Tulare County Animal Services carries on through ruff times

With only 15 employees and continual animal intake increases, the Tulare County Animal Shelter continues to find permanent and foster homes for animals

TULARE COUNTY – Despite the chaos of increasing call volume and intake numbers at Tulare County Animal Services, the staff is holding the line while finding homes for hundreds of stray animals. 

In the past year, Tulare County Animal Services has seen the need for their services disproportionately rise across the board. The shelter has a total of only 15 employees who run the whole place, and among their myriad job responsibilities they coordinate with local nonprofits to find homes for animals to avoid euthanization. But their efforts within the building only go so far. 

An additional area of growth within animal services is their foster home program, which is temporarily providing homes for over 100 animals. 

“[The increase in numbers] is not just a Tulare County issue,” Cassie Heffington, Tulare County Animal Services manager said. “Throughout the country animal welfare is seeing a sharp increase in intake since before COVID. And we are seeing a lot more dumped animals…and we are seeing less adoption.” 

Shelters are at maximum capacity, yet Heffington does not turn any animals away. Making matters worse is “kitten season” which usually runs from March to the start of fall. This is where animal shelters and animal services have the most kittens come through their doors. Heffington said the shelter has taken in almost 900 kittens and cats in the past few months. With the help of new animal services coordinator Candance Harrington, the shelter has been able to send just about 500 of those cats through the foster system and eventually onto adoption.

Broadening the foster program allows for more space in the shelter which is crucial considering the number of animals that enter the shelter each day. Heffington said that since Harrington came on board in March of this year, they have been able to find temporary homes for more animals than they have in the past. 

According to Heffington, there are currently 115 animals in foster care, most of which are kittens, aside from a handful of puppies. These cats are spread out between around 20 to 25 households throughout the county. 

“Most animals do so much better in a home than they do in a shelter environment,” Harrington said. “So anyone who’s willing to offer their time and love and support to these animals, we will always appreciate and are always on board to say yes.”

Social media is one of the main ways Heffington is able to find foster homes for the animals. The shelter has a Facebook page where they are able to advertise and show the community the animals who need help. The main duty of a foster parent is to make sure the animals are loved and fed. The shelter provides individuals with all the supplies needed to care for the animal, such as a litter box, litter, food or formula and a leash and collar for the larger animals. Heffington said they are always honest and open with their volunteers. Luckily, the shelter has some individuals who have fostered for them in the past. It allows for a word of mouth aspect to the foster system not leaving all recruitment solely up to social media. 

“We’ve had other people who have fostered for us in the past that we’ve kind of called back upon to the line of duty to help us again, and those that could, said yes and are volunteering,” Harrington said. Those who were unable to foster, were able to pass the information along to others.

Harrington said she found a few families who decided to foster a litter of kittens with their families while they were home from school during the summer.  “It’s really helped and taken off in that aspect with a lot of the community just coming in and pitching in which we couldn’t do it without them,” Harrington said. “We’re very grateful.”

The shelter is always working to find forever homes for the shelter animals. Heffington said the shelter is constantly running adoption specials for people, offering large breed adoptions for only $25. When the facility reaches maximum capacity, they do additional advertising, offer free adoptions and send out “S-O-S emails” to their rescue partners. Which Heffington said usually receives decent responses and will clear a few kennels. 

The animal shelter only has a total of 15 employees spread throughout field services, the clinic and shelter operations. Heffington said there are three field officers who receive an unprecedented amount of calls each day. From Aug. 1 to Aug 22, TCAS had already received 408 calls. In July, they received a total of 488 calls for service. The department also has an officer on call 24 hours a day for emergency dispatch to the Sheriff’s Department. The average daily call volume to the shelter for all questions is 150 calls, with a total of 796 calls during the week on Aug. 15-20.

According to Heffington, in the 2021/2022 fiscal year, Tulare County Animal Services has received a 25% increase in calls from the previous year with 1,300 more calls totaling 6,496 calls. 

Heffington said the shelter has 40 regular dog kennels, 10 quarantine kennels, four puppy kennels and a few emergency kennels and pop up crates in use. Currently the shelter is seeing quite a few German Shepherds and German Shepherd mixes come through their facility. She also said they are always looking for additional volunteers to help around the shelter. 

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