For Pets' Sake

Jenny Nunning and Colette Purcell, who manage the Evansville Lost Pets Facebook page, know the powers of social media.

Dog vs. cat. When it comes to the most popular household pet, canines knock felines out of the ring. Yet as in every battle between the species, humans have to weigh in. In this issue, plenty have. We explore how the Internet has impacted pet rescues, how animals help people, and why some people choose pets other than cats and dogs.

Facebook to the Rescue

When it comes to finding lost pets, fliers are used less and less  By Jane McManus

Social media, websites, and new technology have become the electronic lost-and-found for missing pets and those needing new homes.

“We rely almost entirely on our Facebook page,” says Susan Gainey Odoyo, board president of It Takes a Village, an Evansville foster-based dog rescue and no-kill shelter. “It increases the willingness of people to rescue a dog.”

ITV assists Evansville-Vanderburgh Animal Care & Control and three other area shelters in placing homeless dogs. The group has 23 kennels at its 1417 N. Stockwell Road facility, but most animals are placed in 30 to 40 foster homes.

Odoyo estimates ITV had around 2,000 Facebook followers in the first six to eight months of 2010, when the organization was founded. That number has increased to nearly 7,000. In 2012, ITV helped 463 dogs find new homes and rescued more than 600 dogs.

“We’re on track to place almost 700 dogs this year,” says Odoyo. “Social media has allowed us to dramatically increase our ability to place dogs in forever homes.”

Jackie Rohner, president and founder of Another Chance for Animals, says social media is a primary source of how her organization gets people to adopt its animals.

“Anymore, that’s how you communicate with the world,” says Rohner. “We had our Facebook page up and running before we had anything.”

Rohner says her organization places about 900 animals a year and is certain the uptick in its social media followers is related to its success. “When we started, we had a few hundred followers,” says Rohner. “Now, we have almost 8,000.”

ACA, which also began in 2010, is a network of more than 100 foster homes that works exclusively with Evansville-Vanderburgh Animal Care & Control in placing animals in order to help reduce the euthanasia rate at the local animal control. That euthanasia rate has been cut dramatically, Rohner says, partly as a result of ACA.

“We had a 75 percent adoption rate last year,” Alisa Webster, the superintendent of animal control, agrees.

The Humane Society of the United States estimates that roughly 3,500 animal shelters in the country take in 6-8 million cats and dogs each year. Of those numbers, between 3-4 million are adopted from shelters each year.

“They’re awesome; they work miracles,” Webster says of ACA “They don’t just take the pretty ones. They take the elderly ones, the ones with heartworm. They take everything. Animal control would be a very difficult place to work at if not for them.”

Another Chance for Animals: Back row, left to right: Gwen Umphress, Vicky Smith, Jackie Rohner, Audrey Julian (holding Rufus, a domestic short hair cat), and Brenda Huffine. Front row, left to right: Katie Wells, Tyler Wells, A.J. Rohner, Kenny Rohner, Katlyne Johnson, and Starla, a 1-year-old pit mix. Both animals were up for adoption at the time of publication. (Photo by Will Steward)

Social media is also helping find the way back home for missing animals. Evansville Lost Pets is a Facebook page started in December 2010 by Jenny Nunning and Colette Purcell that posts information and pictures about wandering cats, dogs, and other animals online.

Purcell says almost 2,400 pets have been re-united with their owners as a result of posting on the page.

“We are kind of the middle man,” says Purcell. “We help people get their animals back.”

Purcell knows first-hand the trauma of a missing pet and trying to re-locate it using the low-tech methods of flyers and word-of-mouth. Nearly three years ago, Purcell’s then 12-year-old cat, Elizabeth, wandered away with Purcell nearby.

“I went in to refill my coffee and I didn’t see her for 12 days,” says Purcell, adding the cat needed a twice-daily dose of medicine.

After putting up dozens of fliers and calling numerous veterinary offices, Purcell got a call from a 12-year-old girl who lived near North High School who recognized the cat as one that had showed up near her home.

Purcell, who lives near Bosse High School, says it is a mystery how the cat traveled about 10 miles from school to school. She now keeps Elizabeth on a small tie-out when outside.

In addition to social media, there are websites dedicated to finding homes for pets in need.

Brenda Vanderver, president of the Posey County-based PC Pound Puppies, says in addition to Facebook, her organization, and many others, use, an online database of animals in need of homes. works with nearly 14,000 adoption groups and animal shelters around the country, in Canada, and in Mexico.

“It’s made a huge difference,” says Vanderver. “You just have so many more people looking at your dogs. It used to be all you could count on was people who came to your adoption event.”

Dog tags, too, are now high-tech. Evansville-Vanderburgh Animal Care & Control, and many rescue organizations, require adopted pets to have a small microchip inserted under their skin that can identify them if they are lost or missing. The device carries a number that is plugged into a database that is linked to the name and contact information of the owner. A handheld scanner reads the radio frequency of the chip and displays the information. The pet owner must register the dog and keep the animal’s information current.

“It’s pretty much a fool-proof way to prove the dog is yours, to keep track of the dog,” says Vanderver.

Not the Dog Pound

Animal Control is seeking to change its image  By Jane McManus

Alisa Webster has been the Superintendent of Evansville Animal Control since July 2012 and has been employed by the agency since 2009. Webster owns two dogs and three cats; one dog and one cat were rescues, and another cat “adopted me,” she says.

What is the mission of Animal Control?
“Doing what we can to promote responsible pet ownership by educating the public and providing safety for animals. This is the place for them to be safe while we’re trying to find the owner. Everything we do is to protect animals and people. “We are not the dog pound anymore. We are working really hard to change the perception that people have of the animal control facility.”

How do pets end up in your facility?
“They end up here in a variety of ways. Many are strays that animal control officers pick up or someone finds. We have animals that are brought in by their owners. We also have pets here that we have to take from their homes for their own welfare. We’re taking in right about 4,500 animals a year. And that does not include wild animals; animals that people trap in live traps and are re-located.”

What is the most common breed of dog that you see in Animal Control?
“We see more pit bulls than we do any other breed. And it’s just because it’s the breed of choice right now. Most of them are great dogs. It doesn’t mean they’re a bad dog just because they’re a pit bull. We get in more Chihuahua dogs that are problem dogs than we get pit bulls that are a problem.”

What percentage of animals are reclaimed by their owners?
“I would say about 50 percent are claimed by their owners if I had to guess. And that’s dogs. Cats, even less. Last year, we had about a 75-percent live release rate, which means that 75 percent of dogs or puppies were reclaimed, adopted, or went to rescue. We work closely with rescue groups.”

Both this job and your job with VHS seem difficult. Why do this kind of work?
“I still think we can make a difference and change things. I think the people that do well in this type of work see it more as a calling than a job.”

Evansville Animal Control, 815 Uhlhorn St., 812-435-6015. Adoption hours: Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., and until 4:45 p.m. on Saturday. Adoption fee for dogs is $100; cats are $90. Fee includes microchip, rabies, spay/neuter, and life license for City of Evansville.


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