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Giving back: Helping homeless pets in the new year


Elizabeth Medora

NORTH VALLEY – Sometimes, all it takes is the right person in the right place at the right time to save the life of a pet.

For Melissa Gable, PIO at Maricopa County Animal Care & Control, getting pets into the right homes is a daily goal, and she looks for out-of-the-box ways to give pets who are being overlooked at the county shelter their moment to shine.

While working in the kennel wing, Gable saw a senior Chihuahua begging for her attention. Scooping up the 3-pound, toothless, tail-wagging dog, Gable took her out of the kennel and gave her the affection the dog was obviously craving.

“After that, I put her in a Christmas dress and then took her to a meeting,” Gable related.

It’s hard to resist an adorable dog in ruffles, and, sure enough, an HR staff member fell in love and decided to adopt the little senior dog.

Shining the spotlight on the homeless dogs of Maricopa County is Gable’s and other staff members’ goal. The Maricopa County Animal Care & Control Facebook page is filled with adorable photos, sweet bios, and the attempt to showcase the pets’ personalities.

“It’s good for people to see what the animal might look in their home,” Gable said, noting how much happier and more at ease dogs are when they’re out of the kennels. Visitors to the shelter might overlook wonderful family dogs because the dogs are battling kennel stress, fearful of their surroundings.

The county shelter takes in an average of 100 animals a day, and it’s the last resource available for some of these pets. Some of them are picked up as strays. Others are brought in by owners who can’t keep them. Some are brought in from dogfighting or hoarding situations. All of these animals have one thing in common: the need for a safe place to live until their owners arrive for them or an adopter brings them home.

How you can help

At 100 new intakes per day, the need for food, beds, towels, blankets, and litter is constant, and donations of these items are always warmly welcomed. Blankets are often featured at after-Christmas sales, which offers an inexpensive way for the community to help out these pets. Newspapers to line kennels are always needed, too. Donations can be dropped off at the east valley or west valley shelter.

“Basically anything that your pet could use at home we can use here,” Gable noted. “If we get an abundance of stuff, we reach out to our rescue partners. We try to share it when we are able to.”

The county shelter is a government entity and can’t actively solicit donations since they’re not a non-profit. But the need is always greater than the available funds.

“The reality is, about 4-5 percent of our budget comes from taxpayer money,” Gable explained. “We’re essentially self-funded.” These funds come from licensing and other similar fees.

Volunteers supplement the county shelter with supply drives, which the county can promote without asking directly for donations, such as a toy drive that took place before Christmas.

“On Christmas Eve, we like to give the shelter dogs and cats a new toy,” Gable noted. The toy drive helped make that happen this year.

If you’re interested in volunteering or becoming a foster, visit Fosters help tremendously with overcrowded shelters and help the dogs acclimate to a home environment.

“We’re very limited with our resources – we could definitely use more staff and we rely heavily on volunteers,” Gable said. Gable regularly fosters kittens, and she encourages fostering as a great way to volunteer.


Animal Care & Control is open-admission, and there’s always a steady stream of intakes.

“We don’t turn anyone away,” Gable said.  

The county shelter has made headlines for the past month – they’re at capacity.
Some kennels are housing five small dogs together, and the intakes continue. Adoption specials have been offered, pets have been featured on news stations, and the staff is trying to lessen the overcrowding.

While spring is usually when “kitten and puppy season” starts and the shelter gets extremely busy, this year, the season has had no end.

“This year, it’s just been busy year-round,” Gable said.

Animal Care & Control’s open admission policy means space has to be made somehow, and that’s when the difficult decision of euthanizing pets has to be made; county shelters are frequently the subject of debate over this and other practices. But so far, there aren’t enough adopters or fosters to resolve pet overpopulation.

Gable stressed that euthanizing pets is one of the toughest decision staff members face, and they’re doing their best to avoid getting to that point.

“Every day is a difficult day,” Gable said sadly.

There’s no time limit for the animals living in the shelter.

“By law, we have to hold stray animals for 72 hours and that’s to allow time for owners to come in and claim them,” Gable said. She noted that, in the past, staff would evaluate stray dogs, and based on aggressive behavior, the dogs might be put on the euthanasia list, but the observation period for the dogs’ behavior has been extended. Gable said, for many dogs, fear can exhibit towards aggression, so staff is giving them more time to calm down and acclimate to the stressful environment, hopefully leading to the dogs showing gentler behavior and having the chance to be adopted.

“We want them to have that opportunity,” Gable emphasized repeatedly.

When owners come in with pets they’re surrendering, many of the owners appear devastated and the pets are obviously confused and frightened. It’s up to the staff to show compassion without judgment, even though it’s difficult to see so many owner surrenders. Surrendering a dog to a shelter is a far better option than some choices, and, while an owner surrender is far from a happy ending for the dog, they’ll be safe and fed and have a chance to find a new family. 

“We don’t want to discourage anyone from bringing their animals in; we don’t want to judge people,” Gable emphasized. “We just want to take care of the pet.”

Helping pets find their homes

Gable says one of the saddest experiences shelter staff encounters is having well-groomed and cared for dogs brought in as strays, with no tags, no microchips, and no way to get them back home.

Gable expressed how troubling it is, “seeing so many wonderful pets who probably do have a home but we have no way of finding the owner.”

Staff members try to get information out in lost dog Facebook groups and search missing dog posts on other web sites, but resources are limited and staff does this on their own time. Tracking down owners can be next to impossible. 

The county and other pet rescues are entreating pet owners to get their pets microchipped and tagged. ID is the single best way to get your pet back home to you if they become lost. The shelter offers $25 microchips during their business hours, and they can set up dog licenses, too.

The county shelter also routinely offers specials on spay/neuters to help ease pet overpopulation. Get updates on this at or

Adopting a pet doesn’t just save that one pet. It also frees up space at the rescue so that more animals can be housed. Animal Care & Control partners with multiple rescues, and adopting from any of them frees up shelter space. The county shelter is running an adoption special now through the end of the year, and all dog adoption fees are $20; kittens are also $20.

“First and foremost, adopt!” Gable urged. “Encourage your friends and family to go to the local shelter.”

The holidays are drawing to a close, but the season of giving can go on into a new year, whether to a pet rescue or another worthy organization. Happy New Year!