Deb Melser has time and time again seen pets from local city shelters that are completely detached, to the point where they have no trust for others and don’t even know how to be a dog or cat.
Melser, a kennel technician and vet assistant at the Second Chance Animal Sanctuary in Norman, spends her days choosing animals from various city pounds and shelters to bring to Second Chance for adoption.
She is the first one to meet the dogs or cats and has some of the first positive human interactions with them. Because of this, she gets to see the transformation of the animals brought in go from being anxious and reluctant to happy and loving pets in someone’s home.
“We just had one that was adopted, who was completely shut down at the shelter, and didn't know how to be a dog,” Melser said. “So to see him go from that when we first pulled him from the shelter to this very social, friendly and loving pet for somebody — I mean, that's the rewarding part right there.”
Second Chance works day and night to reduce the number of dogs and cats euthanized in Norman and surrounding cities, and about 700 of the animals they bring in each year are adopted.
In the United States, it’s estimated that 11 million cats and dogs are killed in shelters every year and an animal is euthanized every 1.5 seconds, according to Spay Oklahoma.
In Oklahoma, cat and dog intake numbers from 2013 in Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman, Broken Arrow and Lawton, found that 43,500 dogs and cats entered the shelter system, according to the Kirkpatrick Foundation’s Oklahoma Animal Study.
A little more than half of these animals were either adopted, transferred to a rescue organization or returned to their owners, and more than 20,000 were euthanized, according to the Kirkpatrick Foundation’s Oklahoma Animal Study.
Melser said the issue of animals getting euthanized due to overpopulation in animals shelters is a very widespread problem in Oklahoma, and two of the biggest issues contributing to this are pet owners not spaying or neutering their animals, and letting their animals run loose.
Almost all of the shelters in Oklahoma are full right now, Mesler said, so some shelters feel they have no choice but to euthanize some of the animals. She said it’s hard for her to know this is going on because the Second Chance only has so much space, and there’s a limit to what they can do.
“I have to tell myself that we cannot save them all, and as hard as I try, we just can't,” Melser said. “But that also makes me work that much harder on public education about the spay-neuter issue, people not letting their dogs run loose and educating people on leash laws.”
Jeff Deisering, the head kennel technician at Second Chance, said they get most of their animals from city and local pounds in Paul’s Valley, Moore and Norman. Melser said dogs and cats can’t be euthanized in shelters for overpopulation in Norman, but the laws governing euthanasia of animals differ for each city in Oklahoma.
“Norman has a city ordinance that they can only euthanize if there's a medical issue or if they're deemed aggressive by somebody,” Melser said. “Moore tries desperately also not to have to do that. Moore is very good about reaching out to us, and reaching out to other rescues in the area.”
Second Chance provides spaying and neutering, vaccinations, deworming, microchipping and testing for diseases for the animals brought in, according to its Facebook page.
However, Melser said whenever she’s choosing the animals from shelters, she has to look for ones that don’t have obvious health issues because they are limited on funding.
“Last year there were like five or six dogs that were part of a hoarding case, and we pulled four of them,” Melser said. “But one, I mean his leg was like dangling loose, and we don't have the money to fix things like that, and our vet doesn't do orthopedic surgery.”
Deisering said he has to adapt to each animal that comes in because some have anxiety and others are aggressive.
Deisering said they recently had a chihuahua with severe anxiety and was afraid to be around people, but over time, they were able to calm her nerves and she was finally adopted into a loving home.
“It took us two days to get her to walk out of her crate,” Deisering said. “If she was eating and you looked at her, she would go to the back of the cage and stop eating, wait about 20 minutes, and make sure nobody was watching her eat. So we brought her out, put her behind the counter, and she became our office dog, and any dog we put in there she would want to play with and get to know and just have a good old time.”
Deisering said they like to have a quick turnover when it comes to animals beings adopted because the ones that stay at the adoption center for a long time are hard to say goodbye to because “they become a part of you, and you get to know them so well.”
“When an animal gets adopted, I give it a kiss on the forehead and say, ‘Thanks for letting me get to know you,’” Deisering said. “I've had some of the friendships that were only a couple hours long, and as soon as they get moved up, they get adopted the same day. Those are the kinds that we like.”
Overall, Melser said while the issue of overpopulation and euthanization in animal shelters is a huge problem, she is hopeful for the change she can make, even if it’s only a little bit at a time.
“Yesterday I went to Paul's Valley, and I only got one dog, but that was one dog out of the shelter that made space for the next one coming in,” Melser said.