Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County

Hamilton County's No-Kill Animal Shelter Pushes Fostering and Adoptions

March 18, 2022 Bridget Doherty
Hamilton County's No-Kill Animal Shelter Pushes Fostering and Adoptions
Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County
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Heart and Hustle in Hamilton County
Hamilton County's No-Kill Animal Shelter Pushes Fostering and Adoptions
Mar 18, 2022
Bridget Doherty

There's a new Dog Warden in town. Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society is Hamilton County’s first no-kill shelter operator -  fulfilling the County's Dog Warden responsibilities of collecting stray dogs and enforcing dog licenses. 

In August 2020, Cincinnati Animal CARE officially  took over operations of the County's dog shelter in Northside. At that time, the shelter was at full capacity. In 2021, they saw a near 70% increase in total animals coming in, and 2022 has shown no signs of slowing down. Cincinnati Animal CARE has taken in 320 animals since March 1.  Listen as we discuss what a "no-kill" shelter means and how Cincinnati Animal CARE is dealing with the capacity challenges. 

Cincinnati Animal CARE is open to the public seven days a week from 1pm - 6pm at 3949 Colerain Ave. Visit them today, meet the staff, and adopt or foster!

To learn more about Hamilton County, Ohio, our services and job openings, visit hamiltoncountyohio.gov.

Show Notes Transcript

There's a new Dog Warden in town. Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society is Hamilton County’s first no-kill shelter operator -  fulfilling the County's Dog Warden responsibilities of collecting stray dogs and enforcing dog licenses. 

In August 2020, Cincinnati Animal CARE officially  took over operations of the County's dog shelter in Northside. At that time, the shelter was at full capacity. In 2021, they saw a near 70% increase in total animals coming in, and 2022 has shown no signs of slowing down. Cincinnati Animal CARE has taken in 320 animals since March 1.  Listen as we discuss what a "no-kill" shelter means and how Cincinnati Animal CARE is dealing with the capacity challenges. 

Cincinnati Animal CARE is open to the public seven days a week from 1pm - 6pm at 3949 Colerain Ave. Visit them today, meet the staff, and adopt or foster!

To learn more about Hamilton County, Ohio, our services and job openings, visit hamiltoncountyohio.gov.

Jeff Aluotto:

Hello and welcome to Heart and hustle in Hamilton County, a podcast entirely dedicated to the people and policies that form Hamilton county government. This is actually our first show of the new year. So let's do a little bit of reset. Why the name, heart and hustle vote describes the public servants who make our local government work. Each of our episodes focuses on creative solutions to the challenges that our 49 communities face, as well as how our different county departments tackle those challenges. It's kind of a local government 101 For listeners who are curious and want to learn more about their local government. I'm your host, Jeff Alito, I'm the County Administrator. And with me, as always, is communications manager Bridget Doherty, Bridget, can I say Happy New Year,

Bridget Doherty:

happy new year, a couple months in a couple months

Jeff Aluotto:

late, but you know, or post or post masking too. So this is a good thing. And today, Bridget, we've been dying to do this show for a while. So we're going to dive in today to Hamilton County's no kill animal shelter that's run by a Cincinnati animal care. The Hamilton County Animal Shelter for those of you that don't know is located in north side 3949 Colerain Avenue. And under Ohio law, you know, we got to get a little wonky in these things right. But under Ohio law, counties are responsible for providing the function of the dog warden in the county in 2020. Hamilton County switch providers from the SPCA with whom we had a long standing positive relationship with distance any animal care, which is a no kill animal shelter with a mission to provide a safety net for any animal need. So joining us today is Ray Anderson, the shelter's media and community relations manager to discuss what has been like taking over for the dog Warden function, all those responsibilities and operations for the past year and a half and what it means to operate a no kill shelter. So, Ray, welcome to the show. Before we discuss the shelter, I'd like to know just that the Publican, Hamilton County lote know a little bit more about you so right, welcome. And tell us about yourself.

