City makes progress toward no-kill shelter goal, much work still needed

HERALD photo/Lyndel Moody
Steve Reagan
Staff Writer

Volunteer animal rescue efforts are being credited as the driving force behind a drastic drop in the number of animals being euthanized at the Big Spring city animal shelter. But if the city ever wants to reach its goal of having a no-kill shelter, much more has to be done, animal rescue officials say.
It is no secret that placement in the local animal shelter used to be a virtual death sentence for stray dogs and cats. As recently as 2010, more than 80 percent of dogs and a staggering 98 percent of cats placed in the facility were euthanized, according to statistics released by the city.
Things have improved dramatically since then, at least for dogs.
The number of dogs adopted out of the shelter ticked up gradually over the next two years, before improving dramatically to more than 45 percent in 2013. Not coincidentally, that was the same year that Relocation Rescue, an animal rescue organization founded by a former Big Spring resident, was founded and became actively involved with the local animal shelter.
Since then, the adoption rates for dogs have increased significantly, from 65 percent in 2014 to 89 percent in 2015. So far this year, slightly more than 90 percent of the 700-plus dogs placed in the animals shelter have been rescued or found new homes.
Finding new homes for cats, however, remains problematic. While live release rates have improved over the past few years, only 38 percent of the 400-plus cats placed in the animal shelter so far this year have been rescued or adopted out to new homes.
There are several reasons for the disparity, said Kelly Stadler, a former Big Spring resident who is the founder and director of Austin-based Relocation Rescue.
“It’s an uphill battle for cats,” Stadler said. “Cat rescue shelters fill up quicker and there’s fewer of them. Plus, a lot of euthanized cats are feral and not suitable for adoption in the first place.”
That news notwithstanding, the fact remains that Big Spring’s animal shelter is no longer the end of the line for stray and abandoned pets as it was in the recent past.
The credit for this turnaround, Big Spring Mayor Larry McLellan is quick to admit, lies with Relocation Rescue, Yellow Rose Animal Rescue, Happy Day Humane Society and similar organizations.
“This year alone, 51 percent of the dogs at the the shelter have been released to rescue organizations,” he said. “That’s the only way we’ll be able to fix this thing, because we don’t have to the money or staff to take care of all that.”
In 2012, prior to Relocation Rescue becoming involved with the local shelter, 71 shelter dogs out of 1,400 were released to rescue organizations. That figure ballooned to 644 out of 1,150 in 2015. And the number of cats released to rescue organizations more than quintupled — from 45 to 231 — during the same time frame.
Stadler said her organization doesn’t deserve all the credit for the kill rate turnaround.
“Honestly, it’s come such a long way because more outside rescue organizations have come in and become involved,” Stadler said. “There’s no way we could have done this on our own.”
Stadler also credited an improved relationship between the city and rescue organizations, but warned that if the local facility is ever going to become a true no-kill shelter, the city will have to take a more active role.
“I’d say the shelter is about 50 percent of the way to where it needs to be, and (rescue organizations) have brought it as far as we can,” she said. “The city will have to some things from within to make this work.”
She listed several things the city could do to increase live release rates, such as educating the public on the importance of spaying and neutering pets and vaccinating shelter animals to decrease incidents of disease within the facility.
However, those steps require an increase in both manpower and money at the shelter, and there is little of either resource to spare right now.
Big Spring, like every other governmental agency in this area, has been hit hard by the downturn in the oil and gas industry. With tax revenue decreasing, city officials are proposing more than $1 million in cuts in the upcoming fiscal year, including a $14,000 decrease in funds for animal control.
Earlier this year, City Manager Todd Darden said the city is basically doing all it can at the shelter.
“Our job will not change in animal control,” Darden said in January. “For these programs to be successful you got to have volunteers that are out there looking for a place for these unwanted pets or misplaced pets. It will be the volunteers’ responsibility to take care of that need.”
Officials also noted, however, they are not simply sitting on their hands and waiting for rescue workers to cart off animals to new homes. The city now networks with more than 90 rescue agencies across the nation, filled all personnel positions and made sure those workers are state-certified, and created a shelter volunteer program that has resulted in private citizens working more than 80 man-hours per week (Stadler said the city should increase the number of volunteers working in the shelter).
In addition, Mayor Larry McLellan said Thursday he will call for the re-establishment of a citizen advisory committee for the shelter.
No one says these steps are enough to turn the shelter into a no-kill facility, and all agree more will have to be done, but the future looks more optimistic than it has in years, officials said.
“I have faith that it will get there,” Stadler said of the city’s no-kill goal. “You have some really good leaders out there working on the problem … I don’t know when they’ll get there, but I believe they will.”