It’s only early November and already several waves of lakeside’s winter residents have returned. Each lakeside group benefits from the fall and winter boost in membership, the additional attendance at fundraising events and the fresh ideas the winter folks add to the year-round folks’ planning and conversations.
Not only lakeside organizations benefit from the big influx of population between October and May. Many local merchants, restaurants and service providers find that struggling to hold on until the return of the “snowbirds” can mean being able to get out of the red.
Another group notices the swelling of the expat population in the fall. For several years, volunteers at Lucky Dog, the Ranch (Lakeside Spay and Neuter) and Anita’s Animals were overjoyed at that a dramatic number of their dogs found forever homes in October, November and December.
Then they started to realize that every spring there was a matching spike in the number of mature abandoned dogs. Each year bulletin boards, local websites and chat boards fill with notices from part-time owners trying to find someone who will take the trusty companion they adopted six months before.
Less discerning visitors drop their winter pet at the shelter on their way out of town. Others wait until dark to tie the discarded pet to the shelter doors or to drop the frightened animal in a strange neighborhood.
More distressing are the criminally cruel short-term dog owners who leave for the airport with the dog locked inside the rental house. Thankfully, neighbors or a gardener call the rental office or the authorities and most of these animals are rescued before they starve or die of dehydration.
There are ways to prevent this shameful annual tragedy. If we work together perhaps we can discover better systems for screening and education to reinforce the difference between the lifetime commitment inherent in the adoption of an animal and the seasonal convenience of having a dog for company or security.
Most shelters and some vets have animals that need foster parents. Some are recovering from surgery; some need additional socialization to be ready for adoption. Usually it is overcrowding that requires some of the dogs be placed in foster homes. Perhaps temporary residents could have a temporary pet if they offer to pet sit for traveling full time residents.
Each shelter needs an army of volunteers to walk, feed, and interact with the dogs awaiting true forever homes. There must be other compassionate options for short timers beyond giving a faithful dog a home for five or six months and then dumping it like the leftover bits in the refrigerator when it’s time to leave.