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Animal shelters in Northwest Arkansas work to keep up with regional growth

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BestFriends is a national organization that strives to stop the unnecessary euthanasia of animals in shelters by 2025. One location is based in Bentonville. Linda DeBerry is the marketing manager at Best Friend’s.     

“Best Friend’s is trying to reimagine the whole idea of a shelter,” DeBerry said. “Our idea of shelters for the most part is pretty much outdated and concrete run. They always give you kind of a feeling of sadness and hopelessness. So what we’re trying to do is make sure that the animals in our care stay in foster homes, not here at the center. They do come to the center for doggy day care during the day so they’re always dogs you can visit. The cats do live here, but there are cats in foster homes. We know that animals will do better if they’re in a home environment than if they are in a shelter and that helps them become more adoptable, friendlier, happier animals, and so they’re more likely to get adopted quickly.”

Last year alone they had 500 kittens adopted and this year they hope to get 1,000. DeBerry said that kittens don’t do well in shelters and most shelters just aren't equipped to hold them. By comparison, 89 dogs found their forever homes in just the last month. This location in particular does incredibly well with the adoption of dogs.

“It's really important to get kittens out of the shelter environment where they're not safe and get them into foster homes," DeBerry said, "so that they can grow up fat and playful and healthy and when they get big enough. Then they come here and we put them in the kitten room and they're ready to get adopted always a little bit harder to get dogs adopted out of shelters and cats. We've got a really dog-friendly community. We want everybody in Northwest Arkansas to have a shelter dog in their home.”

Best Friends strives to help other shelters in any way they can. There are many ways for them to help. Sometimes it’s as simple as pulling animals from those overcrowded shelters into their care, which ultimately helps with the no-kill percentage. DeBerry said another way is through their embed program.

“There are lots of ways that we can help shelters and rescues that need help and mainly we work with shelters," DeBerry said. "Sometimes what they need is just space in their facility and then we will pull animals out of those overcrowded shelters that are really close. really reaching to reach their no-kill position. So to really help them we can pull those animals out, bring them here, put them in foster homes, and get them adopted. There are lots of other ways we can help them and one of them is our embed program. And we can actually put a staff member into that shelter for a period of time to work with the staff and help them get their volunteer foster programs off the ground. Teach them best practices in a lot of different areas around shelter care, and then leave and leave it you know for them to continue but it helps support that team in a way that they will be able to maintain it after the Embed leaves.”

No-kill means a 90% safe rate. The remaining 10% is for the animals that come in badly injured, ill, or behavioral problems that can’t be overcome. Shelters having 90% for a year get the title of a no-kill. Northwest Arkansas is just about there.

“The shelters here are really doing a great job," DeBerry said. "What we've been pulling from most lately is Central and South Central Arkansas, where they're close to no-kill and they're really trying to reach it."
Fayetteville is the 18th fastest-growing metro in the U.S.

“All over the country, we've experienced a downturn in adoptions over the past couple of years," DeBerry said. If you look at where we were a few years ago, saved before the pandemic. A lot of dogs got adopted during the pandemic the numbers went back up a little bit afterward. They're still not as high as they were before. So if you try to trace it all the way it's still coming down, but they're not getting adopted as quickly as they were so there is overcrowding and a lot of shelters what the cause of that is, I don't know somebody that's actually working in the shelter community would have a better idea of what's happening, really on the ground because I'm a step away from it. You know, we're pulling from shelters, and one of the things that we're working on in this part of the country is changing the stigma about shelter animals, shelter dogs, particularly they Oh, they're broke and there's something wrong with them. They have behavioral problems. And that's not true. They just had a run of bad luck most of them and they're great animals”

BestFriend’s has a veterinary clinic with a full staff. They do spay and neuter for the animals not only there but also for partner shelters. Every Wednesday from 9:00 am-12:30 pm, your furry friend can get vaccines and microchips for free. No appointment is needed.

“One of the reasons people will surrender their animals is because they can't afford to care for them," DeBerry said. "So if we can close that gap up a little bit, people will not be [giving away] their animals just because they can't afford some of the medical care. That's one of our goals, is to make sure all the people who love their animals get to keep them. We also have a food pantry here so people can come and get food for their pets if they are falling short.”

Since this is a national organization there aren’t a lot of local fundraisers. 

“We have a national fundraising team that is seeking grants, partnerships, donations, all of that kind of thing," DeBerry said. "We also have take donations here at the center, and you can donate online right now we have a triple match. By the way, if you post Brandes is triple matching your donation so if you go online and make a donation they will triple match it. So now's the time, it's a great time to do it.”

Volunteers are essential in keeping Best Friend’s running. Linda said that the place wouldn’t be what it is without them.

“We have lots of volunteers and we can always take more volunteers," DeBerry said. "We need volunteers to do work in the center itself. We also need volunteers who will step up and foster it's got to be foster season for kittens kittens are going to be it's going to be raining kittens here very soon. And we need people who are willing to take little baby kittens into their homes and let them grow up enough to come here to the center and be adopted at least the people who are willing to take a mama cat and our babies and people who can bottle feed neonatal little teeny, teeny kittens. We also always need dog Foster's. We take in animals every Thursday we take in dogs every Thursday. We'll try to keep them through the weekend to hopefully get them adopted right away. And then they go into foster homes. So the more foster homes we have, the more animals we can save. If we got a million foster homes we can save a million animals just like that.”

Fayetteville Animal Services provides three main sections which include animal control, spayed and neuter services based on income, and adoptions. Only animals found or living within city limits that need to be rehomed can be accepted here. Superintendent of the shelter, Justine Lentz said they host one annual fundraising event a year to cover things that aren’t in their normal budget.

“So say we get in a dog or a cat that maybe needs some sort of expensive orthopedic surgery," Lentz said, "to have specialized surgery to have a better quality of life. A good example is last year we took in a cat. He was only about 3 years old. He was very friendly, but he had a pretty serious condition in his mouth that he needed to have all of his teeth extracted. And then, if he did that, his prognosis was great. So things like that, that our veterinarians not able to do, it's okay because we have donations to pay, you know, $1,000 or $2,000 here and there to help those pets that otherwise would probably be euthanized. But if you can get them this certain help that they need, then they can live with the reality of life."

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Alexis Anderson is a senior at the University of Arkansas and is studying multi-media journalism. She is from Berryville, AR, and loves spending time with her Doberman, Zorba.<br/>
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