Faced with a full house of homeless animals, Lee County Domestic Animal Services has a heart-rending challenge: Find temporary or permanent placement for its charges or put the overage down.
Last month, the shelter took in the usual number of dogs - about 400 - as well as 509 cats, an increase of nearly 300 from the 215 received in February. That number will stay high once "kitten season" commences and continues through late October.
This simply is more animals than the shelter can accommodate through adoption or placement with a "foster family" or one of its registered animal rescue agencies, officials said.
The agency is asking the community for help.
"Healthy, adoptable animals do not need to die in shelters due to overpopulation when they can be easily adopted into loving Lee County homes," said Donna Ward, LCDAS director, in a prepared statement issued this week. "With a population of over 600,000 it should be a relatively easy task to adopt 10,000 stray animals annually; however, euthanasia will continue to be a means of population control in our community if the public does not step forward to support our efforts of spaying and neutering, fostering, and adopting shelter pets rather than buying from pet stores and breeders. The best shelter is a caring community, and now more than ever we need the community's support."
Shelter officials are hoping adoptions and temporary placement with additional fosters or rescue groups will help them with as many cats and canines as possible.
"Euthanasia is a last resort," shelter spokesperson Ria Brown emphasized. "We try not to do that. Obviously we work with rescues, use foster homes, and run specials to bring people in.
"We absolutely hold them as long as we can," she added. "But right now we don't have enough adopters, or fosters, or rescues to move them out. Kitten season is starting, rescues and adoptions are not keeping pace; it's really too many in and not enough out."
Adoption places pets with new families.
To encourage "forever homes," the shelter runs a special or two each month to encourage permanent placement.
This month, animal services' Friends and Family promotion offers a 25 percent adoption discount. Puppy adoption fees are $70, adult dogs and kittens are $55, adult cats $35, and senior pets - those 6 years and older - are $15.
These fees are good through May.
From May 15 to June 15, a new promotion will discount pet adoption fees for construction industry employees. Builders, roofers, plumbers, electricians, architects, engineers and the like will be able to adopt a puppy or kitten for $25, or an adult pet for just $8, when they show their work ID.
And, as always, kittens and cats are two-for-one, meaning you can get double the love for one adoption fee, which includes what officials say are $500 worth of products and services - sterilization, age appropriate vaccinations, county license, microchip ID, de-worming, flea treatment, a heartworm test for dogs, feline AIDs and leukemia test for cats, a 10-day health guarantee and a bag of Hill's Science Diet dog or cat food.
Animals available for adoption can be viewed online at LeeLostPets.com or at the shelter at 5600 Banner Drive, Fort Myers next to the Lee County Sheriff's Office off Six Mile Cypress Parkway.
Adoption viewing hours are Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Additional foster families and rescue placements are being sought as well.
Fosters take in young kittens and puppies, raising them to adoption age, as well as animals too sick or hurt for immediate placement, Brown said. Rescue agencies are exactly that - other shelters that take in pets, sometimes of a particular breed or type, for care and ultimate adoption.
Those interested in providing this type of support can contact animal services via email at email@example.com . Applications and more information also may be found at leelostpets.com .
For those who have pets, animal services also offers various programs to both cut down on the number of unwanted kittens and puppies and to help people in financial difficulties keep their pets at home.
Information on both the county's spay and neuter programs and pet pantry may be found at leelostpets.com .
The problem is less a lack of offerings than participation, Brown said.
"Creating the programs and running the specials doesn't change the situation if the public doesn't take advantage of it," she said. "It's kind of like leading the horse to water and not having it drink."