Surrendered to Addiction: Area shelters suffer from opioid epidemic

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MIAMI VALLEY, Ohio (WDTN) – As Ohio continues to top the list of states with opioid abuse, there are often innocent victims that get overlooked, but they depend on the addict wholeheartedly.

Pets of addicts face a number of risks, but when their owners are either arrested or enter treatment, what happens to the animals?

Robyn McGeorge, who has spent the last 13 years rescuing animals, said she has seen numerous animals have to be surrendered because it is the owners’ only option.

“There’s already so many homeless animals already, so to add to that population just ends up increasing euthanasia rates,” said McGeorge.

She owns Robyn’s Nest, an animal rescue in Germantown, where Connie Williams is a senior volunteer.

Williams also works as a substance abuse counselor at Samaritan Behavioral Health and has seen the impact having a pet can have on the owner who is seeking treatment.

She said often, the pets serve as the addict’s only family and support system, so many times, the addict is unwilling to go to a rehabilitation center because they do not have anywhere to take them, and treatment can last anywhere from 28 to 90 days.

That’s where Robyn’s Nest steps in to help fill the void, offering to take in the animals so they can seek treatment.

McGeorge has developed a contract that she makes those who place the animals temporarily in their care, sign.

It details how long they will take care of it, and that at the end, barring any extenuating circumstances, will go back with the owner.

“We would much rather temporarily house an animal, not take it away from the owner, which can really help with their health when they’re getting out of rehab and trying to get on with their life,” said McGeorge.

But that help is putting a strain on finances, finding foster homes and space.

And it is not just Robyn’s Nest that is facing this issue.

Sharon Wiesenhahn is the development coordinator for the National Great Pyrenees Rescue.

She also works for Wendy’s Wonderful Kids near Cincinnati as an adoption recruiter and sees firsthand the challenges addicts face.

“They’re having to look for relatives or friends that can maybe take care of their kids, and the kids end up in foster system and dogs end up at local shelters,” said Wiesenhahn.

She said the environment those dogs come from are often unsafe and unsanitary.

“If they do have animals, they haven’t let them out, so the homes are filled with urine and feces, and you know the kids and animals are living in that,” said Wiesenhahn.

Leo unfortunately knows those conditions.

Wiesenhahn adopted the Great Pyrenees last year after she found him on a small enclosed porch covered in his own waste.

She does not know if his caretakers were addicted to opioids but Leo’s past life is an indication of the bigger problem at hand.

“In 2014, Ohio was the sixth state in the number of owner surrenders we received,” said Barbara Mattson, founder and CEO of the National Great Pyrenees Rescue. “And they moved up in 2016, just two years later, to the number one state of people trying to surrender their dogs.” 

Since then, Ohio has remained in the top three states.

“No one tells you that they’re surrendering the dog because they’re addicted or their children are addicted, but if you read between the lines, that’s something you can see,” said Mattson.

But McGeorge and Williams said they have had multiple instances where the surrender was attributed to addiction, and that is why finding foster homes for these animals is so critical.

“Everyone can do something,” said Williams. “If housing a cat or dog for a month is going to help get someone into treatment, I would encourage someone to look into it.”

She said more treatment centers and animal rescues need to link up and provide a pipeline for these addicts to take their pets, so they can be assured their pet is being cared for, which she said is sometimes the addicts’ only saving grace.

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