Phoenix animal shelters are brimming with animals that are desperate for a home. One look at the Maricopa County Animal Care and Control’s Twitter or Facebook makes the critical conditions of these shelters clear.
News outlets often team up with the MCACC to draw in potential adopters through articles on some of the more interesting animals, such as Jack the 30-pound cat, and draw in potential adopters. The Arizona Humane Society alone takes in more than 17,000 animals per year, according to its website.
Jose Santiago, the spokesperson for Maricopa County’s animal shelters, has used inventive strategies to enlighten potential adopters of the shelters’ need to adopt as many animals as possible. Near the end of October, the number of shelter dogs had reached a critical state.
“On one day alone, we had as many as 700 dogs here,” Santiago said.
This state of emergency inspired a Halloween sale. Visitors to the shelters could leave with a dog, free of charge. Ostensibly, the only requirement was that they had to wear a Halloween costume, but workers told 12News that they would give dogs to any visitors, costume or not.
At first, Santiago didn’t want to put the word out to news publications, because he didn’t want people to wait until the week of Halloween to adopt dogs. “We wanted people to come of their own accord,” he said.
When the overcrowding continued, he took to Facebook Live to show people the animals’ situation. “We had 600 dogs when I went onto Facebook Live,” he said. “I thought the visual would show the story.”
As of Oct. 31, his post earned 54,000 views and was shared 2,500 times.
“Social media is king,” Santiago said. “Typically when we put pleas on social media, people pay attention.”
After the plea went live, 284 dogs were adopted in Maricopa County’s west shelter and 173 were adopted from the east shelter.
“Right now, the numbers are speaking for themselves,” Santiago said.
One tactic that has served the MCACC well is teaming up with other organizations, such as Wings of Love. This rescue group provides airborne transportation services that transfer dogs from overcrowded shelters to those far away that have available space for animals.
Yet the problem of overpopulation isn’t exclusive to Maricopa County shelters. Arizona is full of organizations dedicated to ensuring animal welfare, yet they weren’t always as unified or efficient as they are today.
Over 10 years ago, animal advocate Bari Mears noticed that the lack of organization between Arizona shelters was leading to a massive loss of life. In order to save the hundreds of dogs euthanized a year, she founded the PACC911, which today unifies over 100 animal welfare organizations.
Mears mentioned that many of the dogs in shelters are surrendered for “self-serving reasons,” such as expecting a child or developing allergies. “We can work to find a breed that’s good for people with allergies,” she said.
“Adopt, don’t shop,” Mears said. “There are so many shelters focused on a specific breed of dog. You want a golden retriever? There’s a shelter for that.”
Mears cited animal welfare campaign Fix.Adopt.Save as the turning point in the success of Phoenix shelters to adopt more animals. “In five years, Fix.Adopt.Save has dramatically improved our situation,” she said.
According to Mears, Arizona’s animal overpopulation crisis has “gotten better, thanks to good people in the community who work together.”
The teamwork between animal welfare organizations in Arizona expands beyond shelters. The Phoenix Dog Magazine was created for the express purpose of strengthening the bond between people and animals.
“Every issue, I donate two pages to nonprofits,” publisher Cathy Davila said. In addition to the two pages of ad space, six additional pages can range from an adoption even to 24 hour vet services to adoptable cats. “That’s my contribution.”
“The euthanasia rate has dropped over 80 percent in the last five years,” Davila said. “This would not have been possible without groups working together.”