On any given day in Kern County, more than a thousand animals are available for adoption. While many are overfilling city and county shelters, many more are temporarily housed by rescue organizations and volunteer fosterers.
“If we didn’t have nonprofit rescues pulling animals out of our shelters, thousands of animals would meet untimely fates,” said Nick Cullen, director of Kern County Animal Services.
Local rescue organizations alleviate the choked capacity of the municipal shelters. For each animal in the care of a rescue, that’s one less dog or cat euthanized.
To put the need into perspective, Nicole Gitzke with the Bakersfield Animal Care Center said that during a one-week period in May, 120 dogs were brought into the shelter and 37 went out.
“During that time, we had three adoptions, nine were returned to owners, and 25 went to rescues,” she said.
The city shelter only has 175 dog kennels. They try to accommodate dogs by pairing up those that get along and dividing indoor-outdoor kennels to create two spaces from one. But there’s only so much they can do.
“When a dog comes in, if we don’t have room for it, we have to make hard decisions,” Gitzke said.
Those decisions include euthanizing animals to make way for new intakes.
The problem compounds when a local rescue reaches capacity — they can’t save any more animals unless the ones in their care are adopted into permanent homes. While a few local rescues have boarding facilities, most rely on volunteer foster homes.
Adopting an animal won’t solve the animal overpopulation problem, but you can make a difference for one.
So how do you go about finding an animal to adopt? And what should you know before starting your adoption search?
Find organizations to follow
In addition to the city and county shelters, as well as the SPCA shelter in Bakersfield, there are a couple dozen local rescue groups in Kern County. Most of them are animal-specific, such as dogs, cats, horses, small animals and reptiles. Others are breed-specific, such as greyhounds and pit bull terriers.
Kristen Mullins of Care for Magical Creatures in Shafter focuses on reptiles and amphibians, as well as a few small furry pets like hamsters and guinea pigs. There are usually two reasons people surrender their pets to her: They no longer have the time or ability to care for them, or they didn’t know how to care for the animal and it’s not healthy anymore.
“It’s not my job to judge them. My job is to make the animals better and make sure they have a better life,” she said.
Mullins recently nursed a chameleon named Waldo back to health after it was burned along its back by a basking light placed too close to his favorite branch. Waldo now has been adopted out with proper care guidance.
Sundee Oberlies Martineau with Bakersfield Boxers & Bullies Rescue found a special fondness for pit bulls when her son brought home a puppy about 10 years ago. Now she leans on a network of volunteer fosterers to care for dogs in need of permanent homes. Pit bull terriers are hard to place because there are just so many of them being bred and they have an unfounded bad reputation.
“Pit bulls have been consistently the No. 1 dog euthanized in shelters anywhere,” Martineau said.
The longest resident under her rescue’s care is Carly, a 3-year-old pit bull terrier mix who has been with them for two years.
Local rescuers rely heavily on social media to get the word out about animals available for adoption. Search websites and social media pages for local rescue groups, then start swiping through pet profiles.
Be ready for commitment
Depending on the type and age of the animal you adopt, you could face upwards of 15 to 20 years of pet parenthood — or more.
“It is not a birthday present, Easter present, or Christmas present. It is adopting a family member,” said Sarah Tietjens of MEOW Co., a kitten and cat rescue in Bakersfield. “Don’t adopt if you’re not willing to give time, consideration and commitment.”
Formerly known as Socks Rescue, MEOW Co. adopts out hundreds of kittens and cats each year, mostly through Petsmart on Ming Avenue. The majority come in as stray litters found on people’s properties or abandoned on veterinarians’ doorsteps. Volunteers vaccinate the kittens and nurse them to health, and then fosterers raise them for adoption. Those kittens grow up to live 12 to 18 years or more.
Dogs can live about 10 to 13 years, or longer for smaller breeds. Puppies are cute but they grow up to be adult dogs who require lifelong attention and companionship.
Gitzke with the Bakersfield Animal Care Center says they see dog owners flat-out refuse to pick up their dogs when they call after scanning the dog’s microchip. Excuses include: “I don’t feel like it. I’m too busy. I have a job.” The center has stopped taking owner surrenders because they can hardly keep up with the strays coming in.
