November 6 – 12 is National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week

Today’s news revolves around animal shelters in municipalities across the country.

Dallas County, Texas (population 2,368,139): Testimony is under way in the trial of a former Dallas animal shelter manager accused of animal cruelty after he ignored an employee’s pleas to rescue a cat that was stuck inside a wall. The cat eventually died. Shelter employee Kimberly Killebrew testified this morning that she asked the city’s shelter manager, Tyrone McGill, multiple times about freeing the cat stuck in the wall in May 2010. Each time, McGill, 61, told her it would be taken care of, Killebrew told jurors. When Killebrew told McGill again about the cat, she testified that they needed blueprints and that they had “protocol to follow” before rescuing the cat. The cat could be heard for more than a week meowing and scratching at the bottom of a wall near a break room and bathrooms. The cat’s meows were “real distinct, real stressed,” Killebrew said. The cat’s meows grew weaker, she said. But it was not removed until more than a week later when it died and began to smell. Dallas County prosecutors David Alex and Brandon Birmingham said in opening arguments said that McGill threatened the jobs of anyone who cut the cat out of the wall because it would be destroying city property, adding that McGill had removed ceiling tiles because he thought the cat could climb out. McGill’s attorneys did not make an opening statement. On cross examination of Killebrew, McGill’s attorney Anthony Lyons questioned her about city rules that prohibit destroying city property without permission and why she didn’t rescue the cat. Killebrew said that she couldn’t without calling to get approval and it was not within her authority to make those calls. She instead repeatedly asked McGill about removing the cat. To remove the dead cat, the city cut a hole in the wall. A photo of the wall shows the hole was not much bigger than a plate that covers an electrical outlet. McGill faces up to two years in a state jail if convicted.

Employees first heard the cat crying and scratching inside the wall on May 3, 2010. They asked McGill and other supervisors what to do about it, court record show. The following day, shelter employee Kimberly Killebrew asked McGill again about freeing the cat, and McGill said he would take care of it. Employees heard the scratching ad crying for several days. By May 8, the cat was still moving inside the wall but it no longer cried. When asked about about the cat. McGill told Killebrew that ceiling tiles had been removed to allow the cat to get out, records show. The next day, McGill said the shelter would not cut the wall to remove the cat. Only when the cat died and the stench became unbearable was the wall cut, records show. McGill “accepted responsibility and indicated he would take care of the problem and permitted the cat to die in a cruel manner,” according to court records. Read more at The Dallas Morning News.

Des Moines, Iowa (population 203,433): Des Moines streets could have fewer animal control officers and residents might be called on to take strays to shelters under one city budget cut scenario that became public on Wednesday. The Animal Rescue League of Iowa — Des Moines’ contractor for animal control and shelter services — has been asked to cut nearly $450,000 a year from its budget, according to an email the organization sent to supporters on Wednesday. That’s more than half of the $868,000 a year the city pays the rescue league to provide animal control and shelter services. Rescue league leaders say a cut that steep would leave Des Moines with no animal control officers on its streets to respond to calls about stray cats and dogs and other animal safety, neglect and welfare problems. Instead, Des Moines residents would be relied on to bring stray animals to the shelter during shorter business hours. City Manager Rick Clark said that local officials are in the early stages of trying to figure out how to fill a $7.7 million budget hole over the next two years. It is too soon to know what programs and services are at greatest risk of cuts, including animal control, he said. Animal control services come out of the Police Department’s budget. As police look for ways to reduce expenses, it makes sense to consider a range of cuts, including animal control, Clark said. An email sent Wednesday to rescue league supporters urged them to ask city leaders to make zero cuts to an “already lean animal control budget.” Tom Colvin, the league’s executive director, said he appreciates the city’s budget challenges and he is not trying to fear-monger. He wants the public to understand the implications for public safety and animal welfare if such a large budget cut becomes reality, he said. The league has provided the city with stray animal shelter services since 2005. The nonprofit humane organization took over the city’s animal control program in 2009. At the time, city officials projected the move would save about $74,000 a year. The rescue league’s three-year contract with the city expires June 30. League officials had asked for a 1.8 percent annual increase in the contract to help pay for cost of living increases for animal control personnel. City Councilwoman Christine Hensley said residents should reserve judgment until formal budget proposals are submitted to the council. In 2010, rescue league officials responded to 12,579 animal calls in Des Moines — an average of about 36 per day. Those calls ranged from cases of neglect to reports of dangerous animals running loose to calls for assistance from police. The league has begun to make headway on a lot of the animal control problems Des Moines has seen in recent years, Colvin said. The rescue league has five Des Moines animal control officers. Cutting the budget by nearly $450,000 would mean zero animal control officers, Colvin said. A cut of $300,000 would enable it to employ two officers. City and rescue league officials met on Oct. 20 to discuss the proposed budget cuts, Colvin said. When the rescue league contracted with the city in 2009 to provide animal control services, it did so to help save taxpayers money, Colvin said. Read more at The Des Moines Register.

