Shelter in a storm

Penticton SPCA inundated with abandoned and abused pets

Staff member Nikki Mihalick of the local SPCA branch checks the condition of one of the 21 cats found abandoned at a rental property recently. This feline lost an eye as did some of the others due to a high infection level among them. Five puppies and a rabbit were also rescued under similar circumstances and are now being cared for.

Staff member Nikki Mihalick of the local SPCA branch checks the condition of one of the 21 cats found abandoned at a rental property recently. This feline lost an eye as did some of the others due to a high infection level among them. Five puppies and a rabbit were also rescued under similar circumstances and are now being cared for.

Inundated with sick, injured and orphaned pets, local SPCA officials have issued a plea for the public’s help.

Compounding an already busy year so far at the South Okanagan Similkameen branch was the recent seizure of nearly 30 animals from three abandoned residences.

At one location, five small poodle-cross puppies were discovered badly matted and encrusted in a mix of their own feces and urine.

In another instance, 21 cats were found by a landlord whose tenant had left unexpectedly. While not starving, many of the felines had severe infections resulting in various stages of vision loss and total blindness.

The third case was a rabbit, its fur so badly matted the animal was stuck to the cage and barely able to move.

“How can people do this (abandon pets)? I don’t know, that’s really the million-dollar question,” said branch manager Tracy Westmoreland. “If you find the answer, let me know because this is heartbreaking to see.

“It’s also expensive with the medical bills that we’re having to pay. We’re just really dealing with a lot right now.”

Most years the facility cares for almost 1,200 animals in need, but if the current trend continues 2012 will easily exceed that number.

“We really need the community’s help in supporting these animals,” said the manager. “Cats, dogs, rabbits, you name it we’re swamped, and with these new animals we’ve taken a number of arrivals we hadn’t planned on.”

The regulars include strays and surrenders from people moving, and situations of compassionate care where pets are taken in when owners are sick or in the hospital.

However, particularly unsettling to the manger is the increase of cases where the pets are left behind.

“I don’t know if there are more tenants moving out and leaving their landlords without paying bills, but certainly there seems to be more people skipping out on their animals,” said Westmoreland. “We want people to remember we are here.”

In the matter of the found puppies, which after having their fur shaved off are little more than very frightened handfuls of skin and bone, rehabilitation will be a slow process.

“Some of them actually have scorch marks on their feet from the urine burns and they’re all incredibly fearful. They haven’t been socialized or looked after and are quite fragile,” she said.

As in the case with the cats, attempts are being made to track down the person(s) responsible with the potential for criminal charges possible.

While it’s still too early to tell, it is hoped all the animals will survive, although the manager admits determining the quality of life — especially in the case of some of the cats — may require some tough decisions in the future.

They remain in the feline isolation unit to prevent the spread of infection to the many other cats in residence at the shelter.

As well as the additional strain on the SPCA’s financial resources, they receive no government support, the increased workload on the limited staff and support workers is substantial.

“We really do need as much help as possible to care for these stray and unwanted animals,” said Westmoreland. “We’re desperately looking for more volunteers, especially in the morning with the cats.”

She agreed working with the animals can take an emotional toll but added: “It’s also very rewarding. It’s a balance, the good and the bad, but you have to remind yourself you’re not responsible for them being homeless but you can do your best to give them a good quality of life until they get re-homed.

“We have so many wonderful animals who desperately want to be part of a family.”

To view animals for adoption, visit spca.bc.ca/adopt or go to the Penticton shelter from noon to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

To make a donation to help the animals, please visit spca.bc.ca/support, call 250-493-0136 or mail to the B.C. SPCA South Okanagan/Similkameen Branch, 2200 Dartmouth Drive, Penticton, B.C. V2A, 7W7.