People looking to adopt a pet need to be ready for all kinds of emergencies. What will you do if the animal digs? Chews on things? Doesn’t get along well with other pets? Has accidents? Gets sick? Are you prepared for vet bills? What if you have to move? Rescuers recommend potential adopters plan for all of these potential issues.
Make sure you’re compatible
Some pets are high energy, while others will sleep all day long. Are you the type of person who is active and loves the outdoors? Or are you a homebody who likes to relax?
“The biggest thing that most people neglect to think about is the appropriate breed of animal for their lifestyle,” said Chuck Nordstrom with the Bakersfield SPCA. “They always look at pictures, or movies or TV shows and think, ‘Isn’t that the cutest dog? I’d like to get one of those one day.’ But a lot of times it’s not appropriate because then they’re coming back and saying, “Oh, I had no idea how much work they were going to be.’”
If you’re not the outdoorsy type but still want a companion, consider adopting a senior dog who is content lying at your feet. If you work out of the house most days, think about adopting a pet that doesn’t require as much attention.
Challenge yourself to look at breeds or pets you might not have always dreamed about. Take lizards, for example. If you leave the house every day for a full-time job, you might consider a leopard gecko that is only active during twilight and early morning instead of a bearded dragon who is active during the day and actually likes to be entertained.
“Bearded dragons are one of the rare reptiles that need attention. A beardie is going to be clawing at the cage to get out for your attention,” said Mullins of Care for Magical Creatures.
Other reptiles and amphibians are more “look at me pets,” she says. Same goes for rodents — large Syrian hamsters are far friendlier with handling than dwarf hamsters, which are super cute but often defensive.
Research the pets’ needs
Pets have the same basic needs as humans: food, water and shelter. But those items vary depending on the animals — and they certainly aren’t the only things they need.
Some cat and dog rescues will make sure you have secure indoor spaces so the animals won’t be left on their own outside, susceptible to escape, heat, cold, or injury.
“The backyard is not a place to keep a family member,” said Ana Deshponde, program manager for Lucky’s Crew Animal Rescue, a Bakersfield nonprofit focused mostly on dogs. “It’s OK if they can go indoors and outdoors as they wish — but when the family is not home, they must be kept safely secured indoors.”
Exotic pets require more than a simple enclosure. Before handing over an animal, Mullins makes sure adopters have the correct tank size, lighting, temperature, humidity, flooring materials, and items for hiding, climbing and basking.
When it comes to diet for exotic pets, it’s not as easy as buying bags of dry food. Special diets may include fruits, vegetables, live insects or prey, and vitamin supplements.
And then there are enrichment activities — toys for tugging and fetching, cat towers for scratching, chewable items for busy mouths of all kinds, and exercise wheels and sand baths for rodents. Keeping pets from getting bored will reduce the likelihood of damage to your home or injury to your animal.
Get your resume in order
Rescuers are looking for good fits for their animals and assurance that they will succeed in their adoptive homes. For this reason, they’ll require you to go through an application and vetting process. This can get pretty detailed — are you a homeowner or a renter? If you are a renter, do you have proof that your landlord allows this type of pet? If you move, will you be sure to find another rental that allows this type of pet?
Rescues will also want to know who else is in your household — both humans and other pets — and how well they get along with animals. And they’ll want to know if you’ve successfully cared for this type of pet in the past.
“We do ask a few questions,” said Martineau of Boxers and Bullies. “Like, what drives you crazy? What behaviors do you not like in a dog? Would you describe yourself as a tidy person or are you OK with messes? Have you ever potty trained a dog before? Do you work? What are your hours? How often will the dog be home alone? How will you care for the dog when you’re not home? When you go on vacation, what is your plan? We have people that complain about the questions but it’s called being responsible.”
In addition to an application, some rescues will ask for personal references and conduct in-person interviews. If the potential adopter already has pets, the rescue may even call their veterinarian for vaccination records.
Once you pass the application process, then it’s time to finally start meeting potential pets to adopt.