Racine County, Wisconsin (population 195,408): All area municipalities have soundly rejected Racine’s nearly $6 million animal control startup proposal, leaving the city to provide the service on its own. Racine officials presented the $5.9 million proposal — for basic shelter startup and equipment — in late July to area municipalities after Countryside Humane Society announced last year it will no longer offer animal control services starting in 2013.  Now, a few months later, the city is left looking at an approximately $4 million startup plan on its own after other municipalities opted out. Other municipal leaders said the cost was the biggest factor in their decisions. City Health Administrator Dottie-Kay Bowersox, who is heading the animal control startup efforts, said the only option left is to build a new shelter in the city and hire appropriate staff because there are no existing shelters within city boundaries for use. Animal control services currently offered by Countryside for about $192,000 this year, which the city’s proposal would assume, include: picking up strays, handling bite cases, responding to animal emergencies, assisting police and fire, issuing municipal citations and investigating complaints and reports of abuse and neglect. To do that Bowersox said the initial startup, including the new facility, property and equipment, would be about $4 million in addition to $650,000 total operational and personnel costs annually. She emphasized those are “comprehensive” figures so there aren’t any surprises later. The 10,000-square-foot facility would only be able to handle the city’s estimated 1,318 animals annually. A 15,000-square-foot structure was originally proposed to handle the county’s estimated 2,200 animals. So if other municipalities want to bring their strays in down the line, Bowersox said, “we’d only have so much space.” Bowersox said the city is slightly behind its original timeline but hoped to still be able to begin construction in March. During a presentation to City Council members at a Committee of the Whole meeting last week, Bowersox explained the need for an animal control plan, even though state statutes don’t necessarily require it. There is no state law that municipalities need to do animal control, she said, but statutory requirements do kick in once animals are actually picked up — like keeping them for seven days in appropriate conditions. City officials say animal control is important for both animals and the public. There is an average of 150 bite cases in the city every year with animal control in place, Bowersox said Friday. If city discontinued doing animal control, she warned those cases would escalate and there would be more traffic incidents with increased strays as well as issues with feral cats, packs of dogs roaming the streets, feces and animal population control. Caledonia Village President Ron Coutts said the proposed cost, about $105,000 for the village in 2013, was the biggest deterrent. He said the village is currently in talks with Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant among others. Municipal leaders agreed cost was the biggest factor. Saying it’s still early yet, they hoped to have more definitive animal control options in 2012. Read more at The Journal Times.

