Saturday, February 4, 2012

Separation of Animal Control

After hearing the proposed plans by the City-County Study Committee to construct a new animal control facility, I wanted to provide a few thoughts on the matter and what it means for the future of animal welfare in Henderson.  First of all, I will introduce myself.  My name is Josh Williams and I serve as the President of the Humane Society of Henderson County.  I have held this position for nearly two years.  I have always lived in Henderson and am employed full time here.

The Humane Society is an independent 501(3)(c) non-profit organization founded in 1965.  Our mission is to eliminate cruelty, abuse, neglect, and abandonment of domestic companion animals. We have maintained a contract with the City and County for animal control services since 1967 as the goals of these services were directly in line with our mission.  We employ animal control officers to provide services to the Henderson community such as stray domestic animal pickup and drop off, return-to-owner, bite quarantine, 24 hour emergency assistance, and abuse and neglect investigation.

Current Animal Population Issues
As the current animal control shelter, we are the last hope for homeless animals in this county.  We are an open admission facility and will always accept animals from within our county.  The last thing we want is for a dog or cat to be abandoned because no one else has the ability to take it.  Per the 2000 census results, Henderson County has approximately 15,720 households.  Each of the last 5 years, the Humane Society has taken in between 2400-3000 animals.  That is the equivalent of 1 animal per 6.5 households EVERY YEAR.  Obviously from these numbers, the overpopulation problem is staggering.  There are two primary ways that communities across America deal with this same problem.  One is to 'control' it through euthanasia, and the other is to actively prevent it through spay/neuter initiatives, public education, and assistance.  The first method is by far the cheapest and easiest method, but also ignorant of the problem at hand.  No matter the current situation, if steps are not taken to reduce overpopulation, then euthanasia will always be required.

Our Policies and Goals on Overpopulation
We feel very strongly about the prevention of overpopulation and reducing the number of animals euthanized due to having no where else to go.  We see it every day and we are the ones that are required to end the lives of animals despite all of our best efforts to save them.  It is crushing to those involved.  The people who must carry out this task attend specialized training classes and are certified by the Commonwealth of Kentucky for this purpose.  We use methods recommended by all animal welfare organizations and the American Veterinary Medical Association for euthanasia to ensure each animal leaves this place with dignity and without pain.

Funding for animal control services from the City and County are allocated only to the basic care of animals for a 7 day mandatory stray hold period.  The Humane Society actively solicits donations from the community each year to help provide for veterinary care, rescue relocation, microchipping, etc.  Our largest expenses last year, which were funded 100% by donations, were spay/neuter surgery of adopted animals, veterinary care, and medical expenses.  We spent over $32,000 to spay/neuter adopted animals, $13,500 on veterinary care, and nearly $33,000 for additional medical supplies such as vaccines, heartworm treatment and preventative, dewormer, etc.

We strive to alter (donations permitting) every animal adopted out of our facility.  We do not have a veterinarian on staff due to funding restrictions, but we do work closely with several local veterinarians.  With the number of animals we see each year, this gets quite expensive and results take time, but intake over the last two years has been very slightly lower than the previous three years.

The 'No-Kill' Initiative
The move to 'no-kill' shelters and rescues is long overdue.  We are a society of compassionate and intelligent  human beings capable of rational thought and care of the creatures that share our space.   I strongly believe this is the way things should be.  However, as President of the Humane Society, I have no problem stating that we are NOT a no-kill shelter.  Many are surprised and angered by this, but I would like to explain the reasoning behind this status.  It is simple.  2400-3000 animals EVERY YEAR.  Homeless, abandoned, abused.  No where else to go.  Becoming no-kill at this particular time simply means that those animals will be moved to another facility with an unknown future. We have been denied donations many times due to not being a no-kill shelter.  This is always devastating as it implies we WANT to euthanize animals.  I can assure you, we do NOT!   We have always been faced with two options.