Ray Anderson:

Thank you so much for having me. I'm very excited to be here. I'm really excited to get to do this, again, talking to microphone with headphones on. It's been a long time. So my background comes from broadcasting. Right here in Hamilton County in Cincinnati, I had about a 20 year radio career. Most recently at MCs 94, nine, Cincinnati, and my career ended during the pandemic, I was part of some some COVID related restructuring. And I didn't know what I was going to do next. And it all happened to kind of coincide with Cincinnati animal care being formed. And I had a previous relationship with our executive director Carolyn Evans, who also runs the my furry Valentine event, MCs 94 Nine, and my furry Valentine were partners in that event, and I was always there. And I got to know all the various shelters and rescues around town. And it just so happened that an opportunity to join the shelter when the organization was being formed in 2020 happened right at the same time. And it was I mean, very fortuitous for me because this is something I've always wanted to do, which is work with animals, but I don't have the science or intelligence to be a veterinarian. So this is a really great opportunity for me. Well, we're

Jeff Aluotto:

happy to have you here. And unfortunately, COVID you know, shut a lot of doors on a lot of people. And a lot of terrible ways. But you know, I think we've all gotten up to speed, maybe more so than we would like seeing the silver lining and some of the things that COVID has forced us to do or opportunities that opened it up. So for you it actually opened up an opportunity into the animal care world.

Ray Anderson:

I would Yeah, I would say losing my job was the greatest thing that ever happened to me getting to do this. This is what I've been waiting my life to do.

Bridget Doherty:

That's so cool. So first question out of the gate. Sure. Full disclosure, how many animals do you own?

Ray Anderson:

I have five pets of my own at home. I have two cat guys, three cats and two dogs.

Bridget Doherty:

So I always feel like that's an important question when you're talking about the dog Warden services at the county. Oh, sure. When we talk to commissioners, the you know, like how many pets do you actually own? Before you get into this conversation now, when we did have that great relationship with the SPCA, and Darrell, it Harold dates was around. He always brought in an animal during that the commission meetings which was kind of

Ray Anderson:

I'm sorry, I didn't bring a dog for the podcast. I know. I'm so sorry. Had I had I known I would I would have brought one over.

Bridget Doherty:

Maybe we could edit some dogs in the back row but we do.

Jeff Aluotto:

I've got regular update meetings that our budget director Assistant Administrator John Bergen I have with Carolyn on a regular basis and she has been nice enough to bring even though we've been doing these virtually through COVID that she will bring dogs onto onto that Occasionally, just because she knows my attention span needs to be woken up with the dog got to see a puppy. Absolutely, absolutely. So, Ray, tell us first a little bit about some of the shelter services that Cincinnati animal care does provide to the county. Sure.

Ray Anderson:

So you touched on it a little bit there in the intro of course, per the Ohio Revised Code. Every county in the state of Ohio is required to provide stray dog pickup and stray dog hold for three days. A lot of counties throughout the state will partner with the Humane Society to run shelter operations, which is what we do here in Hamilton County. Previous operator was SPCA Cincinnati as of August 1 2020. That is now Cincinnati animal care. So in addition to providing stray dog pickup and stray dog hold for three days, which is handled by the Hamilton County dog wardens are typically the ones going out collecting the strays. We also provide the animal shelter, we run the animal shelter. any stray dog that comes through Hamilton County comes to Cincinnati animal care. After that three days, that three day hold is up. Typically, that's when a dog will go up for adoption. We provide adoption services, adoption counseling for both dogs, cats, the occasional rabbit, guinea pig, the occasional mouse gerbil, I think there might be a bearded dragon, here and there over the years, you know, if they if it's an animal and animals and county, a lot of times it comes to us. So we provide those adoption services. We also have a robust foster program. That's part of what we do. Kitty City with our big cat areas, something that we do. Pretty much anything animal related in Hamilton County is going to come through us.

