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Packed PACC looks at 'heartbreaking' move to put dogs down to stem shelter overcrowding

Pima County, Humane Society both dealing with influx of pets after July 4 fireworks, monsoon storms

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona and Pima Animal Care Center have each received more than 70 reports of lost and found pets, primarily dogs, after fireworks lit up Tucson sky’s Monday night. Hundreds more stray dogs are likely to end up at the shelter this week.

PACC may have to start euthanizing dogs due to the "critical" levels at the already overcrowded shelter, officials said. PACC is now holding 3-4 times as many dogs as is usual this time of year.

The uptick in the number of missing pets is expected after holidays like the Fourth of July. This year’s figures have pushed PACC further past its capacity and continued a troubling trend of July 5 reports for the Humane Society.

“We were already over capacity and then Fourth of July, so it puts us in a pretty bad situation,” PACC Director Monica Dangler told the Tucson Sentinel on Tuesday.

Dangler said Wednesday that PACC may have to begin euthanizing dogs this week because of the crowded conditions, which increase the likelihood of diseases spreading and injuries due to fighting, and cause extreme stress on the animals.

That would be the first time since PACC opened its new shelter in 2017 that officials would have to take "such a heartbreaking action."

"The decision to euthanize is gut-wrenching," Dangler said in a news release Wednesday. "The last thing PACC wants to do is take this step. Ultimately, we have to make the decision that benefits the largest number of animals possible, keeping as many animals safe and healthy as possible in hopes that they can be reunited with their families. We’re begging Pima County residents to stop by the shelter to claim their lost pets or adopt or foster. You will, quite literally, be saving a life."

When Monday began PACC had 665 dogs and cats in its care — up from 490 on July 1. As of 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, the agency had received 49 stray animals for the day, with an expectation that roughly 30 more could arrive later in the evening, Dangler said. In years past, PACC has generally taken in about 75 dogs daily in the days following July 4, when booming fireworks cause many animals to panic and run away. About 400 dogs are likely to be brought to the county shelter this week.

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"The overcrowding situation is fluid as staff continues evaluating space and making room for animals," officials said. "The next two to three days will be critical in determining a path forward."

"We’ve done our absolute best to avoid this situation," Dangler said. "But we’re the only open-admissions shelter in the county and for weeks we have had far more animals coming in than going out. The monsoon and July 4th only made it worse."

Fireworks can be stressful and confusing for animals, who do not know how to escape the cacophony of sounds, said Camille Hall, a spokeswoman for the Humane Society.

“They don't realize that getting out of their current situation isn't going to relieve them from the fireworks that are going off all across Tucson,” she said.

This year’s number of reports surpassed what the Humane Society received in 2020 and 2021, which saw 29 and 42 reports filed, Hall said. Unlike PACC, only one dog had been brought in to the nonprofit group as of 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The majority of strays PACC takes in are not reclaimed. The shelter is currently waiving fees for some owners who reclaim their stray pets.

“Regardless if it's Fourth of July or just any other day, typically only about 15 to 20 percent of dogs are reclaimed from the shelter,” Dangler said. Pets found by a neighbor have an 80 percent chance of being reunited with their owner. Because of that, PACC has suggested that anyone finding a stray pet should, if possible, temporarily hang onto it and try to locate its home nearby, before bringing it to the shelter.

PACC offers year-round adoption fee waivers for pets who've been in the shelter for more than two weeks, and for pets more than five years old. Right now, they're also offering free adoptions for one pet per family, in order to decrease the number of animals being held at the shelter. Licensing fees for adult dogs may still apply.

Lost and found reports help inform organizations like the Humane Society what pets are being looked for and where located pets are. “We can keep an eye on where pets are because it’s really a Tucson-wide issue, so having those reports come in is really vital to getting pets back to their people,” Hall said.

Putting on a television, some soft music or staying with pets can help combat the bangs and booms of Independence Day, Hall said.

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Microchipping and ensuring data on the chip is up to date is crucial to finding lost pets, she said. Veterinarians and staffers at both animal shelters will check for a microchip early on when stray animals are brought in.

Pets with microchips are more likely to be found as cases of lost animals increase, Hall said. “So I would really urge anyone in the community who has a pet, who maybe just hasn't done it yet to really consider getting that microchip and adding that extra layer of protection for your pet.”

The Humane Society offers microchipping for $25, and the county provides additional information on the service here. Individuals can report lost and found pets on Petco Love Lost, which is linked to both the PACC and Humane Society databases.

From PACC:

People can help several ways:

  • Adopt a medium- to large-sized dog
  • Foster a medium- to large-sized dog
  • Hang on to friendly strays. Pets that stay in the neighborhood where they are found have an 80 percent chance of making it back home
  • If the finder needs supplies in order to hang onto the pet, PACC will provide those supplies free of charge
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PACC

A dog awaits adoption at the Pima Animal Care Center. About 75% of the center's kennels have two dogs in them.