Niagara Gazette — In the office of SPCA of Niagara Executive Director Andrew Bell, cats appear to rule the roost.
One lays lazily on a bed in front of his desk. Another occupies the only spare chair over at the desk of Shelter Director Amy Lewis.
As a reporter sits down to chat, a feline jumps up on Bell’s desk and walks leisurely back and forth in front of him.
But if cats run the office, it’s dogs that are driving the need for new homes in the community. The conversion of the Lockport Road shelter into a “No Kill” facility means when space gets tight, Bell, Lewis and the rest of the staff and volunteers have to redouble their efforts and find loving adoptive homes for the animals in their care.
Around Thanksgiving, the shelter had a surge in its dog population and Bell says, with the blessing of the SPCA board, he and Lewis moved to do something about it. They dubbed the adoption program “Home for the Holidays.”
“We’ve waived all the adoptive fees for dogs through Christmas Eve,” Bell said. “We’re trying to make it easy to bring one of our dogs home for the holidays.”
The fee waiver means adoptive families can save as much as $250 by finding a new pet right now. The program began about a month ago and has been a rousing success.
So far, Bell says, 62 shelter dogs have found new homes.
“I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how busy we’ve been,” he said. “It’s been great.”
But there are 29 more dogs still hoping for a home and Bell said the selection is diverse.
“The majority are bigger dogs,” he said. “But we do get puppies and small dogs as well. Right now, they’re moving so fast, it’s hard to keep up.”
It is a culture change for a shelter that only a year ago was engaged in a massive euthanasia program. Bell says the shift to a “No Kill” shelter raises the stakes for everyone.
“The biggest challenge of “No Kill” is to get animals adopted,” he said. “The staff and the volunteers have really stepped up to the plate. We can adopt our way out of shelter killing and we are doing that.”
Perhaps the biggest obstacle that Bell and Lewis face in converting the shelter is convincing a skeptical community that things really have changed there. A former Lewistown pet store and kennel owner, Bell understands that hurdle.
“Believe me. I know what (the shelter’s) reputation was,” Bell said. “It is absolutely critical that we get that message (of change) out that this is a good place to adopt from.”
While it hasn’t been easy changing people’s attitudes toward the shelter, Bell sees signs that the facility is finally turning the corner.
“The numbers (by the end of the year) will smash all our records for adoptions by a long way,” he said. “I think the community has recognized that we’ve changed and that this is a good place to come.”