More Routt County residents adopting dogs in pandemic

A dog at Rita Valentine Park. (File photo)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — As Routt County residents adjusted to living in solitude and transitioning all in-person activities to a virtual format when COVID-19 hit in spring 2020, the Routt County Humane Society and Steamboat Digs Dogs both saw a dramatic increase in residents looking to adopt pets and use outdoor pet parks.

“If animals come in as strays and go five days without owners picking them up, they’re adopted out within days,” said Elaine Hicks, executive director of the Routt County Humane Society. “We’ve had dogs and cats literally flying out the door.”

However, Hicks also said the Humane Society takes in many stray pets with medical issues, such as broken bones, tumors or other diseases, which can hinder adoptability and bring heavy medical costs for the organization.

To combat this, the local Humane Society was awarded a $15,000 grant from the Colorado Pet Overpopulation Fund, which Hicks said will be used for animals with medical conditions.

“As a small shelter, getting animals from the community as strays, a lot of them have medical issues that go beyond a regular shelter protocol with diagnoses, microchip identification, blood work and emergency care,” Hicks said. “We’re able to remove tumors and other things of that nature and take care of other issues, and without this money, we wouldn’t be able to do that.”

Hicks attributed the shelter’s high adoptability rates to Routt County being an “animal-loving” community and residents wanting to enjoy outdoor recreation with a pet.

“Pets are seen as another member of the family, so the community is very well educated on pet ownership,” Hicks said. “Everyone is working towards the same goal of finding animals homes, and the pet owners are educated and know what responsible pet ownership is.”

However, as more people move to Routt County and adopt pets, some community members say the area needs more space for pet owners to let their pets play off-leash.

“What we have seen is just a dramatic increase all year in people using Rita Valentine (dog park) and our other off-leash areas,” said Steamboat Digs Dog President Kathy Connell. “If we don’t provide places for people to exercise their dogs and play with their dogs, the impact on the community of not having places where dogs can play and get exercise could potentially be huge.”

Because of this, Connell is pleading with the Steamboat Springs City Council to expand the parking lot at Rita Valentine Park, as she said the space often overflows and is in dire need of repairs.

“My goal was to tell the City Council we’re coming, and we have so many people upset about the conditions in the parking lot,” Connell said of her comments during the public comment portion of the March 16 council meeting. “The parking lot is in terrible condition, and there have really been problems with people parking on neighborhood streets there.”

Connell also said she has noticed more people leaving dog waste on the ground over the past year.

“We’re a dog-friendly town, but we are not a poop-friendly town,” Connell said.

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