On July 13, 2017 I attended my first County Commissioners’ meeting in 17 years of being a Fayette County resident. On the agenda that night was an issue of great significance to me. The Fayette County Animal Shelter’s Euthanasia policy was to be discussed and ultimately voted on. The evening would unfortunately go from bad to worse for the animals in the care of the shelter.
Since that night, I have attended numerous County Commissioners’ meetings and meetings held by the Fayette County Animal Shelter Director Jerry Collins. I have volunteered at the shelter and met with shelter leadership (County Commissioners, County Administrator, Shelter Director) in group meetings and/or one on one to discuss my concerns with the euthanasia policy and the resistance to becoming a No-Kill shelter.
Some positive changes have occurred since July 2017, yet resistance to becoming No Kill remains. I have waited, hoping for greater changes that have not occurred. I have made efforts to learn the facts, to try to be heard, and to wait and see what might change before going public with what I know and have observed. I have started a blog. My blog includes citations to the information I provide in these articles, information about shelter management philosophies, current misconceptions I have seen voiced on social media regarding our Fayette County Animal Shelter, animal welfare resources, and No-Kill shelter management resources. So almost six months later, here is what I know.
On July 13, 2017 nearly 200 concerned citizens arrived to oppose the euthanasia policy up for discussion. People had to be turned away from the meeting due to exceeding building capacity limits. Additional people chose to gather outside of the building and watch the live streaming of the meeting in their cars. Approximately 25 animal advocates spoke against the proposed euthanasia policy. The meeting began at 6:30 PM and ended after midnight. The citizens showed up and spoke. The citizens were disregarded. To be sure, additional informal meetings were held by the animal advocates in the parking lot that night! The animal advocates left the meeting with a promise not to give up until humane animal welfare policies and ordinances govern our shelter.
Much confusion remains about the euthanasia policy change requested by shelter director Collins. Collins proposed euthanasia be permitted when an animal has been at the shelter for 31 days AND when the shelter is NOT full with six of 26 empty kennels. Many citizens believed this to be an improvement over the previous policy. No other previous Fayette shelter director suggested defining parameters for euthanasia. Citizens were told the new policy is an improvement because the previous policy would allow euthanasia on day six of an animal’s stay at the shelter. While this is true, previous directors enjoyed the wide berth they had to make decisions. This new policy uses a time limit as the primary factor in determining when to euthanize. Additionally, no previous director requested the authority to euthanize when 25 percent of the runs were still available.
At the end of that night, it was time to vote. A 4-1 vote was cast. Commissioners Oddo, Rousseau, Ognio, and Chairman Maxwell voted in favor of the new euthanasia policy, while Commissioner Steve Brown cast the only opposition vote. Adding insult to injury was Commissioner Ognio’s proposal to stop progression on the revision of the animal ordinances. All commissioners except for Brown approved Ognio’s motion to stop progression on revisions to the animal ordinances.
So now, dogs can be killed with up to six empty kennels on day 31 of their stay. If a dog is ill and must go to the vet for treatment, let’s say for five days, those five days count as part of the 31 days. So, the dog is not there and obviously has no opportunity for adoption prospects, yet this time is counted in determining whether he lives or dies.
More loopholes to the new policy include euthanizing a dog due to aggression. An unwritten policy of Collins is that if a dog is deemed aggressive no staff or volunteers may walk the dogs, and only an animal rescue group is permitted to adopt the labeled dogs. That means Collins is the only one allowed to walk the dogs. Why? If staff can take a roaming dog from the street, load the animal into a van, unload the animal, and take it to a kennel, why can’t the same staff take the dog out for a walk? I have asked the following questions directly to shelter leadership and have not been answered. What constitutes a non-adoptable dog due to biting or aggression? How does staff know how to identify such dogs? By this logic, aren’t staff at risk when they round dogs up to bring them to the shelter? How is it not considered cruelty to leave a dog in a kennel 20-plus hours without at walk? I could see how two different staff members could have differing opinions on what makes a dog aggressive. Actually, I have witnessed two staff disagree on this matter. I am also aware of dogs deemed too aggressive for some staff and volunteers to walk, yet, somehow community service workers were able to walk them. Where do you draw the line to have a consistent policy?
The issue for animal advocates is not that at times a consistently, dangerously aggressive dog must be euthanized. Nor is the issue that no dog should ever be euthanized. The issue is that in an animal control facility and animal shelter, a strategic plan for getting animals in and out of the shelter must be in place. The current shelter policy alerts rescues on day six of a dog’s stay and again on day 20 of their 30-day stay. Often this alert is a mass email from the director stating dogs are at risk of being killed within 10 days. Our shelter needs to move toward adopting rather than resisting a No-Kill Shelter Management Philosophy.
Commissioner Ognio’s motion to stop progression to revision of the animal ordinances was also a vote against becoming a No-Kill Shelter. No Kill does not actually mean no kill. No kill is a shelter management philosophy that includes: a comprehensive spay/neuter program, a trap/neuter/release program for community cats, an active volunteer program, community outreach, and a strong foster and adoption program. The animal ordinances were in the revision process primarily to make the trap, neuter, release program of community cats legal. Previous commissioners voted to approve the program, but the ordinances were never changed. New commissioners were elected. The TNR program is no longer legal in part because the animal leash law applies to cats. So a community cat colony is not legal.
The director has said to trust that he will not round up community cats. And he may not. However, TNR is grant funded. Grants are not going to be authorized for a practice illegal in the county. What protection do the volunteers have who care for the community cats? Don’t get me wrong, I know TNR continues. It just continues illegally with a “trust me,” no ability to be funded, and no protection for the volunteers. For now, too many cats are housed at the shelter with the “feral” label. When asking for euthanasia statistics, you will often only get the data for dogs. Data for the cats must specifically be requested. We’ve got a mess, Fayette County. We can do so much better.
My goal for blogging and writing this article is to raise community awareness about our shelter with the hope more animal advocates will get involved to help change animal ordinances and policies that are ultimately life or death for our shelter pets.
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