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How Tri-Lakes dogs and cats are sheltering in place

Frankie, a 3-year-old pit bull, is looking for a permanent home. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

SARANAC LAKE — Inside the dog kennel at the back of the building that houses the Tri-Lakes Humane Society, the barking was deafening. But it was only one dog, a boisterous mutt named Buddy with an impressive vertical leap. “He’s an Adirondack mix,” said Brooke Gallo as she fed Buddy, a mash-up of shepherd, hound and probably a few other breeds, treats through the wire cage. A few cages down, a 3-year-old pit bull named Frankie calmly waited until Gallo opened the door to feed him treats, quizzically cocking his pewter-colored head.

Frankie and Buddy are two of only four dogs currently at Tri-Lakes, which along with the North County SPCA in Elizabethtown is one of two shelters in the Adirondacks. In another room in the building, 31 cats — many of them kittens — were mostly asleep in their smaller cages. A lone rabbit, already earmarked for adoption, sat serenely in its cage. Of the two other dogs, one is Buddy’s mother and the other, Laverne, is an older black Lab mix. “He loves people on lawnmowers. Also motorcycles,” Gallo said of Frankie, shrugging her shoulders.

“I’ve been here 10 years and it’s the first time I’ve seen it looking like this,” said Gallo, referring to what are record low numbers of animals at the shelter.

Across the country, pet adoptions have risen to unprecedented levels since the beginning of the pandemic, as people have been wanting company as they shelter in place. Many signed up either to foster or adopt — or in many cases both — cats and dogs at shelters, humane societies, rescues and other pet agencies, having more time at home and wanting the company.

“In the beginning of quarantine a lot of people reached out to foster and a lot ended up keeping cats,” said Gallo. Tri-Lakes’ insurance doesn’t allow them to foster dogs, but that didn’t stop them from being adopted as well. “It’s been a while since we’ve been down to four.”

Tigger the cat has been at the Tri-Lakes Humane Society for seven years. (Enterprise photo — Amy Scattergood)

Deemed an essential business, Tri-Lakes never shut down after the pandemic hit, but it did close its doors to the public, doing curbside adoptions. A month ago, it reopened on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and by appointment.

Tri-Lakes Shelter Manager Lena Bombard helmed the front desk with Tigger, a 16-year-old one-eared tabby who’s been there for 7 years. “She’s totally happy here. She doesn’t try and get adopted,” said Bombard, who herself has been at Tri-Lakes for nearly 20 years. “She likes men with tool boxes,” Bombard said of the cat.

Tri-Lakes has been open since 1942, serving Saranac Lake, Tupper Lake and Lake Placid through outreach and community service, and becoming a nonprofit in the 1970s. In addition to sheltering abandoned and rescued animals, it provides spay and neuter assistance for cats and dogs in the form of vouchers that are accepted at 14 area veterinarians, a service Tri-Lakes has been doing for the last 10 years.

The shelter also provides free food and cat litter to those who need it, an increasingly important service during the pandemic, with rising numbers of unemployment and economic hardship. And it will help people find housing for their pets, doing courtesy posting on their own website and through the Petfinder and Adopt a Pet sites. “It’s like a dating site,” said Bombard.

“We cleared the shelter out,” said Bombard of the months since COVID-19 took hold across the country. The biggest change has been the cancellation of so many of the events that Tri-Lakes relies on for its operation, including public adoptions and fundraisers. “We’d go to tractor supply stores; we’d do PetAPalooza at Curtis Lumber.” They’ve adapted by using Facebook for many things, and they did a pet portrait fundraiser, with the portraits posted on the social media site.

With this year’s Bow Wow Meow Luau cancelled — last summer’s event, which featured live music, dancing, a silent auction and beer, and raised over $10,000 — Tri-Lakes is selling $50 Yappy Pint Cards, which entitles the bearer to get a free pint with every one purchased with a $50 donation to shelter. And this year’s Mutt Strut, the annual dog-friendly run, will take place sometime in September or October, albeit virtually.

“People have been very generous with their donations,” Bombard said.

This has meant that Tri-Lakes has had enough donated pet food to meet its own needs, to supply others and to have more on hand if the need grows in the future.

“There are going to be housing issues, with people not being able to afford things, people not going back to work,” she said of the coming months, with many losing additional unemployment benefits and an uncertain future. “If we can keep pets in the home, we’ll give out supplies.”

Bombard said she’s noticed other changes in this most unusual of years. There have been fewer dogs left unattended, likely because most people were at home. There has also been a marked increase in stray cats, many either pregnant or with kittens, and in missing cats. And although there haven’t been more stray dogs, “I did get an increase in dog-barking complaints,” she said.

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