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Animals Linger Longer at HIHS as Adoptions Wane

By Tiffany DeMasters
May 18, 2022, 9:32 AM HST
* Updated May 18, 9:44 AM
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Sebastian is HIHS’s longest shelter stay dog. He is currently in a foster home. (PC: Natalie Bisnow)

Waning adoptions at Hawai‘i Island Humane Society have resulted in dogs and cats living out their lives in kennels, drawing concern among animal advocates.

On May 10, HIHS posted a plea to the community on its Facebook page alerting residents of the unprecedented crisis facing animal welfare in Hawai‘i County and across the country. HIHS CEO Lauren Nickerson said the shelter is currently housing 250 dogs and cats.

“Animals are being surrendered or turning up as strays in high volumes, adoptions have slowed, and pets are spending extended periods of time living in shelters,” the post reads.

Nickerson said there are currently highly adoptable animals at the shelter.

“Puppies shouldn’t grow up in shelters. They need to grow up in homes,” she said.

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Nickerson attributes some of the lack of interest in adoptions to the COVID-19 pandemic and people returning to work, which led to many animals being surrendered.

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As a nonprofit organization, HIHS officials say they work to serve as a lifesaving transfer partner for the County of Hawai‘i Animal Control Services. According to the Facebook post, HIHS team visits animal control facilities on a regular basis selects animals to transfer into their care, and get ready for adoption.

However, HIHS kennels are full.

“We cannot take in animals when we do not have space,” the Facebook post reads.

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To help address this crisis, Nickerson is calling on the community to consider fostering a pet. Whatever apprehensions people might have with fostering, Nickerson hopes to put those concerns to rest.

“A person who works full time it doesn’t preclude them from adopting or fostering,” she said.

Nickerson praised the foster families HIHS does have for opening their homes to shelter animals. Natalie Bisnow and her husband Chris are currently fostering Sebastian, who is HIHS’s longest-stay shelter resident after arriving in February 2021.

Natalie Bisnow said she and her husband, Chris, signed up to foster about six months ago and Sebastian immediately caught their eye as they read the dog had been in the shelter for more than 400 days.

“That number was immediately too terrible to bear,” Chris Bisnow said.

The Bisnows took Sebastian on April 8.  Since then, Chris Bisnow said they are leaning toward keeping Sebastian.

“He just wants to give so much love,” Natalie said, adding Sebastian wants to be loved.

The Bisnows encourage people to foster if they can.

“The dogs just need a chance,” Chris Bisnow said, adding the older dogs are great because they are usually housebroken and have other training.

Chris Bisnow said there’s no reason not to foster as HIHS provides everything you need as far as a leash, some pet food and toys.

Charlie is recovering with a foster family after having surgery to amputate his leg after being hit by a car. (PC: Deborah Hillman)

“They’re going to find the right fit for your home,” Chris Bisnow said, adding if the animal doesn’t work out, people can return it.

Deborah Hillman has been fostering for HIHS for about seven years.

“We’ve fostered 94 dogs and I’ve been delighted the homes they’ve ended up in,” Hillman said.

Hillman is currently fostering Charlie. The dog is recovering in her home after having its leg amputated after being hit by a car.

When someone fosters, Hillman said, it frees up a kennel so HIHS can take in more dogs if needed.

“Fostering, in general, you help the dog socialize get them used to a family and get them prepared to life in a home. it makes them more adoptable,” Hillman said.

Hillman said HIHS works with fosters to match them with animals that fit their lifestyles and schedules. If it doesn’t work, there are always more dogs and cats. 

“I think of fostering as a job,” Hillman added. “I give them so much love. My job and my dog’s job is to teach them how to be normal dogs. our purpose is to help them move on and give them a better chance.”

If fostering or adopting isn’t an option, HIHS offers ways for the community to work together to keep animals out of shelters. The first is spaying and neutering pets.

HIHS encourages people to keep the animals they have. The nonprofit offers a variety of resources to help keep pets in homes. For more information, email [email protected].

HIHS asks landlords and property owners to make their rentals pet-friendly.

“The lack of pet-friendly housing is crushing our community and forcing people to make heartbreaking decisions,” the HIHS Facebook states.

The nonprofit also provides resources on responsible pet ownership and to protect property at the same time. Email [email protected] for resources and information.

“There are more animals than there are us,” Nickerson said of HIHS staff. “We deeply love them and we want to see them in homes where they’re loved and given the care they deserve.”

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.
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