A look inside the Dumb Friends League SLV Animal Center, and the summer ahead

By Owen Woods | owen@alamosacitizen.com


SPRING has seen a surge of surrendered and stray dogs at the San Luis Valley Animal Center and at affiliated Dumb Friends League locations across Colorado. With summer on the horizon, there’s growing concern of more of the same – an overwhelming number of pets in need of love.

Elaine Wood, director of satellite operations at the SLV Animal Center said, “A lot of staff are worried what the summer is going to hold … There’s a lot of concern and or fear about what may happen this summer, and how we’re gonna get through when our population is already so high.” 

Dumb Friends League locations across Colorado have seen an increase in dog surrenders, up 19 percent, and stray intakes, up 41 percent, compared to 2019. The population has been so high that the SLV Animal Center and DLF locations across the state made all adoptions $50 for the month of April. 

“Our community is among the best in the country when it comes to caring for pets,” said Dr. Apryl Steele, president and CEO of the Dumb Friends League. “When we have needed help, our community has responded, and we’re hoping they will step up now.”

Inside the San Luis Valley Animal Center, the situation isn’t dire, but there is a fear that the summer is going to bring even more animals.

There really is no one issue causing the increase in animals, Wood said. She suspects that a majority of it is pandemic-driven, because it’s not localized. The nation is experiencing an increase. There are so many other factors that it’s difficult to pin the blame – travel, the cost of living, jobs changing, mental and financial instability are among the many reasons why.

“We’re seeing them for the typical reasons, we’re just seeing them in more numbers,” Wood said. She said now is a good time to adopt for anyone thinking of it “because there are so many numbers.”

“It’s hard to see so many animals, especially so early in the year,” she said. “We’re all pretty used to kind of this cyclical nature of the population gets much higher in the summer and in the winter it kind of backs off and then goes. I think a lot of staff are worried about what the summer is going to hold when we’re already at the level of dogs that we are.

“I mean, the good news is the cats haven’t seemed to have followed the same trend as the dogs. It’s more of a dog issue than a cat issue. But if we’re seeing this high level of dogs and then kittens are coming, kitten season is coming, it’s a very physically demanding job to care for all of these animals day after day.”

dfl photo 4

Elaine Wood, left, director of satellite operations, and  Molly Johnson, community liaison, with some kittens who need homes.

Inside the SLV Animal Center

All the animals are spayed, neutered, and given a full vaccine list after intake. They are also closely monitored and looked after every day. This is to ease the adoption process.

The new Dumb Friends League SLV Animal Center in Alamosa has a full-time staff and a consistent volunteer base, but what it lacks is a full-time veterinarian and vet tech. Without those two positions the animal center has to rely on sending animals to local veterinarians and the Buddy Center in Castle Rock or the Malone Center on Quebec Avenue in Denver. Those two locations have much higher adoption traffic and more resources for animal triage and care.

A full-time vet and vet tech would allow the Alamosa location to perform all in-shelter spay and neuters as well as beginning diagnostics and treatments without having to transfer the animals to Denver.

“Having that ability to transfer animals to our other two facilities makes our jobs, I think, a little bit easier, because we don’t have to reach out to a different rescue partner,” said Wood.

Every other week, for four days, there is a group of DFL surgeons and vet techs that comes down to Alamosa to perform surgeries, spays, neuters, and other medical procedures. They will do two full days of surgeries and then two days of triage and treatment.  

Animals awaiting adoption stay in the main adoption area of the shelter where they

Volunteer opportunities

The shelter has 15 volunteers who help weekly. However, the shelter is always in need of more. There is an extensive, in-depth onboarding process to build a successful volunteer crew. Those interested in volunteering can call the SLV Animal Center at 719-212-6500, come in person, or email slvinfo@ddfl.org.

sleep, eat, and drink until they are adopted or transferred to a different DFL shelter. The time frame, from an animal’s intake to its adoption, varies. The longer a dog or cat stays in the kennel waiting for adoption, the more at risk they are for worsening behavior.

“It’s just boring and frustrating in a kennel,” Wood said. “As quickly as two weeks their behavior can really start to decline.” 

