MATTOON — Sandy Bowman walked through the front door of Coles County animal shelter after a brisk walk outside with 4-year-old Redemption on a red rope leash.
The short-hair mix immediately sat down — his thick white tail brushing casually across the floor — and rolled over, silently begging for a belly rub. The rural Cumberland County resident said she and co-worker Nina Milliner saw the medium-sized dog online after his owners dropped him off 21 days ago because they’ve moved.
“I’ve always had dogs, sometimes multiple dogs,” Bowman said. “I adopted my dog from the shelter about 11 years ago.”
Her sheltie-collie mix died, and now Bowman believes she might be ready for her next companion.
“It’s nice having a dog especially living in the country,” she added.
Bowman sat with the dog in the “meet and greet” room at the County Animal Rescue & Education (CARE) Center on Thursday morning where she learned that Redemption could sit and lie down.
Assistant Manager Jason Wallace says using online resources — especially Facebook — has helped spread the word about pets like the 4-year-old trained dog.
“Facebook has been a blessing for us,” he said in his office Thursday. “We had a pit bull who had been here for a few weeks until he was finally adopted.”
That was when the shelter discovered he had heartworms, but the owner-to-be couldn’t afford the $300 treatment.
“We put it up on Facebook that day and within an hour a woman dropped $40 by the front desk. Then, within two hours we got a call from Crestline (Veterinary Clinic),” he said.
A woman from Colorado called and paid for the treatment.
“It’s amazing the people you can reach when people share your information,” he said. “I can’t say enough about that website.
“When that happened we all kind of go teary-eyed; it really touches your heart.”
One of the latest photos on the shelter’s page is of a poodle who was rescued from the old Young Radiator property Thursday morning in Mattoon before the snow and ice storm.
“His coat was probably half his body weight and terribly matted when we found him,” Wallace said.
City workers called about him, though the shelter staff never saw him until they caught him in a live trap. The staff took him immediately to The Crooked Tail in Mattoon, and the matted hair came off in nearly one-pound clumps.
“Initially I thought he was some sort of poodle mix, but now that we have him shaved I don’t know,” Wallace joked.
The dog spent Thursday on a king-sized padded bed in Wallace’s office under a fleece tie blanket.
“We’re going to keep him in here until he’s strong enough to go out to the runs,” Wallace added. “He probably didn’t know what a comfy bed was, but he’s neutered so someone spent money on him at some time.”
The poodle had no microchip, and this is a circumstance the shelter is trying to eliminate with a push to have every animal that leaves shelter implanted with the tracking device. Wallace says about four years ago the shelter started mircochipping animals upon request, but it’s now taking a proactive approach to the possible pet saver.
“We’ve seen a difference in our return-to-owner numbers,” he said. “It’s sad, but most people say ‘oh, the coyotes got ’em’ or ‘they went off to die’ or ‘someone stole my pet’, but more likely animal control has him,” Wallace said. “We have several unclaimed pets who no one ever comes to claim.”
To help with the number of unclaimed animals, Wallace said they are also trying to put the shelter’s name in front of the public’s eyes more each year. Last year the staff walked with people-friendly animals in the Eastern Illinois University Homecoming parade and the Mattoon holiday parade.
“With the warmer weather we hope to do more parades like Bagelfest and get out to Rural King and PetSmart,” he said.
The result from the holiday parade was a highlight for Wallace. He said the crowd reacted well to the animals and phone calls poured in about the animals walking and visiting with children along the route.
“It was a win-win for everyone — every dog we brought was extremely people friendly, and they were able to get some good exercise and the staff got some good exercise, too.”
On the horizon, on April 10, the staff is teaming up with Buffalo Wild Wings in Mattoon which has agreed to donate 10 percent of sales starting at 5 p.m. that day to the shelter.
“We will be on hand to answer questions and get the word out that night too,” he said.
And Wallace believes their extra efforts haven’t gone unrewarded; overall the numbers from the shelter are positive, Wallace said.
According to the College of Veterinary Medicine, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, the recent economic recession didn’t have a direct effect on owners giving up their pets, but adoption rates dropped nationwide. However, this isn’t the case at the local shelter.
“The recession did not greatly affect the owner’s decision on relinquishment except for the relinquishment of senior dogs, which may be associated with increased costs of care,” the UI report said. However, “an unfavorable economic environment may have reduced adoption of animals.”
From 2011 to 2012, the relinquishment and adoption rates stayed about the same, which was a pleasant surprise, Wallace said. Throughout 2012 the shelter averaged about 39 adoptions per week.
Most of the animals in the shelter are a mix of surrenders and rescues, Wallace explained.
“We’ve had several people moving, but I can’t say that is directly related to the recession,” he said.
“We were worried with jobs too, but I was dumbfounded when the numbers stayed the same.”
One of the best adoption seasons was last Christmas, Wallace says, when the kitten room was emptied.
“This Christmas was actually our best — ever,” he said.
“For dogs, I’ve been here for 14 years, and I’ve never seen the east side empty, and this year it did.”
The shelter won’t allow residents to buy pets as gifts for another household, but after the 24-hour adoption process, they can take home a pet for their own home, he said.
“That 24 hours gives us enough time to run the paperwork, and they can take time think about having a pet and talk it over with their spouse,” Wallace said.
To adopt, a potential pet owner fills out an adoption application and, if they rent their home, must show proof from their landlord that owning pets is legal at their residence. The adoption fee is $41 for cats and dogs.
However, to help an animal, Wallace says adoption isn’t the only option. Volunteers come to shelter to play with the cats and walk the dogs each week.
He says some volunteers come to the shelter with laser pointers to use as toys in the cat rooms — “they love that kind of thing.”
Even for exercise, volunteers will put a dog on a leash, walk down the gravel road to the next CARE property, come back and switch out dogs.
“Working with this community is great. We’ll have teachers who ask their kids to collect toys and treats, and then they’ll drop by a load of things. It really amazes me; growing up I never thought about doing this kind of thing, but we’ve had kids — young kids — who have a birthday party, and instead of asking for gifts for themselves they ask their guests to bring in treats for the animals here.
“I never thought about that kind of thing as a kid, especially at that young age when all you think about is your own toys.”
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