Prepare for the meet & greet
All local shelters and animal rescues offer ways for you to meet the animal and see if it will get along with other members of your household. You might meet on-site, at a neutral location such as a park, or at a foster’s home or your own home.
Nordstrom said the Bakersfield SPCA requires prospective adopters to bring their families and other dogs to the play yard at their facility to meet a dog before adopting it.
“We do the meet and greet on neutral territory. It’s not 100 percent fool-proof because it could change when you get to the person’s home and the dog says, ‘Now you’re in my yard.’ But it gives you a pretty good idea if they’re going to get along. And if it’s a family, we like them to have their kids there because we’ve had dogs returned if the kid is afraid of the dog after a few days.”
Animals who have been living in foster homes will have a more reliable temperament than those who have been living in high-stress shelter kennels. Tietjens with MEOW Co. says they like to place their kittens in foster homes that have dogs, kids and a lot of stimulation. That way, “they learn that socialization and not to be afraid of things,” she said.
Be ready to pay more
Adoption fees from rescues can be quite a bit higher than from shelters. This is because government-funded shelters are constantly needing to move the animals out of their facilities to make room for others.
For example, Kern County Animal Services charges $85 for a dog, but drops it to zero if the dog has been there longer than 30 days. Bakersfield Animal Care Center charges $50 for a dog but regularly offers promotions for as low as $10. On the other hand, the local rescues will charge an adoption fee of about $200 to $300 for dogs, and the SPCA, which is a no-kill shelter, has a fairly wide scale of $100 for senior dogs to $400 for puppies.
Rescuers suggest thinking of the adoption fee as a donation for saying thank you for caring for the animal. Rescues are donation-funded and spend thousands of dollars on vet visits, vaccinations, spay and neutering, microchips, feeding, training and caring for animals long-term.
“We spend a lot of money on these dogs,” said Martineau, whose rescue waives adoption fees for law enforcement, veterans and service members. “There have been homes that are great homes and couldn’t afford that fee. I take each one into consideration. But do we want that fee? Yah, we do.”
Plan for adjustment time
Rescuers want their adoptions to all be successful. As part of the adoption contract, they will ask for updates on how the animal is doing, as well as be available to answer questions.
All pets will need time to adjust to their new homes. Martineau warns that dogs may be sad, looking for their original owner, and take time to warm up. It can take weeks and even months for a dog to settle in and trust their new home environment. If the dog comes from a kennel facility, it will need extra time to adjust to a home life again.
“When you go into an animal shelter and you’re looking at row after row of dogs, it’s important to remember this is a high-stress environment for that animal,” Cullen said. “Their true behavior, true personality, true characteristics are not going to show through until they come into your house and start to release that stress.”
Cats also take a while to acclimate to their new surroundings.
“A lot of people will adopt and immediately panic because they don’t think it will work out,” Tietjens said. “These cats, most of the time, were taken off the street. They had another life before you. So a lot of what we talk about is gaining your trust and showing them that people are OK. All cats are naturally wary but cats that have kind of been through it, are more wary of people. They need more patience and understanding.”
Rescuers will require you to return the animal to their care if it just doesn’t work out. But that is worst-case scenario. Rescues will try their best to give adopters the tools to successfully care for the pet for the long-haul.
“People say, ‘I would not want a rescue dog because you just don’t know what they’ve been through,’” Martineau said. “You’re right. You don’t know. But even with those 102 dogs we adopted out last year, no one’s come back and they were all dogs that had a past. We figured them out a little bit, and in their new homes they … embraced their new lives.”
Consider helping in other ways
Rescue organizations need volunteers and donations. If you love animals but just aren’t able to adopt, consider fostering, volunteering, or making donations of money or items.
Consider helping to clean kennels and walk and play with the dogs. Or take dogs on day trips to parks, or for weekends or holidays. Maybe even raise a litter of kittens until they reach adoptable ages. Make donations to help with vet visits, pet food, and gas for transportation.
Any little bit will help.
“Every shelter, every rescue, we’re all doing it to find loving forever homes and safety for these animals,” said Deshponde of Lucky’s Crew. “We are just all in this together and doing our best.”