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Mike Terry, Deseret News
Sweetie is a Chihuahua mix at the shelter. Last year the Humane Society placed 3,917 dogs and 3,137 cats.

SALT LAKE CITY — Moses, Rufus and Amos got last-minute reprieves and are now, one presumes, enjoying life somewhere, although each at one time faced a possible death sentence.

They are among close to 4,000 dogs that the Humane Society of Utah found homes for last year.

"In 2009, for the first time," said Gene Baierschmidt, executive director, "not one adoptable dog was euthanized. We think that's a major achievement."

HSU, which turns 50 this year, has tried for a decade to eliminate euthanasia of healthy cats and dogs. By working with foster homes and rescue groups, hiring a full-time transfer coordinator and expanding outreach adoption events to pet store outlets in the valley, they reached their goal with dogs last year.

They couldn't save the life of every healthy cat, and they plan to work harder on that this year, Baierschmidt said.

To some degree, it's the nature of the beast — or at least the popular perception. HSU has a thriving foster program, so when the shelter's full or an animal needs extra care, it can be placed temporarily. Sometimes, it gets adopted from there and never comes back to shelter. But it's easier to foster a puppy than a kitten, which must be bottle-fed several times a day. He said most foster homes only take kittens once because it's more work, perhaps, than expected. And cats can reproduce three times to a dog's twice in a given year, so there are more abandoned litters of kitties.

There's also a bias, he said. A recent poll found 74 percent of respondents "like dogs a lot," but only 41 percent "prefer cats, although adult cats are easier to take care of. Some people feel dogs have more personality; cats are about themselves," Baierschmidt said.

HSU teams with other programs in a "transfer" effort that sends dogs to communities where they are more likely to be adopted.

"We bring in as many as 60 a month," said Baierschmidt, "very small breeds, often Chihuahuas, because there is a shortage of them here. Many of those are taken from Los Angeles shelters where they were ready to be euthanized and we can find them good homes. The dogs we transfer out are usually larger dogs. In certain parts of the country, there is a shortage of them." One Colorado town, he said, easily adopts out Utah's larger transfers because hikers are especially fond of them.

The Humane Society shelter, 4242 S. 300 West, is open seven days a week, including Sundays from noon to 4 p.m., which helps, he said. They have about 100 foster homes and always need more volunteers.

Humane Society in 2009:

Spayed or neutered more than 11,000 dogs and cats.

Found new homes for 3,917 dogs and 3,137 cats.

Saw dog adoptions increase while cat adoptions fell 13 percent.

Source: Humane Society of Utah

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