Volunteers use Facebook to adopt animals

Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com Shirlene Tomchak takes a photograph of a dog Wednesday morning with the help of Jill Mariani at the Idaho Falls Animal Shelter. Tomchak regularly photographs the new arrivals at the shelter and posts their pictures on a Facebook page she started in 2009. Monte LaOrange / mlaorange@postregister.com

There was a time when the Idaho Falls Animal Shelter would euthanize dogs every Tuesday and Friday — sometimes a dozen at a time.

But through the efforts of a group of four volunteers, as well as a Facebook page, the practice is much rarer today.

“It’s been months since we’ve put a dog down due to overcrowding,” volunteer Shirlene Tomchak said.

In 2009, before the volunteers began their work, there were 635 dogs euthanized. Last year there were 117.

The Facebook page — started by Tomchak in October 2009 — is responsible for more than half of the shelter’s adoptions, animal control officers said. Today the page has nearly 11,000 followers.

“I come in and take pictures, post all the dog pictures. I’m on the computer all the time,” Tomchak said.

Other animal shelter volunteers also post pictures and information about dogs and cats available for adoption. In addition, they arrange transportation to move animals to foster homes and other regional adoption centers. When they’re not busy with those tasks, volunteers walk dogs and clean cages. They even assist with animals when they are vaccinated, holding them to keep them from moving.

“It’s organized chaos,” said Jill Mariani, who has volunteered at the shelter for a year.

Jackie Stephens began volunteering in October.

“It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done,” she said. “Dogs come in, and they’re terrified. And usually within a day, we have them to where you can pick them up.”

Animal control officer Danyelle Harker said the Facebook page drives six or seven of every 10 adoptions at the shelter.

“A lot of people will see dogs on Facebook, and they’ll call us to get more information and come in to look,” she said. “Or they’ll see their (lost) animals on Facebook, and that’s how they know they’re here at the shelter.”

Animal control officer Gayle Brown agreed, saying at least half of the adoptions are inspired by posts on Facebook.

Without the page, Harker said, “Our euthanasia rates would most definitely go way up — way up.”

Although the Facebook-driven effort has proved successful in finding homes for dogs, cats are another story. A majority of the felines brought to the shelter are euthanized.

“If people would spay and neuter, we wouldn’t be putting down as many cats as we are,” Mariani said.

It also is difficult, volunteers said, to find homes for pit bulls and dogs with black coats — a phenomenon widely seen in animal shelters, often called “black dog syndrome.”

“There’s a lot of tears in this business,” volunteer Camille Crnkovich said. “I cry every day.”

Pit bulls are the most common dog breed to be put down at the Idaho Falls shelter because many have been abused while being trained for dog fighting.

“There’s so many of them,” Tomchak said.

Even pit bulls that are well-behaved and friendly are difficult to find families for, because the breed has a negative reputation through those that are trained to fight, volunteers said.

Despite such problems — and the heartbreak they sometimes experience — volunteers who talked to the Post Register plan to continue working at the shelter.

“The problem will be solved when no animals are put down for lack of homes in our community,” Tomchak said.