Pushing open the door to the 576 square foot shelter that Fulton County SPCA calls home leads to an immediate feeling of sensory overload fueled by frantic barking, overflowing baskets of dirty blankets waiting to be laundered, the overpowering smell of cleaning products, and the loud hum of a decades old washer and dryer.
Every kennel space is filled with a dog waiting for a home or waiting for their owner to show up. The dogs’ length of stay range from just under a year to just over a month, with a handful hopefully just passing through until their owners come forward and claim them. There are eight permanent resident kennels occupying the “back” section of the shelter with six smaller temporary kennels flanking the shelter’s small computer desk and laundry station.
“This front space is used as our Isolation Unit, or ISO as our volunteers call it.” Explains Renee Earl, FCRSPCA’s Board President. “Stray dogs are isolated in this space until they are claimed by their owners or fully vetted and can be safely housed in the back with the resident dogs. When this front space is completely full, it can be incredibly overwhelming. Especially when the dogs just keep coming in with nowhere to go.” The shelter’s Isolation Unit doubles as a laundry room, office, dog meal preparation area and storage space. “We utilize every single square inch of this main facility and then some.” stresses Earl as she motions to the two additional sheds in the yard and the two large storage trailers parked on either side of the main building. “Many of our volunteers store supplies in their home basements because we just don’t have enough space.”
The issue is the number of dogs passing through the doors. “We just don’t have the square footage and sometimes the manpower to deal with this many dogs at one time” explains Earl, “When all eight resident kennels are housing dogs that have been with us for months, and ten more dogs are brought in over the course of only a few days, we simply just run out of space. When this happens we are forced to turn dogs away which is not a great feeling when you know the situation they are coming from. Its never good but we will absolutely never euthanize for space as other shelters are forced to. That just won’t happen here.”
“Currently, the Gloversville Police Department is not able to place any strays we are called to. The Department has a single outdoor kennel to house one animal on a very temporary basis, until we are able to make other arrangements. If the SPCA is full, and the Department’s kennel is full, we have nowhere else to put these stray animals.” Explains Gloversville’s Chief of Police Michael Garavelli.
FCRSPCA has a small team of foster families that take in dogs when they are able. “We are very fortunate to have a wonderful relationship with Harvey’s Pet as well as a handful of other individuals that step up when we desperately need to get dogs out of the shelter environment for whatever reason” notes Di Renn, FCRSPCA’s Adoption Team Lead. “Sometimes we run out of space and other times we have a dog that just isn’t equipped to handle the stress of living in a shelter environment.” Renn goes on to explain that over the last year or so, shelter volunteers have begun to foster dogs in their own homes when the need arises. “Our volunteers spend the most time with these dogs so they are the first to notice when a dog begins to decline mentally. We do our best to get them out for breaks from shelter life, but that doesn’t happen every day, we just don’t have the manpower.”
“It seems to be the perfect storm,” notes Earl. “While this issue is affecting shelters nationwide, what is causing the most stress for our team is simply the lack of adoptions.” Historically, FCRSPCA has always had a large number of dogs pass through their doors but they’ve managed to find them homes rather quickly. “The last year or two in particular, we have dogs staying with us for a year or more before we’re able to place them. The lack of adoption applications coupled with the increase in strays is causing extraordinary stress for our volunteers.”
“One of the largest factors is cost” speculates Garavelli, “The cost of owning an animal in the current financial climate – the cost of feeding and caring for an animal coupled with veterinary costs, licensing, vaccinations – people are already struggling financially. Whether they just don’t want the animal anymore, can no longer afford it, are moving and can’t take the animal with them, or have neglected a medical issue due to financial reasons, they abandon their animal because they just don’t know what else to do.”
As they work tirelessly to care for and rehome the stray dogs of Gloversville, the FCRSPCA is also working to address the number of stray dogs. “In the rescue world, continued community education is just as important as the rest of our job” explains Alexandra Jackson, FCRSPCA’s Donation and Supply Team Lead. Jackson manages the SPCA’s Community Food Pantry which distributes upwards of 20,000 pounds of animal food to community members in need each year. “While the primary function of our monthly pantry is to assist those who may need a little extra help caring for their pets, we also use it as an opportunity to educate local pet owners on spaying and neutering, the importance of vaccinations and regular vet care, as well as breed specific needs in hopes that this information will help keep dogs in their homes and out of the shelters.”
“The community has begun to come forward to report suspected cruelty, whereas before they wouldn’t for fear of retaliation or simply just not knowing what or where to report. Seeing the community step up and play an active role in such a massive issue, is really a great thing, however the uptick in cruelty reporting has had a notable impact on the number of dogs we see.” notes Earl.
While the increase in civilian reporting is positive, what happens when a case involves more than a few animals? “This increase in cruelty cases causes operational issues when its many animals at one time, not just two or three” explains Earl, “We just don’t have the space. We make it work but it’s not always the best situation, for the animals or our volunteers.” Cases such as 2022’s East Road Ten which produced ten Shih Tzus or Kelly’s Haven which brought over 75 animals, put a huge strain on space, volunteers, and resources for both the SPCA and the Gloversville Police Department.
The Gloversville Police Department is currently without an Animal Control officer and is working with the FCRSPCA to find a permanent solution. “It is an incredibly difficult and demanding position and it is not for everyone.” Explains Garavelli. “The FCRSPCA is looking to create a county wide Animal Control position and we fully support these efforts to create a long-term solution. Each municipality has their own unique rules and regulations and own Animal Control Officer, while others have nothing at all.”
FCRSPCA is 100% volunteer run with zero paid positions. “Every single dollar we bring in whether it be from donations or fundraising goes directly towards the care of our animals and operation of the shelter.” Explains Cheryl Zajd, FCRSPCA’s Board Treasurer. “As you can imagine when we have 15 or more dogs housed in such a small area, some with serious medical or emotional needs, things can get rather stressful on all fronts. These types of situations would be stressful for anyone but our team tirelessly works three shifts daily without monetary compensation.”
When asked what comes next, Earl explains that they are working on a permanent solution but it won’t be happening anytime soon. “We have land, we have building plans and a team of professional consultants helping us move this incredible project along, but it is going to take time. There is a lot to do behind the scenes before we bring all of this public but we truly have the most dedicated team of volunteers that will stop at nothing to ensure that these dogs are cared for until we have everything in place to move forward with our new facility.”
“This increase in stray dogs strains an already maxed out situation. There has not been a enough space for the stray animals in the county for quite some time.” notes Garavelli. “There is a need for a larger facility and that is what the FCRSPCA is working tirelessly on – a county wide animal shelter.”
In the meantime, FCRSPCA will make do with the resources they have. “We reached out to the city in September of 2022 about the number of strays being brought in, the lack of space, and the desperate need for assistance. The City offered us use of a few vacant buildings but unfortunately they were not conducive to sheltering animals. This was the last discussion we had with the City about this matter. Our contract expires at the end of 2023 so we will be sitting down to discuss the renewal very soon.” notes Earl. “Until then, we will keep doing what we’re doing to the best of our ability with the resources available to us.”
Both the Gloversville Police Department and FCRSPCA Directors agree that the only immediate solution to this current crisis is fostering. Fostering an animal not only helps that one animal, but frees up space in the shelter for another that may require medical attention or special care. If you are willing to foster a shelter dog in your home, please reach out to the FCRSPCA at email@example.com. or visit https://fcrspca.org/foster.
Fulton County Regional SPCA is a volunteer run, donation funded, 501c3 nonprofit animal shelter located in Gloversville, New York. For more information or to donate, please visit https://fcrspca.org.
For media inquiries, please contact PR@fcrspca.org