CEDAR PARK, Texas (KXAN) — For dogs and cats with medical conditions, finding forever homes can be a challenge for shelters.
They often stay longer than healthy animals, even if the conditions are relatively minor. Buddy, a 6-year-old who was brought to the Austin Humane Society last year from a rural shelter, tested positive for heartworms.
Shawn Sullivan and his family adopted the pup anyway during 2017’s Clear the Shelters.
“We were looking to add another dog to our family, and we were out looking for dogs one day, just looking at some different shelters,” Sullivan said, “and we found Buddy.”
Buddy, who was called Louie in the shelter, had been there for a month, about 20 days longer than the average stay, an AHS spokesperson said.
That’s the unfortunate reality for a lot of animals who don’t have a clean bill of health.
“It’s fairly common” for potential adopters to turn away from dogs with heartworms, said Sarah Hammel, shelter manager at AHS. “So we try to have all our resources ready to throw at them.”
AHS tests all of their dogs for heartworms before they’re adopted. The parasites are frequent finds in Texas, with up to 10-15 percent of the shelter’s population infected at any given time, Hammel said.
For those that come back positive for heartworms, the shelter will start pre-treatment if the dog remains unadopted for more than two weeks. If the pup is there for more than a month, the shelter will start full treatment, as it becomes more apparent that the disease is an impediment to finding a home.
Free events like Clear the Shelters, Hammel said, see more dogs with heartworms adopted than during typical operations, because the lack of an adoption fee offsets the cost to treat the disease.
Some conditions are more costly than others to treat, and families should take financial stability into account when looking for an adoptable pet. AHS and other shelters are as transparent as possible with adopting families so they understand what they’re signing up for.
But it can be difficult even for the trained vets who work there to communicate all medical issues because they often don’t know the backgrounds of the animals who come into the shelter.
The presence of heartworms didn’t deter the Sullivans, who started Buddy on treatments. Those treatments, though, ended up causing more serious medical problems.
“He’s still got heartworms,” Sullivan said, “but it hasn’t slowed him down at all.”
And, it hasn’t changed the family’s mind about bringing Buddy into their home. “Make sure you know what you’re looking for and that you’re ready to take a dog into your house,” Sullivan advised.
“I couldn’t recommend it highly enough,” he added, “so go and get a dog.”