The Tri-Cities Animal Shelter is at capacity, and that could mean they might not be able to immediately take in a lost pet if you find one.
The shelter, which is now run by the city of Pasco, serves the entire Tri-Cities community, but they’re having to limit new arrivals because they just don’t have space for new pets.
Earlier this week, they partnered with the Seattle Humane Society to send 23 cats and a dog to Seattle, to help get them adopted.
Shelter Director Ben Zigan said they immediately took in almost a dozen new cats and kittens. And now while they have some space in their main cat room, the holding area is filled with cats waiting to be spayed or neutered or kittens too young to be fixed.
The shelter’s capacity is 130 animals, but recently they’ve been bringing in from 50 to 70 per week.
Zigan said they’re working hard to ensure the shelter doesn’t reach the point that it’s “bursting at the seams.”
“If we’re bringing in 50, we’re probably transferring, adopting or returning to owners 45,” Zigan said. “Of course that builds up after a while, and that’s why we’re out of space now.”
He said that spring is extremely busy with an influx of newborn kittens, kittens without moms, kittens with moms and pregnant cats being brought in almost daily.
“That’s where we really depend on foster homes to step in and get them out of the stress of a shelter and into a home environment where they’ll do a lot better and stay healthier,” he said.
“We spay and neuter everything before it goes home, but we can’t spay or neuter a cat until it’s 2 pounds,” he said. “When you’ve got a litter of kittens, that can take weeks, taking up space here at the shelter waiting for it to put on weight so it can be spayed and go home with a new adoptive family. So that’s where we really depend on foster homes.”
Zigan said they’re also overwhelmed with large dogs, which are slower to be adopted or fostered.
He noted they had a problem with the shelter’s website failing to send foster applications for dogs to the right person, but that has since been fixed and they’re able to bring on new foster homes. Potential foster pet parents who think their application might have been lost should contact the shelter.
Because the large dogs need more space and are not adopted as quickly, they’ve got a backlog in their holding area for dogs that were recently vaccinated, waiting on being altered or in a hold to see if they’ll be claimed.
Zigan said they really need help finding foster homes for those larger breeds. And if folks can’t foster, they’re always in need of volunteers to help with walking dogs or socializing animals.
He noted that the shelter also provides everything families need to get started fostering, all they need to add is time and attention.
Shelter at capacity
While they are working to reduce animal levels by transferring to other shelters in the region or placing them in foster homes, the shelter may be at capacity when someone comes in with a dog or cat they found.
Their ability to take in new pets shifts daily, so they’ve temporarily reduced adoption fees to just $50 for dogs and cats to help encourage families to add a new furry friend. The adoption fees help cover vaccinations, the cost of spay and neutering and other medical bills.
“With our shelter at capacity, we have to limit our intakes to sick, injured, vicious, nursing or animals that are not going to survive on their own, due to the lack of space,” Zigan said.
“If people that lose their pets can post on social media, that would be helpful, or even if people could hold onto them for a few days that would be helpful while we try to find the owner. They can send us a picture and we can try to help try to reunite them.”
There are several lost and found pet groups for the area, such as the Missing Pets and Tri-Cities WA Animals Lost and Found groups on Facebook. Both groups have about 20,000 members in and around the Tri-Cities area.
Advocacy group SAAVE of Tri-Cities works to reunite pets already in shelters or find them new homes.
The shelter also has a lost-and-found wall where they post photos of pets.
Volunteer Julie Webb said pets often aren’t far from home when they’re found.
“We immediately want you to take pictures, if they look healthy, walk around, leash it, see if it goes right to its home. If not, take it to the vet and see if they can scan it (for a chip),” Webb said.
“A lot of times, it’s right next to their home and somebody scoops it up and takes it further away,” she said. “A lot of times bringing it right to the shelter isn’t the best thing. The owner is frantic right there, and you’re saving them a trip, you’re saving them a vet bill, or a drive here. The quickest we can unite them with their owner is the ultimate goal.”
New facility, lingering doubts
Overcrowding has been an issue at the shelter for years. The city of Pasco is building a new shelter just across the street, but completion is still more than a year out.
“It’s going to be a newer building, so there’s going to be more updated equipment that’s going to be helpful. Right now you’ve got kennel doors that might come off the hinges they’re so rusted,” Zigan said.
“It’s got a laundry room, a break room where staff can decompress, and the animal control officers will be down in the same building so we’ll be able to work more closely with them,” he said. “It’s just going to be more convenient to have them in the same location as we are.”
They hope to start moving to the new facility by next June. It may not look like a lot of progress has been made, but the city recently repaved the road and the foundation work is well under way. Zigan said they expect the facility to really go up fast once the foundation work is done.
While the new shelter will help alleviate many problems, what they’re really focusing on is rebuilding relationships in the community.
“We’re moving forward, I think the past contractor put a real black eye on (the shelter for) the community, so there was a trust issue,” he said. “With the city of Pasco taking over and moving forward, we are, I believe, building that trust back up. We’re working out some kinks to get running fully.”
He said part of that process has been figuring out how to better communicate with community members and instituting an “open door” policy.
“We’re being more transparent. Now that we have control over our social media page, we’re able to put more information out there, more educational tools,” he said.
Webb hopes that people in the community will take this as an opportunity to reinvest in the shelter.
“With every new management things change at the shelter, so we need the public to come down and see the shelter,” she said. “They may be going off of old information, so it’s very frustrating because this staff is one of the best. This staff is the most educated and well rounded (they’ve had), and they all bring something different.”
She encouraged people hesitant about past issues to reach out, come tour the shelter and see the changes being made and talk to Zigan and the staff about any ongoing concerns.
The Tri-Cities Animal Shelter is at 1312 S. 18th Ave. in Pasco. It serves the city limits of Kennewick, Pasco and Richland. They recently expanded hours and are open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
This story was originally published May 26, 2023, 5:00 AM.