One option is to separate from animal control and become no-kill.  With our current level of donations, we could potentially care for a couple of hundred animals per year.  In reality, it is less due to maintaining a minimal staff and other expenses.  The greater the level of care (spay/neuter surgeries, vaccines, etc), the fewer animals we can maintain.  That leaves over 2000 animals every year unaccounted for.  We are still waiting to hear the full plans for the City/County plan for separation, but one immediate concern is the level of care and the hold times.  As budgets tighten, it is perfectly understandable for our local governments to look to ways to reduce costs, and separating animal control would be one way.  Costs could certainly be reduced by maintaining a facility with lower cost labor, potentially inmate labor, and reducing hold times to the minimum.  In Henderson, the minimum hold time is 7 days.  After that, any animal held by animal control may legally be euthanized.  Any animal surrendered by owners may be euthanized immediately.  This is NOT what we do now.  It is because we are our own donation-based organization that we can hold each of these animals for as long as we can to try and find them a home.  We have no time limits for our animals.  All euthanasia that must occur is strictly due to severe illness, injury, aggression, or because we simply have more animals than we can humanely house.  Separating animal control services would reduce the Humane Society's euthanasia numbers, but would increase them county-wide.

The other option would be for us to do what we do now.  We maintain animal control services under contract and provide as best we can to ALL animals that have no where to go, knowing we cannot save them all.  I know I cannot change the minds of those that strongly disagree with me regarding our position, but at the end of the day, I know we have given a chance to every dog and cat that needed one.  We didn't turn any away for any reason.

Returning to my original statement about the need to move to a no-kill society, we must be working to create real change to achieve our mission.  We are very fortunate to have a few local no-kill rescue organizations and we work with them often.  We need them.  This community needs them and they are amazing people.

There is actually a third option that I did not mention above.  The Humane Society could maintain animal control AND become no-kill.  Now, most would say this is impossible.  It certainly is a mighty lofty goal, but  a goal other communities across the country have been able to achieve.  We strive to operate as close to no-kill as our resources and space allow.  We currently are full, but we have had a euthanasia rate of under 7% for over two months.  IT IS POSSIBLE, but it doesn't happen over night and it doesn't happen without community support.  Right now, it takes every resource we have to just maintain.  Our shelter is old and in many ways beyond repair, but our staff and volunteers continue to make me proud by going above and beyond their basic job requirements.  Recent events like our work with the ASPCA to rehome dogs that were having trouble finding homes here, or our continued work with placing animals in rescue organizations from Alabama to Canada show me their dedication and understanding of the fundamental population problem we all face.  These animals were given a chance because of them.

The Future
I do not know what the future holds for the Humane Society.  There will be further discussion at the Study Committee meeting on Monday and the Fiscal Court meeting on Tuesday.  Due to our entire business model revolving around allocating donations to the care of animals brought in and housed due to animal control, I do not know what our new direction would be, if any.  That is a scary thing to say.  What I do know is that despite the ups and downs over the years, the Humane Society has saved thousands of animals right here in my hometown.  What I also know is that during the last two years that I have been involved, I have been fortunate to work with amazing people.  We have been working together to build a strong team of caring and determined people that fight for these animals.  We all have a big goal we are working towards together, and that is to improve the lives of the animals here.  Not just some of them, but all of them.   With the right support, I truly believe in a future that has a Humane Society that can care for all unwanted animals.   We have made significant progress in a short amount of time and I feel strongly that the Humane Society is an important piece of this community.  I say this not because I am the President.  I do not get paid to serve, nor do any of the board members and volunteers that give up their time every day, or the staff that work extra hours as volunteers to make sure everyone is taken care of.  We do it because we believe in doing the right thing.  We believe in this community and the values of the people in it.  To all of those who have supported us over the years, we thank you sincerely.

Josh Williams
President, Board of Directors
Humane Society of Henderson County

Friday, February 3, 2012

Spay/neuter Initiative Update

Thanks to everyone's support, we were able to spay/neuter over 800 dogs and cats last year. This is shaping up to be an even busier year of unwanted animals, so our mission is critical to our furry friends of Henderson. With your continued support, we know we can continue to make a difference. Thank you!