Jeff Aluotto:

So Ray, the follow up on that. Explain what a no kill shelter is, and how that might differ from a typical animal shelter for those who may be unfamiliar. Sure, and

Ray Anderson:

that's a great question. And the phrase no kill is definitely something that gets thrown around a lot. That I'm not sure if people truly know what what the exact definition is. And for us, we're a no kill animal shelter, which means we do not euthanize for space, convenience, or a feeling. We're not like, oh, that dog kind of has a weird look, we better put them down like that's that's not what we do. And I think traditionally, through animal sheltering people are used to the animal shelter being the dog pound, and the days of the dog pound are going away. And nationally, we're starting to see this we work with a lot of other shelters throughout the country, to bring this no kill mission to Hamilton County, which is a very big area to be bringing this mission to and it's challenging to do. But what it really means is that no kill means that we only euthanize in the event of a serious injury, grave illness, or we believe there's an imminent threat to public safety. Euthanasia literally translates to to end suffering. So that's when we make the decision to euthanize an animal. It doesn't mean that you know, animals come in, and no matter what condition they're in, no matter what their temperament. They're never ever, ever going to be euthanized. But that is a decision that we don't take lightly, is what that means. And we only euthanize in those situations where it is deemed medically behaviorally necessary.

Bridget Doherty:

So you had mentioned when you first came on, it was during COVID. And so you guys basically took over the contract at that right in the beginning of the pandemic, I think it was like August.

Ray Anderson:

Yeah, so we probably about three months into the panda bears, I'm sorry, about seven months into the pandemic, when we took over on August 1 of 2020. Gotcha.

Bridget Doherty:

And what was that experience like running the the dog shelter operations during a pandemic? So

Ray Anderson:

everybody heard the stories during the beginning of the pandemic, that animal shelters were getting cleared out. That's what everybody heard. That was the big headline. By around that time, though, people were starting, we were starting to, quote unquote, reopen. Of course, you know, there were still a lot of things in place and still a lot of moving parts. But you know, my mom works in restaurants. I'm pretty sure she started going back to work around May, maybe June is when she went back to work when the pandemic started. So we came on board. After all the shelters had been cleared. When we came into the shelter on day one in Northside at 3949 Colerain Avenue, there were already about 90 dogs in the building. And we have about the space for maybe we consider we have 100, suitable kennels, for dogs. So we were already operating at capacity. And I think at that particular moment in the pandemic, was when there was a lot of uncertainty. You know, early on in the pandemic, we're going to be at home for a while you're going to be working from home for a while, so you can go get a dog. But once we were starting that read that slow reopening, and then you know kind of closing back up again in the fall of 2020. And then you know, those hills and valleys throughout 2021. I think there's a lot of uncertainty and when there's a lot of uncertainty, kinda like back in 2008, when we saw the housing collapse, that's probably when people are least likely to take on a big life change, like adopting a dog. So that's, that's our biggest hurdle that I think we've been facing since coming on board during the pandemic, is we didn't get that luxury of clearing the shelter out. And now we're dealing, we're still dealing with a lot of uncertainty. And even now, as we're, you know, reopened and mass mandates are going away, there's still a lot, there's a weird climate throughout not just Hamilton County, but the country, the world right now. And I think that makes people nervous about taking on such a big change.

Jeff Aluotto:

So speaking of that, and this is maybe a little bit of a loaded question. But the demand for shelter services just continues to be so high in this community. So talk just a little bit about how the shoulder goes about dealing with all of that demand and the constant flow of activity. There's no break, I can imagine it just it's constantly there.

