Spencer just moved here from the South and even with temps dropping below zero, he still thinks it was a good idea.

Wisconsin, after all, could be the place where he finds love and puts his past of living on the streets behind him.

At one year old and 52 pounds, Spencer is one of a dozen animals hoping to be adopted at the Dane County Humane Society. Tweedles the rat, Coal the cat and Mike the guinea pig are also pinning their hopes on find a new home.

Pet adoptions spiked when the COVID-19 stay-at-orders hit last spring and DCHS officials say it hasn’t slowed down.

“People are interested in using their extra time at home to get a new puppy or cat to hang out with,” said Evan Hafenbreadl, DCHS public relations coordinator.

Adoptions have been so popular this past year that sometimes there’s just a few animals at the shelter. Most of the animals have come from the Greater Birmingham Humane Society, where more strays are found in the city, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Still here for

the animals

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted many people’s lives, so it’s no surprise that pets are feeling the effects too.

Pet owners who have lost jobs or had hours cut are facing hardships and have turned to the Dane County Humane Society for help. At September’s Pet Food Pantry, 400 families received supplies, according to Tim Clark, shelter resource supervisor.

“There have been a lot of people who have been really happy that they can still keep their pets,” Clark said. “They don’t want to give them up for financial reasons.”

Offering support, including temporary shelter, behavior and training advice for pet problems, and other services, has kept animals from being surrendered.

The Pets for Life program delivers free food and supplies to families in the Allied neighborhood and in the 53713 ZIP Code. Pet owners also get free vet wellness care, spay, neutering and flea/tick treatment. Through door-to-door outreach, the program builds relationships, and never lets income level and other difficulties be a barrier to owning a pet, according to Pets for Life Coordinator Abbi Middleton.

“We see if we can solve problems and try to tailor solutions to each case and each person,” Middleton added.

At the Dane County Humane Society’s Voges Road facility earlier this year, there was a rooster—waiting for adoption—crowing as visitors wait to get inside for their appointment.

To keep the COVID-19 virus at bay, visitors must make an appointment for services and adoption visits. Volunteers have also been whittled down to keep exposure down.

“The big concern is if staff and volunteers get sick, no one will be here to take care of the animals,” Hafenbreadl said.

While most people think about just adoptions when they think of the society, there’s so much more. The Wildlife Center, which has seen an increase in animal intake during the pandemic, is open by appointment. And the society’s microchipping, euthanasia, cremation and feline ringworm treatment center are all still offering services.

DCHS kids’ programs have all shifted on-line with the pandemic. Camp Pawprint Spring Break is set for March 29 to April 2 with take-home activity kits, Zoom time with the animals and education discussions. Humane educator Wendy Bell says the downside is that kids can’t touch the animals, but going online has brought a farther-reaching audience to DCHS with families joining in across the United States.

Celebrating 100 years

Ida Kittleson started the Dane County Humane Society in 1921, giving shelter to lost and abandoned animals in her home’s basement. As the wife of Madison Mayor Isaac Milo Kittleson, Ida was influential in encouraging others to take in strays and care about the cause.

In 1965, a permanent shelter was built on Pennsylvania Avenue in Madison. In 2002, the new DCHS campus opened on Voges Road.

Thousands of domestic and wildlife animals get help at DCHS every year. It’s care that takes a lot of money.

Even with in-person fundraisers shifting to virtual during the pandemic, they’ve been successful, Hafenbreadl said.

The Bark & Wine last October brought in $140,000. Toto’s Gala, set for March 12, is not just to raise money, but to celebrate Dane County Humane Society’s 100th anniversary. Hafenbreadl said with donors coming through, DCHS is here to stay.

“With the help of the community,” he added, “we are hoping to stay another 100 years.

“Even though COVID is hard, we are still here providing the services to animals in a safe way.”

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