There are more than 100 cats and dogs who will be spending Christmas not with a family, but at the Almost Home Humane Society of North Central Iowa.
"We're right at 60 cats and about 50 dogs," Tania Dencklau, shelter manager, said.
For Christmas, the animals are receiving gifts of donated toys and treats that will be passed out on Christmas.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Domino, one of the dogs available for adoption at the Almost Home Shelter, shows off his holiday season sweater and hat. The Kong toy is for year-round use. His former owners drove him to the Fort Dodge facility from Chicago because it accepts pit bulls and is a no-kill shelter.
"We have a Christmas tree up front," Dencklau said. "People drop off donations, Christmas presents for the animals, different toys. We like to dress them up in holiday sweaters."
The shelter has been busy this year, keeping at maximum capacity.
"We stay pretty steady. As soon as one animal gets adopted, we bring in another one to fill that cage," Dencklau said. "We have a huge waiting list."
The increasing need is unfortunate, Renee Drown, shelter director, said.
"Especially with the cats," she said. "You can drive down any road in Fort Dodge and see a cat wandering down the road, whether it's a cat that belongs to someone and is just an outside cat, or a stray. The cat population is always close to being overly full."
Dogs are adopted more quickly than cats.
"It's usually smaller dogs that find homes faster," Dencklau said. "The big dogs take a little bit longer."
Drown added, "Especially the bully breeds, like black Labs, pit bulls."
Giving animals as Christmas gifts is discouraged, for kids or for friends.
"Sadly, many of those animals generally end up coming back to us when they're adults," Drown said. "The novelty of the cute puppy or kitten wears off, or they didn't realize how much responsibility it actually was."
The screening process is more strict during the gift-giving season for this reason, Drown said, to make sure the animals go to a forever family and aren't a "novelty guest."
Forever families are good for animals.
"It's really hard for an animal when you go and think you have your family, and then your family has to leave and now you're stuck in a shelter waiting for your next family," Dencklau said. "We'd love them to, once they go to a home, to stay in that home forever. It's kind of traumatizing for a lot of animals."
People who are ready to commit to an animal and be responsible for it are sought for the animals.
"If you get a small dog, their life expectancy is going to be 12 to 18 years," Drown said. "The puppies are adorable, but it's absolutely a 15- to 18-year commitment you're making, especially the bigger dogs. It is very stressful for the animals to have to bounce around."
While there many animals to be cared for, this is never a burden for the shelter.
"That's what we're here for," Dencklau said. "We're here to help as many animals as we can."