Lilo strutted into the 79-degree sunshine, the grass sparkling with dew and her eyes with hope.
Speed-dating would start in less than an hour, and today was the day she would meet her prince charming.
But as the seconds, minutes and hours ticked by on Saturday, the likelihood of being stood-up grew real. Happily-ever-after isn’t so easy to find — especially for a pitbull.
Alachua County Animal Services has exceeded maximum capacity. Its 105 permanent and 12 overflow kennels are filled with two and sometimes three dogs. Crates have begun to crowd the hallways, and one by one, the facility’s dream of finishing its first full year without euthanasia for space is fading. Lilo might come first.
She and three other long-term residents, animals who have been with the facility for more than 21 days, would top the list if unable to find permanent homes. And so far this month, the facility’s creative efforts to place them have proved unsuccessful.
The Oct. 4 doggy speed-dating event, part of the month’s “Furry Tails Need Fairy Tale Endings” theme, was a bust. Dates never showed.
“It’s somewhat disheartening,” said Rachel Warnes, a 25-year-old who fosters for the shelter. “Dogs sit around all day waiting to get adopted, and so often they’re overlooked.”
Lilo has been overlooked for more than three months.
Warnes is part of the reason the shelter has been able to avoid euthanasia of healthy animals strictly for space this year. Fostering “opens up space for other dogs that might not otherwise have a chance,” she said.
Over the years and under supervisor Jane Grantman’s direction, euthanasia statistics have been steadily decreasing. The shelter’s recent partnership with Maddie’s Fund, a pet rescue foundation, is jointly responsible.
A decade ago, nearly 5,000 cats and dogs were humanely put to sleep either for behavioral reasons, to end their suffering or make space for new animals, according to statistics on the facility’s website. By 2011, seven years later, that number had dropped by more than half.
Without similar rescue groups or foster parents like Warnes, the shelter’s no-kill goal would be impossible. ACAS is an open-intake facility — it cannot turn away any animal it receives, regardless of capacity.
Last week alone, 107 animals were taken in by the facility and only 94 of those were adopted or sent to rescue. The intake left the already full shelter in charge of 13 additional animals and struggling to maintain the path toward its goal.
Adoption coordinator Dory Rosati said numbers like these cause ACAS to fill up, and they cannot be sustained in the long-term. Something will have to give.
But Rosati still believes there is a good chance the shelter can finish the year free of healthy animal euthanasia — a good chance of finding peace in life rather than death for Lilo and others like her.
“We just need help to get there,” she said.
For more information about Alachua County Animal Services, volunteering or adoption, call 352-264-6870.