Animal welfare here: Improving or just ‘in flux’?

Experts see abuse, neglect, overpopulation as failures

Movers & Makers asked leaders in the nonprofit Greater Cincinnati animal welfare arena to answer five questions. Here is an edited version of their responses.

Susannah Maynard is the founder and publisher of CincyPet Magazine, Greater Cincinnati’s only dedicated pet lifestyle magazine. She is a lifelong animal lover with an interest in both journalism and photography. She is a University of Cincinnati graduate and worked in both non-profit organizations and educational publishing prior to starting a pet photography business. As a pet photographer and passionate pet parent, she saw the lack of local publications dedicated to serving the growing number of pet parents, so decided to start CincyPet Magazine in 2019.

In March 1986, several years after graduating from the Auburn University School of Veterinary Medicine, Dr. Zeke Zekoff founded Towne Square Animal Clinic. Since then, the clinic has become one of the area’s most respected veterinary practices. In 2010, Dr. Zekoff founded United Pet Fund, a support organization for 150+ small nonprofit animal shelters, rescues and care organizations in the Tristate.

Ann Ramsey Hill is co-founder of Pets In Need and has served pro bono as its executive director since 2013. The clinic is Greater Cincinnati’s only full-time resource for comprehensive veterinary care for pets in low-income families. Services include wellness, treatment of acute and chronic illnesses and compassionate end-of-life care. The Advanced Care Center provides surgical services, including routine spay/neuter, and dental care, including routine cleanings, digital x-rays and extractions. Services are highly subsidized but not free. There are no geographic restrictions and clients come from all fifteen counties in the Tristate area. 

Mike Retzlaff is the chief operating officer of SPCA Cincinnati. He has worked in the animal welfare business for more than 30 years. At the SPCA Cincinnati, he has held multiple positions in leadership, from vice president of development to vice president of operations. 

M&M: What is the state of animal welfare in Greater Cincinnati?

MAYNARD: I think the state of animal welfare in Cincinnati is hopeful now that the county animal shelter is being run by Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society, an organization dedicated to a true “no kill” solution.

ZEKOFF: The state of animal welfare is in flux in Greater Cincinnati as we do not have a clear leader in the region. The change over to the current official animal welfare caretaker on Colerain Avenue did not advance animal welfare in Cincinnati. Protection against animal abuse is not advanced with the current dog wardens, with the SPCA Cincinnati having to step in to fill the gap with enforcement of animal protection laws. Just showing up in bullet-proof vests does nothing to advance the cause. As a result, many smaller mom-and-pop organizations have picked up the bulk of the load in taking care of animals that have been neglected and abused. Officials in Hamilton County see fit to turn a blind eye to the overall problem despite a number of warnings from those in the animal welfare field.

HILL: At least in Hamilton County, the state of animal welfare for companion animals has improved over the last 10 years. There are now two humane societies as well as many small rescue groups that collectively do the work of an army. Resources for affordable veterinary care for pets in low-income families are now available and there is substantial funding dedicated to helping community cats. Social media has raised public awareness of many issues and connections to available help.

RETZLAFF: The state of animal welfare in Greater Cincinnati is that it is better than seen in times past, but as a community we are still not where we’d like to be. There is much more to accomplish in the animal welfare field. Greater Cincinnati still combats pet overpopulation, animal cruelty and a large number of despaired and displaced groups of animals due to stigma and lack of humane education. 

M&M: In what ways has the pandemic impacted, positively or negatively, animal welfare causes in our region?

MAYNARD: I think the pandemic has had both a positive and negative effect on animal welfare in our region. The positive effect was that so many people were at home, many on their own, that shelters and rescues were flooded with adoptions. People that had never worked from home before felt isolated and wanted some companionship, which shelter pets were able to provide. Another positive effect was that more people started to foster shelter pets for those same reasons. 

Sadly, the downside to the pandemic was multifold in that, because shelters and rescues couldn’t hold in-person events, funding was down. These organizations need donations to continue their life-saving efforts. The other negative effects were that a lot of people were not just working from home but were out of work and thus unable to provide for their pets, so they just left them out to fend for themselves or turned them in to the shelter. Then, once people started to go back to work, more animals were abandoned as people began to return to their previous lives and no longer had time for the animals they had adopted during the pandemic.

