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New Merced County animal shelter being overwhelmed
by unwanted cats and dogs

Since new facility opened, about 200 to 400 more animals a month than usual are coming in.

The brown and white pit bull came into the Merced County animal shelter skinny and unloved. The shelter staff fed the owner-released dog, and took him out for his photo to be taken. In a week, the dog gained weight and learned the routine of the animal shelter.
Now his time is up.

The brown and white dog, who came in so thin and abused, ramped up his aggression during the week he has spent at the shelter.

He won't make it out.

The big, pretty dog will be euthanized.

There are too many friendly dogs, too many dogs who greet shelter workers and guests with happy tails and grins on their faces, too many dogs who still can't find homes to give this wary, unloved pit bull a chance.

"It's bittersweet to put animals like this down," said Kristi Caseri, the animal control supervisor for the Merced County Animal Shelter. "They may not be leaving, but for most of them, it's the nicest place they've ever been."

And the new shelter, located at Castle Commerce Center and built for $7.5 million, is really nice. Dogs have individual cages, and cats have huge playrooms where they can interact with other cats. There are nice big areas for dogs to be exercised, and disease can be kept to a minimum.

And still animals are euthanized almost every day.

Despite the efforts of local rescue groups, who get thousands of animals a year out of the shelter and into rescue homes in faraway places like Canada and Colorado, more and more cats and dogs are showing up at the shelter every day.

New shelter means more animals

The older woman was nicely dressed, in a coordinated pant suit, carrying a small pink animal carrier on Friday afternoon.

She gave the carrier to the woman behind the desk at the shelter, and said she was pretty sure the cat was a female.

"If I was a cat person, I'd keep her," said the woman with the gray hair. "But I don't like cats."

The cat, a sweet calico and white female, sat in a cage in the receiving room after the woman took her crate back to her car and drove off. The cat came readily to a finger stuck through her cage bars, and she rubbed against the hand that petted her.

"It's nice to see a friendly one," said Caseri, who was checking on another drop-off, a chocolate Labrador retriever cross female dog. "Hopefully we'll get her out of here."

Since the new shelter opened in March of this year, about 200 to 400 more animals a month than usual are coming in, Caseri said.
Many of those cats, and especially dogs, get out to rescue, but too many are left at the end of the day, when the rescue vans drive away.
"What gets left behind is a lot of pit bulls, a lot of Chihuahuas, a lot of German shepherds, and cats. Lots of cats," Caseri said.

Staff at the shelter, and at the county, believe that the numbers of animals being abandoned has gone up because of the new shelter.

"People think we're a no-kill shelter, that we'll find their animal a home," said Caseri. "That doesn't always happen."

More animals coming in, more being euthanized

Rick Blackwell, animal services manager for the county's shelter, keeps statistics as part of his job. And those statistics are sobering.

In July of this year, 411 more animals ended up at the shelter than July of 2008, Blackwell said. And those numbers aren't unusual.

"Despite what folks think, we're not a no-kill shelter," Blackwell said. "In July of this year, we put down 647 animals."

The new shelter has a higher capacity than the older shelter did, and it's a much nicer place, Blackwell said.
"It's easier to find, and it's a lot more pleasant place," Blackwell said. Because of the fact that it's not dark and gloomy and packed to the gills like the old place was, people in Merced County have tended to treat the new shelter as a place that will find their animal a new home.

"Unfortunately, we can't find a home for every animal that comes in," said Caseri. "And that means euthanasia."
It's hard on staff to euthanize those unwanted pets, Caseri said. "Staff does get attached to some of the dogs or cats, and try to give them more time."
But some animals -- the aggressive ones, the sick ones -- will not get out, no matter who is on their side.

"It all comes down to spaying and neutering," Caseri said. "When pets are not spayed or neutered, the results end up here."

Abandoned out front

One of the county's unwanted animals was found by shelter staff early Friday morning. Someone had left Oreo, a black and white beagle cross dog with his name tag still attached to his collar, tied up in front of the shelter. Oreo had chewed through the leash, and was running around the building in the cold.

Caseri tried to lure the little dog to her, but the scared, shivering dog was having none of it.
So Caseri sat down on the cold cement, and decided to outwait the dog.
"He was so cold, he was shivering," she said. "Finally he got close enough to me that he realized I wasn't going to hurt him."

The little slick-haired dog pressed up against Caseri's leg, growling and shivering, until she was able to pet him.
By Friday afternoon, Caseri was Oreo's buddy.
"He knows I'm OK," she said, as she walked the little dog back to his kennel. "He'll get out of here, he's cute and has a good personality."

In a kennel just yards from the personable little beagle was the brown and white pit bull, lying on a blanket, staring at the door of the shelter. The sight of a person brought the dog quietly to his feet, and he was lunging at his cage door by the time the person got close.

"It's too bad," Caseri said, watching the dog. "He wants to hurt me. I bet he wasn't born like that."


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