Stopping the surrender: Osceola reduces shelter pets by helping struggling families

Rocky, an 11-month-old American Bulldog, is just one of many pets that were listed for adoption on the Osceola County Animal Services website.

About 40 percent of people who relinquish pets to shelters say they would keep them if there was temporary assistance available, according to studies by the ASPCA and other animal groups.

The idea of helping pet owners get through a tough time instead of spending resources on rehoming animals has been in place at Osceola County Animal Services since 2017. And the results are more than promising, said the department’s director.  

“It really pays off in many different ways,” said Animal Services Director Kim Staton, who spoke before Osceola County Commissioners Monday afternoon.   The program is known as LEASH, or Let Every Animal Stay At Home. The idea is to provide pet owners with assistance like special deals on food, contacts for animal training, low-cost veterinary care or low to no-cost spay and neuter services so that residents can keep their animals.

A pet retention team sits down with a family to see if there’s a way to help them while conducting a needs assessment interview. The shelter uses grants, donations and county funding to operate LEASH.

The Osceola County Animal Shelter in St. Cloud can take in up to four or five dogs and cats a day, Staton said, but overcrowded shelters aren’t good for anyone. Too many animals take away time and resources from pets that may be more challenging to adopt-out because staff can’t devote as much attention or time to finding them a new home.

Besides, most people love their pets and really don’t want to surrender them, Staton said.

“We found that a lot of folks really want to keep their pets, they really don’t want to give them up to the shelter,” she said. “Once they’re provided with some temporary assistance, they can do that.”

So far, the program is working. In fiscal year 2016-17 – the year LEASH was launched - the Osceola County Animal Shelter saw 2,135 animal surrenders. The following year, it dropped to 1,281.

Now, staff is projecting as low as 1,132 surrenders for fiscal year 2019-20 , a decrease of roughly 40 percent, Staton said.

Still, operations are busy this time of year as staff works to manage the infamously dubbed “kitten season,” or months with a heavy influx of newborn and infant felines.

In celebration of National Pet Adoption Month – and to help keep cages clear – the shelter is running a few promotions to find new homes for pets.

For the rest of June, adoption fees are waived for all cats over six months old and all kittens under six months are only $10. All felines come spayed or neutered, microchipped and are provided with rabies and other first shots.

And there’s also a special for dog lovers. Dogs of all sizes have a $20 adoption fee in June. Canines come with the same services as their cat counterparts, as well as a heartworm test.

Osceola County Animal Services is located at 3910 Old Canoe Creek Road in St. Cloud and the phone number is 407-742-8000. You can also check out their Facebook page at Osceola County Animal Services.