Surrendering a pet can be one of the most heart-breaking decisions that someone will have to make.
Before you cast any stones, before you chide someone for failing to live up to the burden of responsibility that comes with pet ownership, put yourself in their shoes. It’s not always simply a matter of inconvenience. Hilton Head Humane Association has seen owners surrendering their animals for issues ranging from severe behavioral challenges to unexpected financial problems.
“When someone is surrendering an animal, we try to find ways for them to keep it. It’s really a time to educate vs. confiscate,” said Franny Gerthoffer, executive director at Hilton Head Humane. “There are people who simply have a lack of resources. It’s not neglect; they just can’t care for the animal.”
Seeing a greater need to help people keep non-aggressive animals in their home, Hilton Head Humane partnered with Beaufort County to seek out solutions. Tallulah McGee, director of animal services for Beaufort County, has been instrumental in building programs that have solved pet issues.
“It’s a working relationship between us and the pet,” McGee said. “We’re happy to assist with what we have to give, because they’re going to be so much more comfortable in the home rather than a shelter. While the shelters do a wonderful job, it can be loud. It can be busy. It’s not always the best situation for that particular animal.”
Working together, the two entities have made tremendous strides in keeping pets in their owner’s homes. At the county level, that can mean providing a homeowner with the necessary fencing and accessories to keep their pet on their property; providing blankets, crates, and food for those in economic distress; offering specialty shampoos to help address allergies; or simply providing advice.
And they’ve even helped owners facing the difficult decision to put their animal down. Already a nearly impossible decision, it becomes even harder for those who know it needs to be done, but simply can’t afford the procedure.
“We have that avenue – if you look on the Beaufort County website we have a whole page on economic euthanasia,” McGee said. “We can help diagnose, but the owner has to decide whether they can handle the treatment.”
Hilton Head Humane has also developed programs of its own aimed at keeping animals in the home. “If you adopt from us, we’re not a vet clinic but we will update with yearly vaccines,” said Gerthoffer. “You have to purchase heartworm medication, and you have to make the appointment to update their shots.”
One heartbreaking development the county has been working to address is a rise in owners who are surrendering their animal simply due to economic uncertainty. “We’ve been helping out a lot of people with paying their pet deposits,” McGee said. “People pay us back when they can. I had one person who was going to have to surrender their animal (because they couldn’t afford their pet deposit) so I worked out a deal where they worked at the shelter to pay us back.”
Gerthoffer noted that Hilton Head Humane is also able to help pay unexpected bills, with owners paying back what they can to the organization. They’ve also added support for those whose animal’s behavioral issues are forcing the thought of relinquishment.
“We have trainers that work for us. We’ve paid for the first few training sessions, and the trainers have also donated time for the pet retention program,” said Gerthoffer. “As everyone is working together to do the right thing, it’s been very successful.”
These programs, supported by donations from across the community, have done more than simply help owners afford and care for their animals. They have helped countless pets enjoy a comfortable life in a home of their own.
Gerthoffer said they are trying to change the mindset that animals are disposable. “We can make a difference for you and your pet,” she said. “When you call us to surrender an animal, it’s not simply a ‘no’ answer, it’s a conversation. We don’t want to be the organization that says they can’t help you, so we’re going to have a conversation.”
Franny Gerhoffer and Blizzard
That conversation is vital in determining exactly what can be done to keep an animal in the home. Sometimes, the conversation reveals the animal to be overly aggressive, something that neither the Humane Association nor the county have the capacity to deal with.
“We would never want to adopt out an animal that could do harm to another family,” Gerthoffer said.
By pooling their resources and talents, Beaufort County and Hilton Head Humane Association have been able to do much more than they could on their own. But, as McGee will tell you, “A whole lot more can be done.” And that requires help from the community. “What makes the world go round is people knowing that we’re doing these things so donors can support those programs,” she said.
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