Ray Anderson:

Yeah, that was a big thing in my previous line of work, where when things would get really busy, or really tough, or like, I just got to get through the, I gotta get through the spring book. Once we get through the spring ratings, period, I'm gonna be good, I'll take a little vacation, everything be fine. Doing this job. I'm like, I just got to get through everything and never stops. And we've already seen probably about a 40% increase in total animal intake over the last six months. But the six months before that, we're no picnic, either. We're we've been dealing with a massive increase, particularly in stray dogs coming in off the street. And I and I do want to say in regards to COVID in the pandemic, it's a common narrative that what we're seeing is people who rushed out to get these dogs during the pandemic are bringing them back. Now, if that were the case, we would be seeing if these were dogs adopted from reputable shelters or rescues, they'd be coming in spayed and neutered microchipped, they'd have some kind of identification to them. But that's not we're seeing we're seeing on altered animals, non microchipped animals, most likely backyard breeding situations is what's coming into the shelter. So I don't think I think running the AI the common narrative that it's people rushing out and returning dogs that they can't care for anymore. That's not really bared out by our data.

Bridget Doherty:

So I've got kind of a personal interest in this next question for you, which is your foster care network. My one of my nephew's recently fostered a dog with his college roommates with us. Yeah. Oh, awesome. Exactly. And I was like, How is this happening, and they were really into it. And it was this beautiful German Shepherd. That was a little, it was a mature dog. And they cared for him until he got a permanent Helm. And I thought, how I was really curious on how these college kids decided to foster. And apparently, you have a pretty robust fostering system.

Ray Anderson:

And that kind of ties in with Jeff's last question there, of how we manage the sheer amount of intake coming in. I mean, right now what we're seeing, I haven't run the numbers as of this morning, but I think yesterday, we're recording this on March 9, I think as of yesterday morning, we had already taken in about 140 animals in the month of March. And we have about 100 suitable kennels in the shelter. So obviously, that math doesn't work out and we're already full. So our foster is our lifeline fostering is critical to what we do. And it's critical to what a lot of rescues, and a lot of other shelters do as well, because of that space. What makes fostering so important is it turns the community into the animal shelter. At the end of the day, these dogs don't belong in a concrete kennel behind a fence where maybe they get out for an hour a day. They belong in homes, these are companion animals, and when they're in those foster homes, that's where we get to learn their true personality. That's when we start to see the behaviors of how they'll be in a home versus in a shelter with 99 other dogs barking around them at all times. And they're stressed they're scared they don't know where they are, they don't have their people. So fostering is we say fostering saves lives that's literally speaking, not only does it help us, from a capacity standpoint, helps the animal from a behavioral standpoint. And to your specific question about college kids. College kids have been a huge part of what we do. And I think bringing this relatively new, no kill philosophy to Hamilton County. Of course, a lot of people have been working on this for decades. But you know, it's really starting to gain national traction. It's it's younger people that are motivated by this. They're the ones that are that are stepping up and we recruit from colleges all the time. And yeah, a lot of our fosters are in their early 20s. And we love them. We love them. It's such an amazing thing. We have a dog right now. Her name is majesty she came in, she was pretty injured. She had clearly gotten into some kind of fight with a dog. There's a difference between did she get in a fight with a dog on the street or dog fight? We don't know. But she now lives with a group of I think four young women in their college house. And she's doing great. Her favorite activity is one of the girls will will get down on the floor, she'll hop on her back and she'll get a piggyback ride.

Jeff Aluotto:

Ray, are there other strategies that you use for setting up a successful foster never, I'd never would have guessed the college kid angle. But are there other angles you use for for setting up that foster network

Ray Anderson:

as of right now, social media is far and away, the number one driving force of us getting our message out. We don't, we don't spend a lot of money on marketing at the moment. And because we think our funds could be allocated towards care for animals. So really, a lot of what we do is strictly through social media, which of course is where younger folks are. And that really helps us get the word out. And it helps us once we've created this network of fosters, we have our own specific private Facebook group just for our foster family, which is what we call all of our Foster's. And they're constantly out there recruiting and to put it in, you know, young people terms, we it goes viral, one person tells two friends and they tell two friends, and so on and so on. And it's really word of mouth and getting the word out on social media. That's been a huge part of our building this quite honestly, massive foster program.