ZEKOFF: The pandemic has brought a tidal wave of new pets into households to fill the gap for companionship while trapped indoors. But it did not bring in responsible pet owners, as those who adopted walked into a situation they were not ready to take on. As a result, the number of cats and dogs that have been turned over to shelters and rescues has increased exponentially. The animal welfare community as a whole does not have great business skills in raising monies, so they are strapped financially because of this overload, and at the same time they do not know when to say no to taking on new rescues. This leads to burnout in the field and, many times, hoarding situations.

HILL: For shelters, there was an initial uptick in adoptions. Two years later, however, shelter intake is at record highs. “Pandemic pet” surrenders may partly be responsible, but sudden life changes brought on by the pandemic — unemployment, loss of housing, illness, etc. — are more likely to blame. For veterinary practices, COVID safety protocols such as curbside service substantially reduced daily capacity. The number of appointments Pets In Need could handle each day was cut by at least a third, resulting in appointment backlogs. Employee illness and childcare issues caused many clinics, including ours, to close temporarily. More than two years later, our operations remain below our 2019 capacity and we are still dealing with the occasional cancellation of clinic days due to COVID.

RETZLAFF: What the SPCA Cincinnati has encountered are positive outcomes. Our shelter was able to initiate the Chow Now Pantry, which answers the call for pet parents faced with difficulty affording pet food due to the pandemic and loss of jobs. SPCA Cincinnati also increased its partnerships within the region amongst shelters and across state lines to relieve shelters at capacity, where animals may not otherwise survive.  

M&M: In what ways can people who are concerned about our animals in Greater Cincinnati get involved or take action to satisfy that desire to help?

MAYNARD: If you are concerned about Greater Cincinnati’s animals, the best way to help out is to adopt or foster so that animals don’t have to live in the shelter, even on a temporary basis. If those aren’t feasible for your lifestyle, then donate to the organizations, especially one like Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society, which runs the county animal shelter. They are a new organization and not only need donations of cash and supplies, but also volunteers.

ZEKOFF: The people in Greater Cincinnati can look past the slick PR campaigns and look into the nitty gritty of what is actually going on. Other cities and regions have exemplary programs that can be copied, and even improved upon. Current government officials need to be pressured to improve the current status and not just put it on the back burner.

HILL: Volunteer. Shelters and animal welfare groups rely heavily on volunteers and most have opportunities posted on their websites and social media pages. Shelters are currently overwhelmed and there’s a tremendous need for short-term and long-term fosters. Other hands-on needs might include walking dogs, cuddling with cats and conducting visits with potential adopters. Hands-off opportunities might include general office work, general cleaning, and helping with fundraising events. If you have special skills to share such as website management, graphic design or writing newsletters, your help will be especially welcomed. Or donate. Consider making a small recurring monthly donation that’s automatically charged to your debit or credit card. You won’t notice the $5 or $10 charges but they’ll add up to a meaningful gift. If you can’t afford to donate, host a fundraiser on social media or collect supply items from an organization’s wish list.

RETZLAFF: Members of our community can get involved by becoming a volunteer or foster. Walk a dog or provide a home away from home until adoption. We thrive because of the generosity of individual and corporate donors. You can make a monetary donation via several programs available at our shelter, such as “Paw It Furward,” our Amazon wish list, the Kroger Rewards program and much more.

M&M: If you had $1 million (or an extra $1 million) to spend on animal causes in Greater Cincinnati, what would you do with it?

MAYNARD: I would help out the many great animal welfare organizations that work to keep animals in their homes, such as Ohio Alleycat Resource, UCAN and Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati. These organizations provide low or no-cost services – such as spaying and neutering – and even veterinary care and food assistance, to low-income individuals. 

ZEKOFF: That would just be a down payment on creating a center that would serve as an example to what “could be” in the animal welfare world. Using the old Hamilton County fairgrounds to create a large shelter/rescue, dog park, education center and centralized resource center would be the first thing to do. Updating and letting people know that they can contribute by acknowledging that items such as dog licenses can help support it. … But this program is basically unknown to the general dog-owning public. Cincinnati is a very generous city, and we also love our pets. Getting politics out of it and putting officials in place who will show they really care is the first item of business for this to happen. 

HILL: To start, it would be used to restore and expand our staffing levels and therefore our overall clinic capacity. There is currently a serious nationwide shortage of veterinarians and technicians; as a nonprofit, PIN can’t compete with the generous compensation packages offered by many for-profit practices. 