Sutter County, California (population 94,737): The new Sutter County Animal Shelter could open as early as January 2013, says Yuba City City Manager Steve Jepsen. Sutter County, Yuba City and Live Oak are finalizing their joint exercise of powers agreement for a new shelter on Live Oak Boulevard this month with the goal to break ground in January and open the following year. Sutter County will consider adoption of the agreement Tuesday. Yuba City and Live Oak are expected to follow suit at their meetings the following week. Talk about the need for a new shelter has labored for years, but a renewed emphasis started this spring after a grand jury report recommended the Sheriff’s Department investigate the shelter for possible violations of state law. The jury called the shelter filthy and cited a severe rat infestation, but the department concluded in September that high rates of illness and death among animals did not reflect criminal behavior or neglect on the part of employees or management. Nearly all the facility and procedure issues identified in the grand jury report have been resolved, said Randy Cagle, assistant community services director. Dogs and cats are vaccinated upon intake, most permeable surfaces have been sealed and there are new dog kennels and new hygiene and sanitation procedures. A consultant was hired for $9,000 to examine the shelter and is expected to submit a review of the changes in the coming weeks. The cats also have new cages with partitions to improve sanitation and cleaning ease and have solid metal sides to minimize transmission of air flow and illness. On Friday, 21 cats were lounging in their six condo towers, as they are known, some perching on shelves, others curled on bedding and one enigmatically dozing in his litter box. The old cat cages are in a new trailer in a room with impermeable walls and floors that will soon house kittens. A washing machine and dryer hummed in the adjacent room as the commercial dishwasher washed dishes — all major sanitation improvements. Though the 25-year-old facility has been upgraded, it’s exciting to finally have a new one on the horizon, Cagle said. Immediate, necessary improvements to the existing shelter cost $140,000, of which $31,000 will be recaptured through improvements that can be utilized at the new location, such as the cat condos and commercial washer and dryer set. The new facility cost is capped at $4.5 million with Yuba City paying $3 million. Overhead will be limited to 10 percent and workers compensation to 5 percent of payroll. Sutter County will remain the lead agency through the design and construction of the facility, and then Yuba City will take the lead. Yuba City expects to dramatically reduce costs under its leadership, Jepsen said. The shelter’s net budget under Sutter County peaked at $1.058 million in 2009-10 and has since dropped to $884,000 this year, he said. When Yuba City is the lead agency, it is projecting an annual budget of $784,000, with changes in administrative costs and workers compensation. Overhead costs are projected at $76,000, compared to $231,000 in 2010-11 under Sutter County. Those costs were reduced by more than $100,000 for this year’s budget. Within the agreement, each agency will have a weighted vote based on funding with a major majority required to act on budget or policy issues. Yuba City will pay 66 percent of the cost of its operations for the next two years, based on the 2009 census, but there will be a future discussion about adjusting cost for time and distance traveled. The three jurisdictions have hailed the pending agreement as a testimony to government cooperation. Read more at the Appeal-Democrat.

Alameda, California (population 73,812): After 126 years, the city of Alameda is giving up the animal rescue business. Faced with a severe financial crisis, the city will hand its animal shelter to a stalwart group of volunteers, officials announced Tuesday. Several city employees who work in the shelter will lose their jobs, and the police department will halve its animal control enforcement staff. The shelter typically gets 1,400 animals per year. The changes will help the city save more than $600,000 a year – a significant chunk of the $4.4 million it needs to cut from its general fund next year. The city will pay Friends of Alameda Animal Shelter $300,000 a year to run a facility that now costs the city $935,000 annually. Volunteers will feed animals, clean cages, walk dogs and oversee adoptions and licensing. The volunteers will contract with local veterinarians and the East Bay SPCA for spay, neuter and euthanasia. Police will take calls on animal abuse, vicious animals or other animal-related complaints. Officials and volunteers said they are thrilled with the 15-year contract, which they described as a sound solution to a difficult problem. The alternative, they said, was to contract with a neighboring city for animal shelter services. The cost would be less – about $250,000 a year – but Alameda residents would have to drive to Hayward, Fremont or beyond to find a lost cat or drop off a stray dog. Alameda’s savings might be other cities’ headaches, though. Staff members at neighboring city shelters fear they may be forced to pick up the slack for Alameda’s reduced animal services. Friends of Alameda Animal Shelter said they hope to equal, and even surpass, the services the city has been providing since 1885. They plan to hire eight full- and part-time workers and rely on 100 or so volunteers to expand the shelter hours. Read more at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Long Beach, New York (population 33,275): Animal rescue organization Rescue Ink and Long Beach City officials celebrated the opening of the Long Beach Animal Shelter on Sunday. The facility, which was closed five years ago, will now be operated by the “rebels with a cause” group of bikers who are best known from the television program of the same name on the National Geographic Channel. Rescue Ink has a $15,000 contract to run the shelter for one year, staff the facility and work in cooperation with the City’s Animal Control office. The recently rehabilitated building is located at 77 Park Place in Long Beach. Read more at the Long Beach News.