Bridget Doherty:

So if anybody's listening, what kind of foster care options do you have? Or how do they get involved?

Ray Anderson:

Sure, a lot of a lot of rescues, particularly smaller rescues, yo foster with them until the animal gets adopted, we have a pretty loose strategy with our foster program. Our idea is if you're able to give over however much time of your schedule, that's going to help us out and we're gonna, we're gonna match you with the animal that's going to fit your lifestyle, your schedule your home life, and we're going to do our best to match you with the animal that's going to fit that we'll have some animals that we do think need to stay in a foster home until they get adopted, left some that if they could just get out for two weeks, we're pretty sure either they will get adopted, or they'll get adopted very soon after they come back from from Foster. So that's a huge part of what we do. On our website, Cincinnati animal care.org, you'll see a little tab that says Get involved. And that's where you can sign up to foster.

Jeff Aluotto:

Are there things that people should know? If if someone was thinking about adopting or fostering an animal? What should they know? Right, right out of the gate? I'm sure a lot of people that hear it and want to do it. Sure. But what are the what are the realities?

Ray Anderson:

I think the biggest hurdle to people fostering is, I don't think I could do it, because I don't think I could give the animal back. And that's I think I would want to keep them all. And that was totally my philosophy towards fostering both of my dogs. I got from rescues, which were foster to adopt, like, I took them home, they were in a foster based rescue, I took them home for the week, and I knew that this was going to be the dog I was adopting. But coming into this line of work, and seeing how vital fostering is to our program, of course, the end goal for any animal is to get them adopted. That is That is of course what we want to do. But an adoption saves one animal and that's great. That's what we absolutely need. But fostering we have some fosters with us that have already fostered over 30 animals in 18 months, and they get to help 30 animals, you know, I get to help a new animal once a month, or you know, every couple of weeks. And I think that is a very rewarding experience for people. Of course, if you're thinking about adopting one thing I should say about fostering as well as it's free, it's temporary, we provide supplies, we provide veterinary care, you'll just bring the dog to the shelter and our vet staff will will work with them. But if you're thinking about adopting the big thing that we always say is ask yourself, can I provide a safe loving home for this animal? can I provide it with with its basic needs? And is there anything in my Is there anything upcoming in my life that may change those circumstances? And if you think that you're able to take it on, I think a lot of people doubt their abilities to foster or adopt an animal. But for the most part, you know, love is safe loving homes come in all shapes and sizes.

Bridget Doherty:

So, you know, I haven't really done the research on this. But how typical isn't for county to contract with a no kill provider.

Ray Anderson:

So that would that data I don't have offhand myself either. I think that's something I could certainly get. I know it's increasing. There are a lot of great organizations across the country that are bringing this philosophy to their county and in counties and cities larger than ours. Were Starting to see this mentality. I mean, we'll take in about, I'd say roughly between six and 8000 animals a year. Last year, we took in a little over 7200. So a little on the higher side, but we work with shelters and rescues, particularly in like South Texas that will take in 25,000 animals a year, and they're bringing this, this philosophy to their communities. So it's it's definitely going up. But it's definitely not something any of these organizations can do alone. We always say life saving is a community ethic. And we can't there with the sheer number of animals coming in. There's no way we could be no killed without our community's help its foster foster Foster is such a massive part of that no kill mission.

