ORLANDO, Fla. — The barking doesn’t overwhelm you, though you figured it might.

What You Need To Know

  • Tonka, a 7-year-old pit bull mix, has spent 215 days at Orange County animal shelter

  • Shelter officials aim to find him a permanent home in time for Thanksgiving

  • Shelter manager: “We’re recommending that he be the only dog in his future home”

  • HOW TO ADOPT: Email the shelter at AnimalServices@ocfl.net for more info

When you enter the kennel area of Orange County Animal Services‘s shelter, you find yourself surprised by the cleanliness and lack of canine chaos.

The near and distant barks strike you not as barks of despair but of greeting, as if to say, “Hey, I’m over here. Please come say hi.”

On the third kennel to the right, animal number A450668 pays you no attention, even though you hold a camera. He wags his tail, tilts his head inquisitively, and keeps his eyes on the person who had just given him treats.

That’s Tonka, another dog who likes to stay stuffed.

The 7-year-old pit bull mix has spent 215 days at the shelter — approaching a probable record — and Orange County Animal Services is using the occasion of Thanksgiving to appeal to anyone who might adopt a four-legged companion with an appetite.

“The boy loves to eat,” said Diane Summers, manager of Orange County Animal Services. “There’s a world of difference in what he would experience in a home, where he could hope to be slid some turkey or mashed potatoes, and that’s what we want for him to experience.”

Tonka’s 215 days in the shelter apparently rivals that only of a dog named Rocket, who got adopted early this year after 220 days at the shelter.

Summers said that likely stands as the longest the shelter ever has held a dog. Dogs typically get adopted within about eight days, she said.

Pets and the Coronavirus Trend

Tonka’s abnormally long wait for a permanent home comes even amid reports that pet adoptions remain on the rise because of the coronavirus pandemic. Isolation from friends and family has prompted more people to seek companionship from dogs, cats, and other pets, reports say.

Statistics from Orange County Animal Services support that trend. The shelter reported in October a release rate of 89%, compared with 83% the previous year. That includes, among other factors, adoptions and pets returned to their owners.

For dogs, the rate was 97% this year compared with 95% the previous October. For cats, the release rate was 85% this year vs. 76% last year.

On Friday, the animal shelter held about 100 dogs, about half of its capacity and down from 150 dogs earlier in the year, Summers said.

Because people are spending so much time at home, sometimes alone, “there’s been an emphasis on people wanting to help pets, wanting to surround themselves with animals,” Summers said. “It has led us to have a very successful year for our animals in spite of everything that’s going on in the world right now.”

Abandoned in a Backyard

Yet like many humans, Tonka has had an awful 2020. In April, the dog’s owner moved and abandoned him in the backyard of a home in Orange County’s Conway area while trying to find somebody to adopt him, the shelter said.

Animal Services took him in on April 15. After about six months, Tonka got adopted but was returned a week later. In early November, he got adopted again but was returned hours later because the adopter’s landlord wouldn’t allow him to stay, Summers said.

“He’s been very let down by people this year,” she said.

Upon eye contact, Tonka rushes to you and wags his tail, perhaps looking for anything to eat. He lets you pet him for a minute or two, then takes off running and jumping in a fenced area outside his kennel.

Summers pointed out that, at a muscular 55 pounds, Tonka is strong and energetic, especially for a 7-year-old. He also at times has shown aggressiveness toward other dogs. That could turn away potential adopters who own other dogs or visualize calm walks in the park, she said.

“We’re recommending that he be the only dog in his future home, and that’s very limiting,” Summers said.

Also, Tonka is receiving treatment for heartworms — a manageable disease that carries a stigma because of a lack of understanding, according to shelter officials.

He has been neutered and vaccinated, and he sports a funny white tip on his active brown tail.

His lack of other unique characteristics apparently hurts him when it comes to finding a home.

“He does not stand out,” Summers said. “We have a lot of dogs that look like him — dogs that are sort of ‘average Joes.’ They struggle to stand out, and he’s a prime example.”