You may be aware that there are some upsets and disagreements over the handling of our city’s animal control department. This is a complex issue, and I fear that it is being oversimplified in a polarizing way. When people of good will seem to be at odds, there is usually some failure to communicate.
It is a mistaken idea to portray this as a contest between people who love animals and want to find homes for them, versus people who hate them and want to kill them. Or you might say that it’s a contest between having a “shelter” that finds homes for the unwanted pets, versus an “impoundment facility” that holds them briefly before destroying them. It’s a great deal more complicated than that, and we need to take a more comprehensive look at the situation in order to make the best decision as to how to handle it.
Mayor Crafton makes some valid points when he notes that the purpose of the city’s animal control department is to provide a city service. Roaming stray animals are a hazard to public health and to the much-loved pets of the law-abiding public. He is correct in saying that protecting our citizens is the primary purpose for having an animal control department. If the city’s impoundment facility is full, then there is no place to put newly captured strays, and the department is limited in its ability to function. This is not only inconvenient to our citizens, but dangerous to them as well.
While he states that the city of Kennett is not a humane society (true), I think he would agree that caring for the animals in city custody must be done as humanely as possible. I think he would also agree that it would be preferable to find homes for the impounded animals rather than destroying them. In the recent city council meeting, his statements seem to indicate that he feels the best solution is lots of empty cages at the facility, and that this is best handled by an inflexible ordinance: after seven days impoundment, destroying the animal is mandatory. Is this the best solution? I think there may be a better one.
In contrast, we have the status quo. Officer Tena Petix has done some amazing things. While hundreds of animals are impounded yearly, very few have to be destroyed. She finds homes for them unless they are medically unsalvageable or so dangerously aggressive that they are not adoptable.
Not only are pets adopted locally, she has leveraged social media and contacts with other shelters and rescue organizations throughout the country. It is not uncommon for her to move out ten pets at a time, up to thirty or more sometimes.
Again, through leveraging social media, pet-lovers locally and across the country have supported this with enough donations so that all the food and supplies for running the shelter are provided with no cost to the city. The expense of transporting the animals to other organizations also is at no cost to the city. Needed medical treatment of the animals is paid for. The city’s expenses in the animal control department are now limited to personnel salary, building utilities and major maintenance.
Although Officer Petix and quite a number of volunteers put in many extra hours each week, there is no additional compensation from the city.
Unfortunately, the process of moving these animals out can take more than a few days to achieve, and the “shelter” can get completely filled up. Most folks are very happy that hundreds of animals are finding homes instead of being destroyed. On the other hand, we also want immediate control of the stray dog that is turning over our garbage, or frightening our children. That is a real concern.
One thing I am sure we do not want is the kind of public relations debacle that occurred some years ago when every animal in custody was euthanized on the same day and every media outlet within 100 miles was crucifying us. Another thing that I don’t want is to see our city government ridiculed in a media circus, being reduced to being portrayed as “a contest of wills between the mayor and the dogcatcher”. We are better than that. The Mayor is better than that. The Animal Control Officer is better than that.
It seems like a bad idea to trade in a widely praised and popular program that is entirely self-supporting and good for the city. Especially since what we get in return is increased costs of operation (costs of animal care, euthanasia and disposal, plus no more donations from pet-lovers) and plenty of hard feelings and bad publicity.
We don’t wish to destroy sheltered animals simply because the shelter is too full to accept newly captured strays. Yet, if those strays are not dealt with, they themselves are no less victims of neglect because they continue to run loose.
I have worked full time in the Central Missouri Humane Society when I was a student. We adopted out five pets almost every day. Unfortunately, we took in ten pets every day. Something has to give. You cannot fill the shelter to double its capacity and just keep putting more animals in. It is unsanitary, dangerous, and inhumane. You also cannot ignore the continued need to deal with newly presented animals.
I would suggest that a more flexible solution be adopted. The ordinance as now written actually has the intent that the animals must not be destroyed before seven days, giving the owners ample opportunity to reclaim them. Its intent was never to require their destruction after seven days.
Under the present operating system, finding homes for hundreds of animals each year (instead of destroying them) actually saves money for the city, and is great public relations. There is no reason to scrap this popular effort. Mandating across-the-board euthanasia after seven days is a lose-lose situation. It could also possibly open the city to liability should a bite-victim surface and the biting animal be unavailable for testing or the full ten-day quarantine.
However, when the shelter is too full to provide care for newly captured strays, it is no good to neglect those loose strays, letting them suffer, not to mention creating problems for community. We don’t want to sacrifice the animals we already have in custody, but in this case we are pretty close to deciding that the new animals get sacrificed. We aren’t actively euthanizing them, but we are sure not caring for them.
When I worked in a shelter, and we got over-crowded, we had to euthanize some of the animals when we couldn’t find homes for them. We selected the animals not only on the basis of how long they had been in residence (“First in, first out”), but also on their likelihood of being adopted. An abandoned gun-shy hunting dog with a skin condition just didn’t have the same prospects as a little purebred house-dog. The more adoptable animal got to stay longer, as we felt that would be one less euthanasia.
I would suggest that the present adoption and rescue program be continued as is. However, the public health mission of the Animal Control Department is its reason for being, and should be carried out.
In the event of a prolonged period when the shelter is too full to accommodate the impounding of new strays, the Animal Control Officer would have to select animals for euthanasia. This would allow for discretionary judgment in the matter. One would first be sure that the impoundment period had been completed, and then make a selection from among the least adoptable animals.
If the shelter is not over-full, and the public health mission of the Animal Control Department can be fulfilled, there is no reason to have an inflexible mandate for the euthanasia of healthy animals. It increases costs of operation, is inhumane, and is terrible public relations for our city.