Jeff Aluotto:

And with that, said, Ray, so we've talked a little bit about fostering and adopting. How else can someone get involved and help out with the efforts of the shelter? Sure. And

Ray Anderson:

I mean, I totally get it like, in my case, I have five animals at home, as we discussed, I can't take on any more. My house isn't that big. I will occasionally take home an overnight foster here and there. I think my last Foster had for about 12 hours before she got adopted. So if you're in that case, we're like, oh, I have a dog. He doesn't like other dogs. I don't know what to do. How can I help. We have volunteer opportunities available to shelter we have a walk team that meets at least four times a week, sometimes more, and they walk every single dog in the shelter while they're there. And then we also have volunteers that graduate to next levels where they can come in and pool their own dogs. Even on days where we're not doing walk groups of dogs are still getting out. Of course, we have basic needs at the shelter where people can help out people can volunteer at Kitty City if you're more of a cat person than a dog person. Even something as simple as like laundry and dishes. That frees up our animal care staff to work directly with the animals. And then if we can get things like that off our plate, it's not the sexiest thing in the world, you know, coming in and doing dishes, but it helps immensely Of course. We always say adopt if you can adopt foster if you can't foster volunteer, if you can't volunteer, donate, and if you can't donate spread the word. Just getting the word out. It's a very confusing change with what happened between us and SPCA, Cincinnati SPCA Cincinnati was here for decades, and they became synonymous with animal welfare. In Cincinnati. I think a lot of people think that the name SPCA means government entity, but anybody can call their their rescue and SPCA justice we call ourselves Cincinnati Animal Care Humane Society, that doesn't necessarily mean that we're affiliated with the ASPCA or the Humane Society of the United States. So those are those are names. And I think that is that has created a lot of confusion because people for so long, just yeah, the SPCA is who's in charge. That's not the case anymore. Cincinnati Animal Care is your county shelter. If you live in Hamilton County, it is the one and only county shelter. So getting the word out about that is crucial.

Bridget Doherty:

So I follow you guys on social media and you do a phenomenal job.

Ray Anderson:

I will be sure to tell the person that does that they do who's in the room who's in the room right now. Thank you very much, right. My ego is not gonna get me through this door later.

Bridget Doherty:

But you guys did go viral on a couple of your posts. Sure. One of my favorite was following Sammy Sammy, tell our listeners a little bit about Sammy.

Ray Anderson:

So Sammy came into the shelter. A very sad situation CMEs and was a 19 year old cat. His owner who had had him those entire 19 years total had to go into an assisted living facility. Couldn't take Sammy with him. Really unfortunate. He did not want to give up this animal and we Adam, he told us he's like this cats turning 19 Next week, but I don't know what to do. So we took Sammy in. We have a very, very passionate, dedicated team of cat lovers over in Kitty City, who decided I wish I could take credit for this idea because it's the greatest thing I ever saw. It's the greatest thing we've ever done as a shelter. But they decided to throw Sammy a birthday party for his 19th birthday. It did go viral. We were in HuffPost News Week. I think there was a couple Icelandic publications that reached out New Zealand, Scotland, it went everywhere. Because of that Sammy found a tremendous adopter, who local community member worked at a vet clinic. By the time she got Sammy home, she knew he wasn't long for this world. He's a 19 year old cat. So he really I think he only lived another week after that, which of course broke our hearts to hear that. But he got to live his final days with somebody who was so excited to meet him and loved him and gave him everything he needed. This cat was treated like a prince for his last his last days and While we wish we could, we could have a little bit more time with Sammy. His legacy lives on at Cincinnati animal care.

Bridget Doherty:

That's fantastic.

Jeff Aluotto:

Well, while you wish you had more time with Sammy, I wish we had more time with you, Ray because it's been a really cool discussion. Really appreciate your time and everything that you're doing for for Cincinnati, Hamilton County and animals here in the community. Thank

Ray Anderson:

you so much for having me. Anytime you guys want to talk. I'll talk about the shelter all day every day. So that's my favorite thing to talk about. So thank you so much for having us.

Jeff Aluotto:

Well, we will bring you back for an update. And for those of you listening thanks for listening to what is season two episode one of heart and hustle in Hamilton County. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcasts, Spotify and other providers. You can find the podcast on our website, Hamilton County ohio.gov on the county administrator's page. So on behalf of my co host Bridget Doherty and Cleo Felix and nutmeg, the three cats of the Ludo household. We'll see you next time.