Athens County shelters take in hundreds of animals from the streets and owners with second thoughts

Among a colony of 22 feral cats, one tortoiseshell cat stood out in Athens County resident Sheryl Bush’s mind — not just for its delicate face and long, splotchy brown, orange and white fur.

Bush, a volunteer for the Athens County Humane Society, has trapped dozens of cats throughout Athens to spay or neuter and release back into the wild, and she could tell that cat was different from the other 21 feral felines.

The tortoiseshell once had an owner, and Bush said she could tell by the way it rubbed its furry kitten face against strangers’ hands and begged for attention.

“She was so trusting, and that’s what really bothers me, they’re all so trusting of us to take care of them,” Bush said.

Organizations such as the Athens County Humane Society and the Athens County Dog Shelter try to rehome animals before they are left to form colonies on the streets.

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The number of strays in the county continues to be a fluctuating problem, but this year has already seen a high number of dog intakes, said Athens County Commissioner Lenny Eliason.

So far in 2015, the county has taken in 46 more dogs – including strays and unwanted pets – than it had in the first quarter of 2014.

“We have a certain capacity, so we try to keep ourselves below capacity,” Eliason said. “We just have to try and deal with it as it comes.”

The Athens County Dog Shelter, 13333 OH-13, Chauncey, took in 239 unwanted dogs in 2014, which was a decrease from the 307 they took in 2013. Stray dogs make up the most of its animal intake, said Jeff Koons, warden of the dog shelter. The organization found 654 dogs on its own last year.   

“You never know what you’re going to get in,” Koons said. “It’s a very random business.”

The Humane Society, which oversees adoptions for cats in the county, does not keep data on the number of cats it takes in each year, but Karen McGuire, the adoption coordinator for the volunteer organization, said she constantly receives calls looking to rehome a cat.

Once someone contacts the Humane Society to surrender his or her cat, the volunteers try to connect the cat with either a temporary home or a new owner.

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However, the organization needs some time – generally a week or two – to find a new residence for a pet, said Arianna Rinaldi-Eichenberg, president of the Athens County Humane Society.

The dog shelter has space for 48 animals in its Chauncey location, and generally the organization does not need all those cages, Koons said.

“Some people contact us just a couple of days before they’re moving and they expect us to come get the animal,” Rinaldi-Eichenberg said. “We have no physical location and we’re all volunteers, so it’s really difficult for us to show up on short notice like that.”

The Humane Society has some contacts for foster homes, generally people who already have a cat or a few, who can add another member to his or her family of pets temporarily, Rinaldi-Eichenberg said.

While kittens quickly find new homes, some adult cats sit with a foster family for a couple of months.

Espresso, a sleek black cat with a tail clipped to four inches, spent a few years with a temporary residence, but was recently adopted, Rinaldi-Eichenberg said.

Not every cat makes it into a foster home through the Humane Society. The kittens left to their own devices form colonies, or groups of cats that gravitate toward restaurants, stores or any location that smells like food.

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Bush said she’s seen a feral colony of more than 40 cats. 

To prevent stray populations from rising, the Humane Society works with another team of volunteers to trap, neuter or spay and release some of the feral populations.

Both the Athens County Humane Society and Dog Shelter try to explain to everyone who adopts how much attention animals need. Rinaldi-Eichenberg said she emphasizes the need for daily care to any students looking to adopt.

“I think a lot of students probably know that, but they don’t think about actually how much time and effort it will take, and money,” Rinaldi-Eichenberg said.