Marion County, South Carolina (population 33,062): With the possibility of losing control of the Marion County Animal Shelter staring it in the face, Paws to the Rescue took a step back from its request for increased county funding for the facility Monday. As a result, it appears the nonprofit group will continue to operate the county’s only animal shelter for at least another year. Paws to the Rescue’s request for an increase of $22,000 per year for shelter operations raised some eyebrows in the Marion County Administrative Building. Such an increase — the current budget for the shelter is just $53,000 a year — seemed beyond the means of a financially-strapped county and caused some to wonder if the county would be better off resuming control of the center itself. Marion County Administrator Tim Harper recommended just that to council last week. Faced with that prospect, however, Paws to the Rescue Excutive Director Jen Nall told a county council subcommittee Monday that the proposed increase wasn’t a requirement for her group’s ongoing participation in shelter operations. She said the rescue could live with the current funding, although it would like to see a commitment to a 3- to 5-percent increase each year in that budget. Committee members seemed pleased with Nall’s willingness to continue with what it receives, but couldn’t guarantee the increase. After hearing from Nall on Monday, Harper withdrew his recommendation and said if Paws to the Rescue is willing to continue at its current rate, he’ll recommend the county offer it a new contract through the end of the current fiscal year (June 2012). Paws to the Rescue’s current three-year contract expired last month. Paws to the Rescue took control of the shelter in October 2008 in an agreement with council to improve the care of animals at the shelter. The agreement was for Paws to the Rescue to receive $4,400 per month from the county while the county would continue to be responsible for liability, insurance and utilities of the facility. The committee said it also wants the rescue to submit an audit to the council at the beginning of a new fiscal year. After that, it will be able to ask for an increase when next year’s is drawn up instead of during the middle of a fiscal year. Nall said after the meeting she willing to accept the contract if council approves the committee’s recommendation at the full council meeting, set for Tuesday. The rescue has significantly reduced the shelter’s euthanization rate, which was at 58 percent before it took over and is now down to 29 percent. Paws to the Rescue doesn’t depend on the county alone for funding; it also accepts donations. This year, the group brought in nearly $200,000, much of it from animal lovers from far away who’d heard about the center’s many needs. The donations cover food, vaccinations, vet visits, cleaning supplies, building improvements and more. Nall estimates the annual cost of keeping the shelter running is around $250,000. Still more help could be on the way. The current drive for a countywide penny sales tax could go to help the shelter. A new shelter is one of the many items on a list of projects the new tax could help fund. A decision hasn’t been made on whether to pursue the penny tax. The tax would have a set time limit — seven years — and would require the approval of the county’s citizens through a referendum. Read more at SCNow.

