Life in Rifle going to the dogs

Oil and gas workers can’t find housing that will accept pets causing a surge in abandoned animals.

The effects of the oil and gas boom in Rifle are numerous: more traffic, more people and more building. One other effect isn’t well known: more unwanted dogs.

Rifle is in the middle of an oil and gas boom, jumping in population by over 4 percent in the last six years to a population of over 9,000 people. In a recent socio-economic report [PDF] conducted by the Associated Governments of Northwest Colorado, there will be more than 5,000 jobs related to oil and gas in Western Garfield County by 2010. Housing has not kept up with the demand, and when roustabouts move with their families to Rifle to find work in the oil and gas fields, they find that nothing is available except in motels and man camps. Those places do not accept animals. Therefore, if a worker has a pet dog, it has to be given away or abandoned.

There is only one dog pound in the Rifle area. The 12 kennels at the Rifle Animal Shelter are full, and a couple of kennels are doubled up with dogs. The shelter has seen its dog population almost triple in size since last year. The budget increased from $70,000 last year to $85,000 in 2008, according to Rifle City Manager John Hier, partly because of an increased payroll and more maintenance needed for the aging facility.

This female beagle was lucky. She was adopted after a week in the shelter. (Photo/Leslie Robinson)

"We’re overwhelmed with dogs," said Heather Mullen, Rifle’s animal

shelter manager. "In the first quarter of 2007, about 50 dogs were processed through the shelter. This year, we have dealt with over 125 dogs, mostly dropped off by the oil and gas workers who can’t find permanent housing."

Mullen also noted that most of the dogs are not spayed or neutered. "We don’t adopt out dogs until they are neutered, so that’s an added expense."

"So far, we’ve been able to raise enough funds to cover the vet bills, but what we really need is a bigger shelter," said Terry Potter, chairwoman of the nonprofit organization Friends of the Rifle Animal Shelter, which pays to get the animals fixed. "We budget $10,000 in vouchers for people to use to get their animals spayed or neutered, raising most of that money through fundraisers and grants." She noted that the Rifle shelter may have to expand and a shelter is needed in the Parachute/Battlement Mesa, another area impacted by oil and gas drilling. "Eventually, we may have to ask the oil and gas companies for financial help."

The Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE), works with the Garfield County Sheriff’s department. "We had 372 dogs last year with most of them brought in by the sheriff’s department," said Leslie Rockie, director of CARE, a no-kill facility located near Glenwood Springs. "We ran out of space several times and had to ask local veterinarians to hold animals for a couple of extra days until we could make room."

Rockie said she has accompanied the sheriff’s animal control officer, Aimee Chappelle, around Parachute, where most of the abandoned dogs are coming from to CARE. "You’ll see five trucks with different state license plates in front of apartments and houses, and lots of dogs," Rockie said. CARE is up to 11 staff members and a $500,000-a-year budget, according to Rockie.

Chappelle said that the number of abandoned and lost dogs she has been picking up in the county has climbed since 2005, now averaging around 220 to 270 dogs a year. "Definitely, oil and gas workers are contributing to the rise of the dog population."

Mullen said she has used creative ways to adopt a large number of dogs out of the Rifle shelter. "If a dog hasn’t been adopted in three months, I’ll trade with another shelter for a dog that may be more desirable here. For instance, Rifle residents will not adopt black dogs. I don’t know if it is out of superstition like black cats – I have no explanation for it except that it is hard to adopt out black dogs in this area. So, I’ll swap a black lab dog for another breed." She also works with organizations that find homes for particular breeds.

The Rifle shelter is a no-kill facility, but it’s getting harder and harder to find homes for the excess dogs, according to Mullen. "Volunteers bring animals to Petco almost every weekend and have special adoption events, but we still have more dogs than we can handle."

Will the shelter eventually have to forgo its no-kill policy because of the surplus of dogs from the oil and gas workers? "I pray that it doesn’t come to that," Mullen said.

Comments are closed.