RETZLAFF: The SPCA Cincinnati would invest in programs that allow pets to stay in homes, behavioral training and reduce pet overpopulation. Our job is to work until we’re out of business from making pets healthy and in their new “furever” home.

M&M: What’s the worst thing someone in Greater Cincinnati typically does to hurt our animal friends? What should be done about it?

MAYNARD: The worst thing anyone can do to hurt animals is to abuse or neglect them. Beating an animal is never acceptable and is something that definitely should be severely punished. Neglecting an animal by withholding food or necessary medical care is also unacceptable, but many times these are often symptoms of a greater problem beyond animal welfare. They are symptoms of a broken system. Many times these situations occur out of a lack of resources, whether it’s lacking a support system or financial means, not because that person had ill intent. We need to make sure that those who are in low-income neighborhoods or who are elderly or isolated have the information they need to get help when they need it. Providing education to our communities as to what resources are out there is key. 

ZEKOFF: Ignorance on what it takes to have an animal companion, and the responsibilities that come with it, this is the first item of business that needs to be addressed. Massive adoption events with no practical screening of adopters, and $5-$10 adoption fees do nothing to help the cause. This only leads to going around in circles, as many of these animals end up back in shelters and rescues. At the same time, very restrictive screenings lead to “good pet parents” being left out of the equation, and those organizations that practice these techniques become sanctuaries vs. just temporary good homes till that dog or cat finds their “fur-ever homes.” There needs to be a balance and common sense employed. Being a “pet parent” is not for everybody and those that use it to make a profit by breeding dogs that many times end up in shelters need to be discouraged and kept from doing it.

HILL: Failure or refusal of pet owners to spay/neuter their animals. 

RETZLAFF: Animal cruelty. People need to be held 100% accountable for their actions, whether that be neglect or abuse. Our humane agents work to not only educate our community but see that those who break laws surrounding the cruelty to animals are held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Discover YOUR way to help is the only public-access search-and-discover guide to Greater Cincinnati nonprofits. Find out what these Animal Welfare & Services organizations NEED NOW – from products and supplies, to donations, to hands-on or skilled volunteering.

Animal Friends Humane Society

MISSION: To promote humane principles, protect lost, homeless, abandoned and mistreated animals, and act as advocates for animals in our communities. 

Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society

MISSION: To reunite lost companion pets, reduce the stray population, offer opportunities for unwanted animals to be adopted or rescued, and provide information and programs for responsible pet ownership.

Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

MISSION: To create adventure, convey knowledge, conserve nature, and serve the community by  partnering with diverse and economically challenged communities in our daily work.

Circle Tail

MISSION: To empower, educate and inspire individuals and communities through professional training and partnership of highly skilled service oriented dogs. 

League for Animal Welfare

MISSION: To reduce the number of homeless cats and dogs in Greater Cincinnati by providing a compassionate no-kill animal shelter and programs that promote responsible pet care. 

My Furry Valentine

MISSION: To significantly increase save rates and decrease the euthanasia of healthy animals in the Tristate by helping to create the public mindset to think adoption first when looking for a new pet. 

Ohio Alleycat Resource & Spay/Neuter Clinic

MISSION: To enrich the lives of cats and communities by providing low-cost, high-quality spay/neuter services, offering trap-neuter-return and other outreach programs, and running a no-kill adoption center dedicated to finding loving homes. 

Pets in Need of Greater Cincinnati 

MISSION: To provide affordable, high-quality veterinary care to allow individuals and families of limited means to enjoy the benefits of healthy and responsible pet ownership.


MISSION: To provide a resource to the community with the rehabilitation of injured or orphaned birds of prey and conservation through education and research. 

SPCA Cincinnati

MISSION: To strengthen the human-animal bond and improve the welfare of animals by fostering the humane care and treatment of all animals.

UCAN Nonprofit Spay & Neuter Clinic

MISSION: To end the euthanasia of cats and dogs in local shelters and keep pets in their loving homes by providing professional and affordable spay/neuter and wellness services.

United Pet Fund

MISSION: To serve as an “animal community support organization,” allowing animal welfare groups to keep their efforts focused on helping the animals in need. 

WAVE Foundation

MISSION: To excite, engage and educate our community about the wonders of aquatic life and the importance of conservation.

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