PEORIA — Though a leash kept her from a good run, Candy was obviously pleased to be out of the concrete block kennel at the Peoria County Animal Protection Services shelter.
A petite, golden-colored pit bull terrier with luminous amber eyes, Candy was romping and rolling with glee in the winter-brown grass March 2.
“Lets take her into the shade,” volunteer photographer Ava Kamm said to Clifton Mitchell, another regular volunteer who was manning the leash.
Kamm is one of several photographers who regularly visit PCAPS to photograph adoptable dogs and cats. Their photos end up online and in various publications, including the Journal Star’s Pet of the Week, where prospective pet owners are frequently seduced.
“I’ve photographed probably close to 100 dogs since I started doing this,” said Kamm. “I think they’ve all been adopted so far.”
Candy was one of them — she was adopted not long after her photo hit Facebook.
Since early 2015 PCAPS has not euthanized a single dog due of lack of kennel space. It’s a miraculous trend to PCAPS education coordinator Kitty Yanko, who has seen much darker days in the nearly 24 years she’s been working there.
“I remember when we were getting 8,500 animals a year,” said Yanko. “We were seeing 200 animals a week in the summer at peak times. It was very common for the kennel to be full.”
Last year PCAPS took in just over 4,000 animals. It’s a trend that appears to be the new norm.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” said PCAPS shelter director Bridget Domenighini. “Both education and awareness.”
After years of telling people about the need to spay and neuter pets, the staff at PCAPS is glad to see the message taking effect. One thing that has helped is the proliferation of programs helping people pay for neutering their animals. Most area shelters offer the service at reduced cost — for pit bull terriers, which are seen far too frequently at PCAPS, the shelter does it for free.
A societal trend that is likely contributing to the lowered numbers of unwanted pets is that cruelty to animals has become increasingly unacceptable over the last 20 years, said Yanko.
“For years Lauren and I did presentations to anyone who would listen — CILCO readers, police, educators — to make people aware that there is a link between violence to animals and violence to people,” said Yanko, referring to long-time PCAPS director Lauren Malmberg who retired last year. “I think today people are more conscious of animal abuse because of social media. When a story hits, they react. There’s a stronger sense that that’s not acceptable.”
A story on the Journal Star website about six 10-day-old puppies dumped on a roadside in Pekin early in March drew indignant comments from several readers.
“That is terrible. If you can’t afford the $40 it costs through the low cost programs to get your animals fixed, don’t have pets to begin with,” wrote Angela Lockwood Chism in the online comment section. “I have had all of my pets done through these programs and not only do they get fixed super cheap it includes 1 year of vaccinations.”
The story also mentioned a recent increase in kittens being dumped in the spring. Though euthanizations of cats is down at PCAPS, cyclical overcrowding still makes the procedure necessary for cats, said Yanko.
“We still do get inundated in the spring and the fall with kittens,” she said. “Let’s try to tackle that — if you keep the cats inside and have them spayed or neutered, there will be less problem with them reproducing.”
PCAPS volunteers like Kamm are doing their best to get animals adopted. With a masters degree in zoology and a strong interest in photography, Kamm began volunteering at the shelter earlier this year hoping the effort will expand into a pet photography business. In addition to giving photos to the shelter, Kamm displays them on Facebook, Instagram, and her website, DogAnthology.com.
All PCAPS volunteers share photos of homeless animals that come into the shelter, but the professional quality photos often have extra impact, said Yanko.
“Those pictures that capture that dog with it’s head tilted — who can resist that?”
The efforts of volunteers like Kamm have been incredibly helpful, said Yanko.
“I think it makes a huge difference,” she said. “It goes on social media and everybody shares it. The plight of the homeless animal has come more to the forefront because of that.”