Monroeville Animal Shelter pursues mission of helping homeless dogs, cats
Adoption day at the Monroeville Animal Shelter sends each dog or cat leaving with a new wardrobe, large bag of food and a bundle of toys.
A new outfit — thanks to longtime volunteer Susan Rizzo — is only the finishing step in the adoption process.
“She babies these cats and dogs like they're her own,” said Cindy Borish, shelter volunteer.
Spearheading the shelter's mission for almost 18 years, Rizzo, along with animal control officer, Mike Strom, and volunteers take the time to better acclimate the animals to the world — especially those previously abused — as opposed to quickly turning over kennels to new dogs.
“I like to take the time and find the perfect place for them,” Rizzo said.
Tucked away below the Monroeville Public Works Department, the small shelter that neighbors the community's large salt dome can hold 11 dogs and soon will have room for at least a dozen cats. The municipality pays for its electric, gas, water and other utilities, but the nonprofit is on the hook for everything else — food, vet visits, leashes and collars. It meets those needs through donations and fundraising help from the Monroeville Foundation.
While the shelter has been around about 30 years, Strom said it's not known to a lot of people. He and Rizzo would like to change that.
“What the community doesn't see is that we have a unique thing going on here in Monroeville,” Strom said. “We're the only ones around that have their own animal control and animal shelter. Everyone else contracts out.”
The benefit for residents is Strom — a municipal worker — is on-call whenever a pet is lost or another animal control service is needed. But that is not a benefit if residents don't know the shelter exists. And being under the radar means fewer donations.
Adorable and adopted
Tessa jumped through hula hoops and raced through cloth-covered tunnels at the shelter with the energy you'd expect out of a 9-month old puppy. But life wasn't always this good for the sweet, playful brindle and white pit bull.
Monroeville contracts its animal control services out to Pitcairn, where Tessa was found one night beaten and left for dead in a creek. Four visits to the vet in a month at the shelter and she gained weight and became a healthy puppy ready for adoption. Recently, she was released to a new family, leaving the shelter with only one dog.
Finding a home for Jeeter — who looks to be a mix of dachshund and miniature pinscher — is going to be more of a project than the adorable pit bull who was an adoption waiting to happen.
He's 3 years old and has been at the shelter about nine months. He came from another shelter, where he was not getting along with other dogs. He also remains a bit skittish when meeting people. All that doesn't make adoption impossible, but it will take some work — and time — with finding the right owner especially key. Jeeter won't be listed as available for adoption until he is ready, but Strom added that in the meantime, he has fallen into a routine and seems happy at the small shelter.
The size of Monroeville's operation makes it an option for other shelters when they have animals like Jeeter who do better when they don't have to deal with a lot of dogs. It also gives Strom the ability to spend more one-on-one time with dogs that need to be coaxed out of whatever behavior that was learned before being rescued.
“We have a unique system here where we spend time with them, acclimate them again, and find them homes that fit them,” Strom said.
The shelter has come a long way since its start in the 1980s, when it was little more than a holding cell for stray animals that were put down if not claimed in a certain amount of time.
“Animal control anywhere was an entirely different thing at that time,” Strom said.
Little by little, Strom, Rizzo and others turned it into a no-kill shelter where animals are spayed or neutered and rehabilitated before being adopted out. In 2017, 72 dogs were brought to the shelter — strays, rescues or ones simply given up by people who no longer want them — and all but Jeeter were adopted or returned to suitable owners.
A Facebook page has been very successful at getting news about available animals out to the public in the last two years, Strom said.
There are no cats at the shelter now and numbers of those adopted out last year were not available. But the shelter is working to renovate its “cat condos” to make them easily accessible for volunteers to feed and take care of the animals. Felines will start being housed at the shelter again in the spring when that project is finished.
Rizzo and Strom hope the improvements being made will lead to more donations. They also want to show off the shelter to generate sponsorships from grocery or pet stores and other businesses.
“We're finally at a point where we never have to make a financial decision whether we take a dog to the vet or not,” Strom said. “But we have just enough money to get it done.”
Ultimately, the goal is to be the best little shelter that everyone knows about — and have enough money to keep it going strong.
“The saying now is, if you lose your dog, you better hope it goes to Monroeville,” Rizzo said.
Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.