Day in and day out they are confined to the kennel. Throughout the day they are let outside to run, play, walk, and get some sun. Volunteers or staff with down time will walk or play with them. It’s the nature of the process. 

Outside the shelter is a series of pens and open space for volunteers to walk the dogs and play with them. There is plenty of space to run the dogs until they’re tired. This stimulation is vital for their behavior and well being. Other methods of stimulation are utilized over the course of a dog’s stay to maintain their health, and to nurture a healthy human-animal relationship as well as socializing them with the other animals. 

Behavior programs

Canine Courage is a three- to six-week behavior program that dogs will go through if they are too fearful. They are sent to the Malone Center in Denver where the full-time behavior team works to get them to a stable, more social place. 

Typically, dogs who have been waiting for adoption for 60 to 90 days are then considered for transfer. Dogs down here will sit for days at a time, whereas in the two locations on the Front Range they are adopted “in a day or two.” The bottomline, however, is there is no time frame for how long an animal remains up for adoption. 

There are different reasons for dogs who don’t get adopted. Wood said that people getting puppies from friends or from others around the community is a leading cause for the lack of adoptions within the shelter. Breed and size also play a role. Smaller dogs are typically more popular. Cute, adoptable puppies may sometimes sit for days or weeks before they are adopted. Wood believes that not many people in the community think that the animal center has puppies.  

Some dogs that come in together are sometimes required to be adopted together if they are deemed to be bonded. Recently, a pair of Cairn Terriers were adopted together as a 2-for-1. Which means that the adopter was charged one adoption fee. However, the animals are not required to be adopted together. They are evaluated during a bonding period and if they are okay to be separated, then they can be adopted separately. 

Stray animals are another story. Oftentimes strays are brought in by law enforcement or by community members. During a recent visit, a pair of four- or five-month-old puppies had just been received that morning. They were both full of energy and looked healthy and uninjured. Wood said that if somebody is really looking for lost pets, the reclaim period is about a day. Sometimes people don’t think to look at the shelter right away, so lost pets may be there for more than a few days. 

All animals that are brought into the shelter are given a thorough evaluation where they are weighed, dewormed, and examined for infection and injury. Injured animals go to a local veterinarian or triage with the surgery team if the team is at the Alamosa shelter. They are also given a brief assessment for behavior. 

All of the strays are posted to the Dumb Friends League website, the SLV Lost and Found Facebook page, and the SLV Animal Center page. 

Cats and kittens

Cats, on the other hand, can stay much longer than dogs. Wood said that some cats in the Denver shelters have stayed for over a year before being adopted. The behavior issue is less of a concern for cats. However, there is a “kitten season.”

Kitten season is from April to October. Wood called it a “flood of kittens.” A lot of community cats just exist, and the shelter works to ensure that those cats are spayed and neutered and essentially returned to where they came from. The shelter will accept all kittens. Wood said that some populations of cats can be taken from an area, and before too long, a new population will pop up in the same area. 

There is also a “working cat” program, where the center takes in cats that may be social or feral and adopted out as barn cats. Feral cats are the best candidates. 

Working cats are spayed and neutered, given their vaccines, tested for immunodeficiency viruses, and have their adoption fees waived. Working cats are free. The program being publicized to a larger audience

“If you’re looking for a barn cat, contact us,” Wood said.

The animal center has a TNR program: Trap, Neuter, Return for feral cats. Because the shelter has no in-house vet, most feral cats are referred to CatsAlive

The shelter is not a no kill shelter. Some animals are humanely euthanized. The main reason is injury and disease. The wellbeing of the animal is priority and if it is deemed that an animal is suffering, then euthanasia is sometimes the best option. Treatments are discussed beforehand. 

Wood spoke of a dog with bone cancer in its foreleg. The cancer was caught early enough that instead of putting the dog down, they amputated and observed, and the dog was adopted. 

The animals are not euthanized based on their time within the shelter. Every option is taken to ensure that animals are adopted or fostered before the consideration of euthanizing them is even discussed. 

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