Would-be pet owners considering a furry friend will get more than the satisfaction of a loving companion if they adopt now - they may be saving a healthy animal from premature death.
Officials with Lee County Animal Services say the shelter is in crisis and, while putting an adoptable animal down is always a choice of last resort, overcrowding is leaving few alternatives.
"A minimum of 30 dogs need to be placed to prevent the euthanasia of healthy adoptable pets due to owner irresponsibility in never reclaiming their owned animals," said Donna Ward, LCDAS director, in a prepared statement. "Only 13 out of every 100 dogs and less than one of every 100 cats are ever reclaimed by their owners in our community. Shelter employees shouldn't have to euthanize animals due to irresponsible owners and animals shouldn't have to pay with their lives."
Rocko is an American bull dog mix. He's about 1 year old.
Square Dog Photography
The shelter typically sees more "strays" over long weekends, such as Labor Day, when more people are out and about, shelter officials said.
Most of these animals have owners.
Most, though, are never claimed, putting additional strain on shelter capacity.
Last year, for example, of all the cats turned in to the shelter as lost pets or strays, only 60 were claimed.
"The shelter typically sees an increase over a long weekend like we just had," said shelter spokesperson Ria Brown. "What we really feel is that what always makes this situation worse is that people tend not to claim their pets. You would think that most people would reclaim their pets, but that is not the situation. It's sad."
In the last two months alone,1,800 animals have come into the shelter, putting the facility in crisis mode.
"Depending on the time of year that's an increase of 30 to 50 percent more," Brown said. "Just our cats alone during this time of year triple."
To accommodate as many healthy, adoptable pets as possible, the shelter has taken a number of actions. They've added dog cages to the conference room and turned a visitor's room into housing for cat "tweens" - kittens six months and older but not yet a year.
They've also turned to rescues, other shelters, pet foster homes and greatly reduced already low adoption fees.
This month, a "Back to School" adoption special allows those adopting a pet to draw a coupon worth $20 to $50 off the regular adoption fee. The discount coupons will save adopters at least 20 percent and as much as 100 percent off the regular fees, officials said.
Regular fees are $95 for puppies; $75 for dogs six months and older; $75 for kittens; $50 for cats and $25 for any cat or dog six years or older. Cats and kittens, as always, are two for the price of one.
The fees include sterilization, age appropriate vaccinations, county license, microchip ID, de-worming, flea treatment, a heartworm test for dogs, feline AIDs and leukemia test for cats, a 10-day health guarantee, and a bag of dog or cat food.
The adoption package is valued at more than $500, a shelter release states.
"We've pretty much done everything we can think of, and we still have more animals coming in than going out," Brown said.
In addition to its adoption programs, the shelter offers programs to limit the number of unwanted pets.
Those on public assistance can qualify for free pet food and free pet sterilization. Pit bull breeds and mixes also are eligible for free spay or neuter.
"It doesn't matter what your income level is," Brown said of the "For Pits Sake" program. "You can get a voucher from us and get it done and participating veterinarians. And they get a free microchip."
A trap-and-release program provides similar services for feral cats to keep the kitten population down.
For those who can't adopt but still would like to help, donations, volunteers and pet foster parents are always welcome. See the shelter web site, leelostpets.com for more details and the appropriate applications.
Animals lost, and those available for adoption, may also be viewed on the site, which is updated hourly. Animals without identification are held three days; those with IDs, such as tags or microchips, for five. After that, the shelter assumes ownership and the animal can be placed up for adoption or transferred to a rescue, foster or another shelter - provided space can be found.
"Our goal is not euthanize healthy animals," Brown said. "We keep them as long as we can. We've held some for up to a year but to hold an animal that long, we need a lot of animals going out. That's not happening right now.
"It's really serious, we need people to step up to the plate and do their part," she added. "If everyone thinks someone else is going to do it, it's not going to happen."
The shelter is at 5600 Banner Drive, Fort Myers, next to the Lee County Sheriff's Office off Six Mile Cypress Parkway. Adoption viewing hours are Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. each day.