Every year, approximately 5 to 7 million companion animals enter shelters across the nation due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. Of those animals, an estimated 3 to 4 million are euthanized annually due to a lack of facility space and interested families to adopt them.
The Riley County Human Society is determined to help change those statistics. Formed in 1975, the RCHS is an all-volunteer, non-profit organization that was originally founded on the principle of educating the general population on responsible pet ownership.
In 2001, the group enacted an adoption program through the dedication of foster homes in the Riley County area, in addition to their education effort. The group does not have a central adoption facility, but relies on area residents to help foster animals until a “forever” home can be found.
Lisa Pohlman, veterinarian and president of the Riley County Humane Society, said that the organization’s capabilities have developed extensively since its start nearly four decades ago.
“It was initially an educational organization,” Pohlman said. “Now, we can foster and re-home dogs and cats. We have a trap-neuter-return program for feral cats, and we can provide financial assistance as well for spay and neuter or medical bills that someone maybe can’t afford.”
Pohlman also said that teaching pet owners the importance of spaying and neutering their dogs and cats is one of the most vital elements of the RCHS education.
“As a veterinarian, I’ve seen a lot of problems regarding pet over-population,” Pohlman said. “A lot of really healthy, really nice pets are euthanized every year. Until we can teach people that spay and neuter are needed, we aren’t going to deal with the problem. So that’s why it’s so important to me, because I’ve seen so much of the problem and the unnecessary death.”
Through their adoption program alone the RCHS is able to help an average of 250 animals per year.
“We have animals that come to us from a variety of situations,” said Felicia Benedetto, RCHS fundraising chair and PetCo Care & Comfort coordinator. “Anything from ‘I’m moving and I neglected to find a place that allows animals,’ to ‘I’m allergic,’ or ‘I’m pregnant.’ We even have animals we take from people who are getting older and are going into homes where they can’t necessarily take their pets with them.”
Benedetto also said that sometimes, the organization coordinates with area animal control to help remove animals from harmful environments since a witness is required for pet confiscation.
“We’ve had situations of animals who have been reported to us that have been neglected or abused, things like that,” Benedetto said. “We can’t physically do anything because we’re a rescue group, but we work in conjunction with animal control, so if somebody reports something, we’ll go over and see what’s going on so that we can act as the witness.”
While no statistics were available in regard to the number of abuse and neglect cases the Riley County Human Society has responded to, Benedetto maintains that numbers are of little importance in these situations.
“In my own personal opinion, it’s a big issue regardless of the number,” she said.
Because the Riley County Humane Society doesn’t operate a central shelter facility, foster home volunteers are one of the organization’s most important elements. This is a great way for interested K-State students to donate their time to the cause, Benedetto said.
“A pretty decent number of our foster homes are actually K-State students,” Benedetto said. “We have an application for anyone who’s interested in fostering so that we have an idea of their home situation and what they’re willing to foster. Obviously, we want to make sure we’re not letting animals into a home that’s not suitable.”
Jason Belt, RCHS secretary and “foster dad” for the program, said he feels fostering animals is a great alternative for students who are looking for the company of a pet without some of the burdens that permanent ownership may bring. The Humane Society funds expenses like vet bills and boarding costs during short vacations.
“It’s something that’s great, especially for K-State students who are tight on funding and don’t have a lot of extra money,” Belt said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for them to basically be pet owners. They don’t have to worry about a lot of the issues that they normally would, so I think that’s a really attractive part of it.”
In the end, Belt said that the most heart-warming part of the foster program is knowing that his time and effort is helping to save animals’ lives.
“It makes my day when I hear that one of the cats that I fostered has gotten adopted,” Belt said. “It’s just knowing that there are so many good people out there who want to help, and knowing that your efforts can help change the life of an animal. All of that is just fantastic.”