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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, May 21, 2024
HomeNewsLocal newsOvercrowding at Humane Society of St. Thomas, Suspends Animal Intake

Overcrowding at Humane Society of St. Thomas, Suspends Animal Intake

Front office of Humane Society of St. Thomas, (Photo by Alli Bourne-Vanneck)

Times are tough at the Humane Society of St. Thomas these days. Even something simple like walking inside the front office. Due to overcrowding, you have to walk past numerous crates with dogs just to open the door. Once inside, you see that the front office is jam-packed with almost 20 large dog crates on the floor. And what used to be an office storage space now holds another dozen dogs.

As dogs bark loudly, staff and volunteers weave quickly between crates. Everyone is working fast to help these animals, plus over 200 more in the rest of the facility. Everyone is worried. The facility is beyond capacity. As a result, intake has stopped unless there’s an emergency with an animal.

“We’ve been overcrowded before but we haven’t been as overcrowded as we are today. You cannot turn around and there is not an animal in a crate. You go into the cat house and they’ve been there like forever. And there’s no reason for that to happen,” said Dellia Holodenschi, president of the Humane Society of St. Thomas Board.

According to the Humane Society of St. Thomas, the facility has a capacity of 110 animals. But so far in January, the facility is housing 242 animals (147 dogs and 95 cats.) With an additional 103 animals in foster care, the Humane Society of St. Thomas is currently caring for 345 animals.

“It’s mentally and physically bad, not only for the animals but for the people that are involved. Because there are only so many hours in the day, and that’s why volunteers are so important to doing what we do,” said Holodenschi.

About five or six volunteers assist the Humane Society of St. Thomas daily, with the volunteer base being almost 50 people, according to staff. Due to overcrowding, more people from the community have been coming by to help out, says the Humane Society of St. Thomas. Amie Mayes has been volunteering for the last two and a half years. She comes several times a week to the facility.

“It’s certainly a challenge here on island, all these dogs. The more we socialize these dogs, the more people they are around, the better their chances are of getting adopted. So the more of us who can come up here, those different personalities, walking them, playing with them, spending time with them, it’s going to help them be a better family dog, and have a better chance of getting adopted, Mayes said.

She says she spends about 20 to 25 hours a week helping out and walking dogs like Cheeseburger, a brindle Island-Pit mix. She hopes he gets adopted soon.

“Cheeseburger” is one many dogs looking for adoption. (Photo by Alli Bourne-Vanneck)

“It would mean a lot to me. He’s a great dog. He’s got a little anxiety, so he needs a home. Sometimes the shelter life, some of our dogs do it well. Some of them have a hard time. Cheeseburger is one where the shelter life is anxiety for him,” Mayes said.

The need for more volunteering inspired Elliot Loewenstein. He’s volunteered at the Humane Society of St. Thomas for the past two years. He started helping out twice a week. Now with the overcrowding crisis, he’s there almost every day.

“It’s just such a massive job in general with so much need that over the last two weeks, I’ve been coming every single day with the exception of Sunday, so six days a week. And the employees are wonderful. They do such a good job caring and they work so hard. But they’re overwhelmed,” said Elliot Loewenstein. He adds that volunteering for even one hour a day can make a huge difference.

“If someone shows up and takes two or three dogs you know off of the collective plate in that hour it makes such a big difference not only to the animals but to those who are dedicating their time to try to care for them. You do not have to extend your day or overextend yourself in what you are trying to do for them. So whether you can contribute a lot or a little, it is all extremely valuable,” said Loewenstein.

Volunteers at the Humane Society of St. Thomas. (Photo by Alli Bourne-Vanneck)

To help with overcrowding, the Humane Society of St. Thomas has been offering numerous programs and easier ways to help residents adopt or foster. In December, all adoption fees were waived. Free adoptions will continue through January 31st of this year, according to the Humane Society of St. Thomas’ website. They also offered half off ($10) in December to pet owners who wanted to microchip their pet. Additionally, there is a program called “Paws For Bedtime,” where volunteers can walk dogs after 5 pm when the shelter’s business operations are closed. With overcrowding, this extra walk helps the dogs feel less anxious, and staff says these efforts and help from the community is crucial.

“It’s extremely important. All these animals they’re all cluttered together now because there are too many of them. Some of them look sad. It’s very important for people to get them out. Even if it’s the holidays or the weekend, just take them out and bring them back,” said Humane Society of St. Thomas staff member Kadejsha Tonge.

Numerous dogs sit in a crates in front lobby of Humane Society of St. Thomas, waiting to be adopted. (Photo by Alli Bourne-Vanneck)

In addition to the dogs, the overcrowding at the Humane Society of St. Thomas continues with cats. Volunteer Melissa King says it’s sad how numerous cats have spent most of their lives at the shelter. For example, a domestic short-haired cat named Gemma arrived when she was a three-month-old kitten. Now she’s nine months old and packed in with other cats that need to be adopted.

Numerous dogs sit in a crates in front lobby of Humane Society of St. Thomas, waiting to be adopted. (Photo by Alli Bourne-Vanneck)

“The need is very great. We have way more dogs than the facility is built for, and the same for cats. We have cats doubled up in our kennels that really should be holding one but are holding two,” said Melissa King.

“Cats, contrary to popular belief, like to be part of a community. They like to have a friend. But maybe they would like to have a friend who they can also share a queen-sized bed with,” said King, who hopes Gemma and others can be adopted soon.

Numerous dogs sit in a crates in front lobby of Humane Society of St. Thomas, waiting to be adopted. (Photo by Alli Bourne-Vanneck)

Sadly, on average, about 920,000 dogs and cats at animal shelters are euthanized each year in the United States, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). The Humane Society of St. Thomas says while there’s overcrowding, they don’t want to euthanize any of their animals. They’ve stopped animal intake for the time being unless an animal is in distress or in danger.

Numerous dogs sit in a crates in front lobby of Humane Society of St. Thomas, waiting to be adopted. (Photo by Alli Bourne-Vanneck)

“We don’t want to euthanize them. It’s very hard on the people who take care of them to say, you know, ‘This animal has to be killed because nobody wants it.’ When you have these cute little things and they just want to cuddle, they want to be with you, they just want to be on your couch, you know your heart goes out to them,” said Holodenschi.

Staff at the Humane Society of St. Thomas says they’re in the process of creating a spay and neuter clinic. They’re repurposing a building on property that will first be used to spay and neuter animals at the facility, and in time it will also serve the public. The goal is for it to be a low-cost and high-volume clinic to help as many animals as possible. For now, staff at the facility and volunteers are hoping adoptions and foster families can help them get through their overcrowding crisis.

Numerous dogs sit in a crates in front lobby of Humane Society of St. Thomas, waiting to be adopted. (Photo by Alli Bourne-Vanneck)

“With the clinic, we’ll be able to assist the community more. But the most crucial thing is to get us through these hard times. Please, if you can, open your heart and home. Help us get through this because every single one can do something to make it better,” said Holodenschi.

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