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Animal Friends calls demand for shelter 'unprecedented'

| Tuesday, July 8, 2014, 2:52 p.m.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Elijah Ballard, 14 left and his brother Issac Ballard, 10 wait with their newly adopted dog, Max, a 4-year-old shih tzu mix at the Animal Rescue League as their mother Ava Ford of West Mifflin finishes adoption paperwork Tuesday, July 8, 2014. The Animal Rescue League in Larimer is one of several area animal shelters that is currently at capacity, although the ARL will never turn away an animal that needs to be surrendered.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Dogs wait to be adopted at the Animal Rescue League in Larimer Tuesday, July 8, 2014. The Animal Rescue League is one of several area animal shelters that is currently at capacity, although the ARL will never turn away an animal that needs to be surrendered.
Jasmine Goldband | Tribune-Review
Payton Barclay, 7 of Penn Hills takes a look at Tank, a 4-year-old neutered male Chihuahua mix available for adoption at the Animal Rescue League Tuesday, July 8, 2014. The Animal Rescue League in Larimer is one of several area animal shelters that is currently at capacity, although the ARL will never turn away an animal that needs to be surrendered.

Animal shelters in the Pittsburgh area are overflowing with fur.

Officials at Animal Friends in Ohio Township and the Animal Rescue League in Lincoln-Lemington said on Tuesday they are overwhelmed with animals, in part because the Western PA Humane Society suspended dog admissions for a month as the shelter deals with a potentially deadly outbreak of the canine distemper virus.

“We have five times more dogs waiting to be admitted right now,” said Ann Ensminger, Animal Friends' director of animal wellness. “It's simply unprecedented to be so full and have so many needing our help.”

The facility on Camp Horne Road, which has room for 250 animals, on Tuesday reported having 371 dogs, cats and rabbits.

The overflow forced officials to cancel a rescue event on Wednesday because they don't have room for new animals. Instead, Animal Friends staff and volunteers will take about 20 adoptable dogs Downtown between noon and 1:30 p.m. for a walk beginning at Market Square and ending at Point State Park with hopes of getting them into a home.

Animal Friends is a no-kill shelter. The Animal Rescue League does euthanize some animals, but only for poor health or temperament.

At the Animal Rescue League, officials are holding adoption specials and offering animals to foster families because they, too, don't have enough capacity to handle the influx of dogs. In addition to accepting animals that are brought in, the ARL accepts those taken in by the city's Bureau of Animal Care & Control.

The league took in 4,300 animals between Jan. 1 and June 30, including 1,036 in June alone. Since July 1, the shelter has taken in 254 animals.

“When you have a shelter (the Humane Society's) size that shuts down accepting dogs for a month, we're going to see it,” said Ann Yeager, a spokeswoman for the ARL. “They have to go somewhere.”

The Humane Society closed its doors to new admissions in early June when a dog adopted from the North Side facility was found to have distemper, a viral infection that can lead to death, spokeswoman Kristen Lane said.

“That is what triggered everything,” Lane said.

The Humane Society has isolated its dogs, sterilized the facility and expects to receive test results for a few dogs that have kennel cough — a possible symptom of distemper — by next week, Lane said.

“The biggest thing we are concerned about is the welfare of the other dogs in the community and at the other shelters,” she said. “We don't want to adopt any dog out that has been exposed, and we just can't risk having an outside dog in our shelter until after the (four to six week) contagious stage.”

Adam Brandolph is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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