Malcolm Duncan Jr., guest columnist

The way our community comes together continues to humble me. The progress made at our Animal Shelter in the last two and a half years would impress any data-driven CEO. Being a regional shelter, the shelter staff and Humane Society of Central Texas were struggling with an overwhelming demand for their services from citizens and service providers challenged by a growing stray cat and dog population.

After much planning and public discussion, all of us joined together in a common mission to solve the immediate problem. We also developed a community-wide action plan involving education, city ordinance changes and a proactive approach to our Animal Control operations. We all realized that the only long-term solution was to reduce the number of unwanted and neglected animals.

Results have been astounding as we have drastically increased live-animal exit rates at the shelter while making much-needed improvements that impact the health of the animals. Keeping our adoptable animals healthy is critical to those high adoption rates.

In September 2014, we moved forward with a vision for a new animal shelter and asked the community to “open their hearts” and donate to help us take the last step in achieving a sustainable “no-kill” community. The project includes expanding and renovating the shelter site, now more than a half-century old. We have received overwhelming support from statewide and local foundations, cities that contract with us for use of the shelter, the county and the City of Waco. Private donors have committed more than $1.4 million.

Due to this response and expectations of our animal-loving community, we have upgraded our original concept to allow for even more modern improvements to the grounds and building. Our goal is to deliver a level of care that will contribute to the health of the animals and provide a wholesome place to work and foster increased adoptions.

The City of Waco has also hired a full-time veterinarian to support and improve the health of animals in the shelter and foster care. As all animal welfare advocates know, “no-kill” is not the least expensive option but it is the right approach for a community that has such a big heart.

As a business owner, I know that when you invest, you expect a return on your investment. I can tell you that the community’s returns from our collaboration have exceeded everyone’s expectations. Returns cannot be measured in numbers alone. Our community image with our statewide partners and supporters is at an all-time high, greatly contributing to ongoing success.

For the first four months of this year, our partners and shelter have reached “no-kill” status as defined by the National Federation of Humane Societies. We went from a 36 percent exit rate in late 2012 to more than 90 percent this year (and 92 percent last month). Our friends at Target Zero in Jacksonville, Florida, which mentors shelters nationwide to lower or eliminate euthanasia rates, told us originally this could take a decade with the sheer volume of unwanted animals we faced initially. I am so grateful for the community response that allowed us to reach this goal in under three years.

But we cannot stop to rest. We must complete the shelter overhaul to cement our future. Every penny donated to this Animal Shelter renovation will go toward the improvement of animal health at this facility. Thanking our generous donors just isn’t enough. I encourage you to visit the shelter when complete and see what you’ve helped accomplish. Please see the ad in this edition showing major contributors to the campaign.

Again, because we are building a regional shelter, generous, loving animal supporters are still needed. Please consider a contribution to the renovation campaign.

A retired businessman, a civic leader and son of former Mayor Malcolm Duncan Sr., Malcolm Duncan Jr. has served as Waco’s mayor since 2012.

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