Pongo in the pool

Pongo cools off in a pool in the play yard of Hearland Humane Society while Morgan Brown, HHS assistant manager, walks him.

OTTUMWA — The dog days of summer are approaching, and staff at Heartland Humane Society are taking precautions to keep the dogs cool.

The heat hasn’t been an issue yet, said Pam Ratliff, HHS manager, but it could be later in July and August.

Most of the dogs are currently housed in the newest set of kennels, which allow the option for the dogs to head inside, where fans keep the air moving and temperatures down, Ratliff said. “A lot of them stay inside where they can be in the air.”

Sunshades can also be put up on the outside portion of the kennels, limiting how much direct sunlight hits the dogs, said Assistant Manager Morgan Brown, pointing out several that are already up.

Pools are another tool they utilize as temperatures rise in the summer. Brown said all the outdoor kennels have pools as well as the outdoor spaces the dogs are taken throughout the day to relieve themselves.

The water is changed in them every day, said Ratliff. “A lot of them don’t use them, but they’re there if they want to.”

She said the dogs are also given extra water when things warm up, and some of the animals even drink out of their pool. They also get the opportunity to play with special toys in the heat.

“In the summer, we’ll get water bottles, put water in them and freeze them for the dogs to play with,” said Ratliff. “That cools them off.”

They also make sure the dogs get several, shorter jaunts outside their kennels rather than longer journeys.

“If it gets really hot out, we don’t want people walking them a long time,” said Ratliff.

And walking on concrete is out when it’s hot out, both Ratliff and Brown said, as it gets really hot on their paws and can burn them.

But it really comes down to monitoring the dogs for signs of distress. “If they start to really pant or lay around, we get them in here until they’re adopted,” Ratliff said, referring to kennels inside the air-conditioned main building. “If they get in too much distress, we will bring them into one of the [inside] kennels where it’s cooler.”

They keep the closest eye on dogs most at risk of adverse effects from the heat: those that are older, heavier or rounder. Having longer fur can make exacerbate the heat as well. “Those are the ones we really watch,” Ratliff said.

In a way, COVID-19 has helped the situation. The shelter has seen an uptick in dog adoptions through the pandemic. “We were down to eight dogs at one time,” Ratliff said. That number is back above 30 as a lot of surrenders, strays and dumped dogs have come in. But people are still adopting in large numbers, with a recent Sunday seeing nine adoptions.

While the heat isn’t a concern for the shelter’s cats — their sanctuary is air-conditioned — adoptions continue to be a heavy focus as new litters continue to arrive.

While staff is always happy to see animals go to a new home, the worry doesn’t stop when the animals go out the door. “I just hope people at home are working with them so they don’t have to bring them back when they go back to work,” Ratliff said.

Features Editor Tracy Goldizen can be reached via email at tgoldizen@ottumwacourier.com or followed on Twitter @CourierTracy.

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Tracy Goldizen is the Courier's features and magazine editor, leading production of the award-winning "Ottumwa Life" and the Courier's other magazine offerings. She began work with the Courier on the copy desk.

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