviction as the child could muster.

It was a typical scene at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Anne Arundel County's most recent "Waggin' Tails" Mobile Adoption event.

The recent weekend visit was one of several each month in which SPCA volunteers load up their 32-foot mobile unit - described as an "RV with cages" - with adoptable dogs, cats and sometimes guinea pigs and bring them to a shopping center or other location.

The dogs are let out of their cages and clad in yellow, Velcro-fastened vests that say "Adopt Me." Puppies are set up in a portable fence outside the mobile unit, and cats are showcased through a glass window along the unit's wall.

The aim is to find new homes for the shelter's animals and to generate public awareness of the SPCA's work.

"Not many people know the Annapolis-based shelter serves all of Anne Arundel County," said Christina Lopez, the shelter's volunteer and events coordinator. "That's what this thing is nice for."

National experts said mobile adoption units are part of a growing trend at animal shelters throughout the country.

Bringing animals off the shelter site, either through a mobile unit or by using space at malls and parking lots, can debunk the myth of the "sick, aggressive pets" housed at shelters, said Kate Pullen, director of animal sheltering for the Humane Society of the United States.

"You're reaching a whole population that would never be inclined to come to your shelter," Pullen said. "They're going to remember years from now the mobile unit with the cute puppy and go to the shelter and take a look."

The outreach effort isn't cheap - the "Waggin' Tails" mobile adoption unit costs more than $150,000, Lopez said. That can be a difficult purchase for shelters, which rely mostly, if not entirely, on donations.

But officials at the Montgomery County Humane Society said its 28-foot unit attracts donors as well as potential pet owners.

"By having the unit, it's a big poster board," said Mary Fisher, a Montgomery County program employee. "It makes people aware that there is a shelter that exists out there. It's good advertising for the animals."

The SPCA of Anne Arundel County received its mobile unit through a donation in October from Annapolis resident Mark Eisner Jr. Since then, nine animals have been placed directly through the mobile runs, said Sue Beatty, executive director of the shelter. She expects that total to increase.

"With the mobile unit, you'll get the people who don't like to come into the shelter," Beatty said. "People don't like to see animals in cages."

On the recent visit, the shelter brought three adult dogs, two puppies and six cats, some of which had been at the shelter for more than a year.

Visitors swarmed to the animals, selecting their favorite - or falling for them all. Several women asked about the older dogs - Bosco, Babe and Dakota. Joshua Julian, a 7-year-old from Shady Side, said he liked the puppies, though he had two dogs at home.

Anita Peddicord of Harwood, who has an admitted weakness for orange cats, said she would visit the shelter in June to look at cats for her farm. That's a typical response, according to volunteers, who said that even if animals are not adopted directly from the unit, the awareness of the county's shelter increases.

At the recent event, volunteers passed out adoption and foster care information to at least a dozen people out of about 100 who stopped by to play with the animals.

"It's really exciting," Beatty said. "People just love animals."

The "Waggin' Tails" mobile adoption unit will visit the PETsMART in Annapolis from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday. For information on the unit and other shelter services, call the SPCA of Anne Arundel County at 410-268-4388.

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