Bolivar, Missouri (population 10,325): Fur is flying as a tale of two animal pounds unfolds in Bolivar. Former employees of the Bolivar City Animal Pound and volunteers with animal rescue organizations say that what once was a smooth-running operation that kept nearly all animals from being euthanized is no longer providing a humane environment for animals and making it more difficult for animals to be saved from being euthanized. But a recent inspection of the pound by the Missouri Department of Agriculture resulted in just three findings that have been corrected, and Bolivar’s city administrator said little has changed in the euthanization and adoption rates at the pound. Marion Rutledge, former manager of the pound, says she was pleased with how few animals were having to be euthanized at the city’s kill facility. The euthanization rate of animals was 2.8 percent in 2010, down from 22 percent in 2008. Using contacts at animal rescue facilities across the country, and with the help of Brenda Closser, who coordinates the transfer of pound animals to rescue organizations, 268 animals — 42 percent of those that went through the shelter in 2010 — were sent to rescue facilities or no-kill shelters.  Rutledge said what she considered to be the pound’s success started to change this spring just a few months after Michael Jones was hired as the city’s animal control officer. She and former pound employee Chris McKinney both report incidents when they say Jones abused animals at the pound and made it more difficult for them to do their jobs. The situation became much more tense for Rutledge in June when she said City Administrator Ron Mersch told her that animals should be euthanized after the required five-day holding period. Though Rutledge and Closser had been coordinating animal transfers to other shelters and rescue organizations, it is impossible to do that in five days, Rutledge said, especially when the rescue organizations are out of state. She said this did not become an issue until after Jones was hired. Mersch said that conversation about needing to euthanize some animals after five days was the result of a rising animal population at the pound. At the time, Mersch told the BH-FP that too much taxpayers’ money was being spent housing animals until they could be taken to rescue organizations. But Rutledge said the 71 animals that had been transferred to rescue organizations up to that point in the year cost the city $1,300 to care for, while euthanizing those animals would have cost $3,000, and she supplied that information to city administration. Rutledge said she was told the city could not complete paperwork for rescue organizations, though Rutledge said the only paperwork she was doing was the transfer paperwork required by the Missouri Department of Agriculture. Rutledge said that then the signed paperwork the rescue organizations had to return to the pound quit arriving in the mail, and she said the mail she picked up at Bolivar City Hall had been opened — with paperwork missing. Mersch said that much of the mail that arrives at city hall is opened in the clerk’s office, to the dislike of other city employees, too. Rutledge resigned from the city in August, saying she “was not willing to work there in those circumstances.” After Rutledge’s resignation, Mersch put Jones in charge of the pound with part-time laborers to do most of the day-to-day work under Jones’ supervision. McKinney began as a part-time laborer at the pound in November 2010 and worked under Jones’ supervision for about a month before he no longer was employed by the city. He said he was fired three days after submitting a letter to Mersch with concerns he had about pound operations that could cause liability issues for the city. Read more at the Bolivar Herald-Free Press.

Delta, Colorado (population 8,915): If negotiations are successful, the City of Delta animal shelter will soon be operated by CAWS, or Citizens for Animal Welfare and Shelter. The animal welfare organization is based in the North Fork Valley. In the meantime, Delta Police Department officers are dealing with reports of vicious dogs, but there’s no animal control officer to respond to reports of loose dogs, barking animals, or nuisance cats or dogs. The animal shelter is being operated in a very limited capacity with two part-time shelter technicians. This state of affairs brought several animal lovers to the Delta City Council meeting Oct. 18. Fran Goetz questioned why the city can support the golf course, but have no funds for animal control. Instead, city officials expect animal welfare non-profits to handle stray and abandoned animals. Debbie Faulkner of Crawford said the Black Canyon Animal Sanctuary is getting “20 calls a day” from residents, with over half coming from Delta citizens. More animals are being dumped than ever before, she added. This activity is “rampant” because people seem to think they won’t get in trouble if there’s no animal control officer on the job. Both she and Goetz said the abandoned animals pose a community health risk which increases liability for the city. Chris Miller attended the meeting to invite council members to a RSVP volunteer recognition ceremony but took the opportunity to express her concerns about safety and nuisances caused by animals running at large. The decision to reduce animal control is largely due to budget constraints, Delta Police Chief Robert Thomas said shortly after the services were “drastically” curtailed in the spring. Thomas said his priority is keeping police officers on the street, a direction which has the endorsement of city manager Joe Kerby. At a budget work session preceding the city council meeting on Oct. 18, Chief Thomas expanded on animal control operations. Actual expenditures for animal control were $85,940 in 2010, and are estimated at $53,940 in 2011. With the support of CAWS, Thomas said he expects 2012 expenditures to drop even more, to $47,264. His goal is to apply the savings towards additional patrol officers. He also believes animal control demands a regional solution. CAWS proposes to assume the cost of one of the shelter’s two part-time technicians; the other will remain with the City of Delta and, after training, will enforce the city’s animal control ordinances. Hopefully the training will be completed in late November or early December, Thomas said. JoAnn Kalenak, who has been representing CAWS during the lengthy negotiations with the city, planned to make a presentation to city council Nov. 1. She said CAWS hopes to spend several months “shadowing” city staff. CAWS also needs several months to build a volunteer base, raise donations and pursue grant funds. At the Nov. 1 meeting, city council members had an opportunity to review CAWS’s budget. Read more at the Delta County Independent.

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