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Saving pets: City shelter shifts mission away from euthanasia


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The Columbus Animal Care Services has reached its goal of no longer euthanizing adoptable dogs and is making progress toward the same goal for stray cats.

As Mayor Kristen Brown and Columbus Animal Care Services Manager Kevin Konetzka talked recently about the change in direction at the shelter over the past year, a black-and-white border collie puppy played between them.

The puppy, which the mayor named Winnie, inspected desktops and coat pockets and wagged his tail wildly. Eventually, Konetzka put the wriggling puppy down on the floor and let him wander while he and the mayor continued to talk.

By the time their conversation ended, the dog had been adopted by a family searching for a pet.

Brown renamed the former Columbus Animal Control department last year and changed its mission, setting a goal of eventually having 100 percent of the adoptable pets at the shelter go on to live their lives in a permanent home. In 2012, the shelter euthanized no adoptable dogs and reduced the number of adoptable cats being put down by about 25 percent from 2011.

Wanted: Volunteers, supplies

Columbus Animal Care Services needs community help to continue toward its goal of not euthanizing any adoptable animals. Among the ways to donate:

Time: Volunteers are needed to exercise, socialize and clean the animals.

Pet supplies: Newspapers, old blankets and towels, toys and treats, dry or wet food including puppy and kitten chow.

Kuranda pet beds: On the city website www.columbus.in.gov/animal-care-services or kuranda.com/donate/8433

Cleaning supplies:  Bleach, dish soap, paper towels.

Adopt a pet

What: Columbus Animal Care Services

Where: 2730 Arnold Drive

Hours: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.

Adoption costs: $100 for dogs, $80 for cats.

Adoption process: Fill out the adoption forms, one-day waiting period, check for approval, pay the fee, pick up the pet after it has been spayed/neutered, vaccinated, received a microchip and had an exam.

Adoptable pets are those considered to be without behavior problems, injuries or illnesses that would make them unsuitable for human companionship. The number of animals euthanized for those reasons has dropped 31.2 percent over the past four years, from 1,466 in 2009 to 1,008 last year.

Konetzka and the mayor said the shelter has been reducing the number of animal deaths for the past several years, but Brown pushed to make it a priority. Brown said the shelter transformation has been written into her strategic plan for the city.

“If you look at the communitywide strategic plan, those priorities become the priorities of city government,” she said. “Animal and environmental care are on there. All the other priorities are about increasing our quality of life through education and housing and economic development. But we also have to have an emphasis on all of God’s creatures and creations.”

Just 50 years ago, the community animal shelter was a common pen in a concrete block building off Water Street. But that wasn’t acceptable to Columbus residents, Konetzka said.

“This community has always been kind of out in front, ahead of things, progressive,” he said. “We need to keep moving on because (poor care for stray animals) is something that Columbus has not accepted.”

The city animal shelter will only pick up or accept animals from within the Columbus city limits, however being a city resident is not a requirement to adopt an animal at the shelter, Konetzka said.

Outside the city limits, the county has an animal control department, which contracts with the Bartholomew County Humane Society to take the animals it picks up. Anyone in the county can drop off animals at the Humane Society and there are no residency requirements for adoption, said Cheryl Zuckschwerdt-Ellsbury, a Humane Society board member. The Humane Society also is working toward becoming a low-kill shelter, which does not euthanize adoptable animals, she said.

Konetzka said the attitude of the community toward stray animal care has changed, making the goal of not killing adoptable animals achievable. For example, it helps that there are now free and low-cost spay and neuter clinics available, and other organizations are able to help with the work of finding homes for the animals.

“This is something we can accomplish,” he said.

One of the side effects of the city’s new direction is a need for some animals to stay longer while waiting to find a permanent home. Where it was once unusual to have a dog stay for six months, the shelter has had several adoptable dogs who have stayed at least that long, Konetzka said. Where there used to be dog runs that were occasionally empty, now all 13 runs are full all the time, he said.

“We have a couple (of dogs) in here who have been here for three or four months,” he said. “No matter how you look at it, this isn’t home, but we need to make sure that they are at least as comfortable as possible.”

When dogs were staying only a few days, sleeping on the concrete floors was acceptable. But if they are in for a longer stay, a bed will make them more comfortable, Brown said. To that end, the shelter recently partnered with Kuranda USA, a maker of nearly indestructible pet beds to furnish the kennels with the cots.

“We have good adoptable dogs here. We want to get them adopted out and make sure they get good care while they are here,” she said.

Help arrives

Donations made through the city or Kuranda websites will help pay for the beds, and the company will give the city a 28 percent discount on the price.

With the longer stays for some animals, there also is a greater need for volunteers to help tend to the animals, take them on walks, socialize with them and help to keep them clean. The city has made more efforts to get the dogs out into the public eye, including them in the Festival of Lights parade, in the festivities surrounding the mayor’s motorcycle ride and at the farmers markets.

The shelter also is paying for medical treatment that it previously had eschewed in favor of euthanization.

One otherwise-adoptable dog was treated for heartworm at a cost of $400 to $600, Konetzka said. Before dogs are allowed to be adopted, they are spayed and neutered and given their shots. The cost to the shelter for the medical care is actually more than the $100 fee it charges when someone adopts a dog. But the fee is meant to be an offset, not to cover all the costs of adopting the pets, he said.

Konetzka said the shelter needs donations for its adoption medical fund, which covers things like veterinary care, spaying and neutering.

“We haven’t had to spend a lot on food because we have a lot of great donations from Walmart, Sam’s Club and Target,” he said.

Budget challenges

Despite the changes, the budget for supplies this year is decreasing by almost $1,000 from 2012. The budget for other services and charges is decreasing in 2013 by $11,397 from 2012.

Personnel costs have gone up by about $72,000 year-to-year, but that is largely caused by an accounting change Brown made, moving insurance costs from a single pool for all city employees, to a department-by-department breakdown. That meant a $68,000 personnel budget increase for the shelter.

On her end, Brown pledged that she would not take her allocated 3 percent pay raise this year. Instead, she recently donated the equivalent to the shelter, handing Konetzka a check for $2,480.

While the practice of adoptable dogs being euthanized for space reasons has ended, there is still work to be done for cats, Brown and Konetzka said. The problem is that there are many more stray cats in the community, and the demand from the public is lower.

Happy ending

The Tran family came into the shelter recently looking for a pet and were torn between two older dogs in the kennels that they had noted on previous visits. But as they walked out of the kennel area to start their paperwork, they encountered the border collie, Winnie, playing in the front office.

“I looked at my brother and I could tell that he knew that was going to be the one,” said Hien Bennett, who translated for her brother, Giang Tran. “My brother decided he would like a younger one better, because that way he would get to know him, his personality. ... We were all drawn to him, he is just so friendly.”

The family’s children, Joey Tran and Ava Bennett, wrestled with the puppy on the floor. By the end of their visit they had filled out the paperwork to adopt the puppy and made plans to change his mayor-given name of Winnie to Hobart or Tebow.

The mayor didn’t seem to mind that name change at all.

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