Waco animal shelter sees more adoptions and improvements

By J.B. SMITH jbsmith@wacotrib.com

Waco’s public animal shelter is boasting of progress as it heads into its first spring “puppy season” under the city of Waco’s management.

The Circle Road shelter has shown marked reductions in euthanasia and increases in adoptions and rescues since the city took over the kennels from the Humane Society of Central Texas last fall. Under the agreement with the city, Humane Society staff has stayed on at the shelter to market the animals.

“We’re moving a lot of animals,” said Don Bland, executive director of the society. “For the last two months, we’ve had 100 rescues a month. The other rescue organizations have really stepped up. Our staff has worked really hard to find homes for these animals.”

In January and February, the 
euthanasia rate among exiting animals was 29 percent, compared with 55 percent in the same two-month 
period in 2012.

The city also has made $30,000 in sanitation-related improvements since the takeover.

That includes replacing the air-conditioning system in the intake and quarantine building and ripping out the drop ceiling, which was 
covered with rat droppings. The building’s floors are being sealed and doors are being replaced to keep pathogens from spreading.

“Animal health issues needed to take priority,” said Assistant City Manager Wiley Stem, who oversees the shelter. “I think it smells better and looks better. . . . To me, the biggest deal is that we’re able to use city resources to make some improvements directly related to the health of the animals.”

The city plans to spend another $70,000 on capital improvements this year. It already is installing a new temporary building to house puppies, keeping them isolated from the diseases of the adult population.

The city’s operational costs also are expected to increase by about $32,000 under the new management agreement. The city had been paying the Humane Society $300,000 a year, supplemented by funding from the county and other cities.

Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said he doesn’t mind paying more to ensure that the shelter is properly managed.

“I’ve been very pleased with the progress that we’ve made,” he said. “I think we’ve seen the 
Humane Society have much more ability to focus on its mission.”

Meanwhile, the city has taken a tougher line against pet owners who are careless about letting their animals breed. In the past, the shelter has seen a flood of puppies dropped off in the spring, sometimes after business hours in a side pen.

Starting in early March, the city now charges 
Waco residents $50 to drop off animals and is considering closing its after-hours drop-off pen.

The policy already has gotten some pushback from clients of the shelter, Stem said.

He said some who drop off animals consider themselves “good Samaritans,” turning in lost animals they find. But Stem said it’s hard to tell who is being responsible and who’s not, and the fee makes people think twice about surrendering an unwanted pet.

“Fifty dollars is less than what it takes to take care of the animal,” he said. “It’s like a user fee. It’s not equitable to the rest of the citizens to pay so a very small percentage can drop off a litter of puppies. . . . My viewpoint is, if you’re really a good Samaritan you’ll be be willing to pay the fee.”

Stem said the shelter 
also is enforcing the city’s “intact animal” ordinance, which requires pet owners to pay $35 a year for a license to exempt their pets from being spayed or neutered. Owners must now pay the fee to reclaim their animals if the animals are intact.

Bland said stricter rules on dropping off animals are a necessary step in getting control of the community’s overpopulation of unwanted animals.

‘No-kill’ goal

The Waco Animal Alliance, coalition of six animal welfare organizations, including the Humane Society, is pushing for the goal of becoming a “no-kill” community. That means Waco would euthanize no more than 10 percent of its animals, and Bland said the shelter is moving in that direction.

Duncan said he also supports the “no-kill” goal, though he said it will take some years to get there.

“I think we’ve made tremendous headway in six months,” he said.

The city officially took over the shelter in November, though it had been working with the Humane Society on the transition since October.

Between October and the end of February, the shelter euthanized 1,132 animals, while finding homes for 1,873. In the same five-month period the prior year, there were 1,948 animals euthanized with 1,242 live exits.

During the entire fiscal year 2011, the shelter had an average euthanasia count of 501 per month.

Amy Oakley, immediate past president of the McLennan Animal Rescue Coalition, said she’s pleased with the direction the public shelter is going.

“Everyone involved has been pleased with how the situation has worked out,” she said. “Everyone seems to understand that communication is the key to success in saving more animals. . . . While things are headed in the right direction, we have not crossed any finish line. A lot of hard work needs to be done. 
But we’re riding a wave in a positive direction.”

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