Florida is pretty much ground zero for heartworm, but heartworm-positive dogs are challenging to get adopted anywhere. So how did Alachua County Animal Services adopt 11 of them out in one day?
Alachua County Animal Services’ (ACAS) Summer Lovin’ Adopt-A-Thon is the shelter’s largest adoption event of the year. The University of Florida’s Student Chapter of The Association of Shelter Veterinarian (SCASV) partners annually with ACAS to host the adoptathon, with the goal of finding forever homes for at least 60 percent of their available animals.
“We provide pre-event advertising and take home goodie bags for each adopted pet while ACAS waives all adoption fees and provides the free food for the public the day of the event,” said Taylor Burfeindt, UF’s SCASV Event Coordinator.
“This year the shelter had a large number — 15 — of heartworm positive dogs,” she continued. “Heartworm positive dogs are notoriously passed up for healthier dogs who can be adopted the same day. That’s why this year we allowed heartworm positive dogs to leave with their adopter on a ‘foster to adopt’ basis. The adopter agrees to bring the dog back to ACAS for treatment and house the dog through the duration of his or her treatment. ACAS provides the treatment free of charge and even provides food, monthly preventives, and a crate for the dog to use while being fostered. Once treatment is completed, the adopter will be allowed to officially adopt their new family member.”
“Immiticide, the treatment for heartworm, is very expensive,” said ACAS shelter veterinarian Dr.Tiffany Tupler, a UF Certificate in Shelter Medicine alumna. “If we can defray that and bring a great dog together with a loving family, it’s a win for everyone.”
At ACAS, most heartworm-positive dogs have ended up staying just under two months while they are treated for their infection. “We can find a potential adopter by using the dog’s good qualities, but then say, B’y the way, he’s heartworm-positive,’ the cost can be a problem. With this program, we get to add, ‘But don’t worry, we’ll provide you with the most expensive part of the treatment.'”
One of the dogs who benefited from the program was Jordan, one of the shelter’s longest-term residents as well as an older dog. “He’s had doggy day outs and overnights with volunteers, but no snags for potential adoption,” said Dr. Tupler. “The Summer Lovin’ event opened the doorway for him and someone fell in love with him.”
She continued, “Another winner was Bento, a heartworm-positive, fearful, very cute small bully breed. He was a dog being overlooked because he was heartworm-positive, so we re-worked his kennel cards to allow us to explain his condition face-to-face. In fact, we recently revamped the way we promote all our heartworm-positive dogs; we just promote them like normal dogs who love to play fetch and enjoy their humans. We reveal their condition as part of the process.That made all the difference for dogs like Jordan and Bento.”
The shelter also provides adopters with information about heartworm, including an email handout with answers to FAQs, links to informational sites, and more. “Even though we live in a very high heartworm area near UF, we have a lot of rural clients who don’t really know what heartworm disease is. We are able to use our adoption process as a tool for education about all dogs and preventives.”
Of course, the Summer Lovin’ event found homes for many other pets in the shelter, including some of the longest-stay staff and volunteer favorites.
“Hildy was one of the longest-term resident dogs at ACAS,” said Burfeindt. “Her initial intake was in February of this year. Unfortunately, the mix between her high energy in the cages and her appearance — she’s a black dog with a scar on her face — caused her to get overlooked. She was chosen to enter the Paws on Parole Program where she graduated the 8-week training program with flying colors. Unfortunately, since she still did not find her perfect home she went back to the shelter. Hildy was a shelter favorite and everyone was rooting for her to find her forever family at the adoption event. To all of our enjoyment Hildy found herself an amazing forever family!”
“Sonja was the longest-term cat resident at ACAS,” she continued. “She is a sweet cat, but a little on the older side. Her age caused her to get overlooked all summer due to the high kitten population flowing through the shelter at that time of year. Thankfully, with a sponsored basket to draw a little attention, she was able to find herself a loving family. Everyone was ecstatic to hear she was finally on her way home!”