DES MOINES, Iowa — Des Moines’ animal control facility is ill-equipped to handle even the current load of animals coming through its doors, according to a study released this month, raising questions about how it will handle an expected surge in the pet population as the city grows.

Kennels are stacked on top of one another, making animals prone to stress and contracting disease. The building is understaffed, including the lack of a full-time veterinarian on staff, and staff is undertrained, The Des Moines Register (http://dmreg.co/2qsknZI ) reported. In the kennels used for quarantined dogs, wooden boards are used as makeshift ceilings to prevent animals from jumping out.

Even the walk-in freezer used to store euthanized animals is in poor repair, a consultant hired by the city of Des Moines determined in her final report.

“The facility is really in shambles. It’s a disgrace and it’s time to replace it,” said Des Moines Councilman Chris Coleman.

Consultant Diane Webber heads Cedar Rapids’ animal control and was hired in November 2016 at a cost of $8,900 to take a deep dive into the facility’s operations and animal control’s policies.

If Des Moines can expect the human population to grow by 61,000 by 2040, it should also expect the pet population to explode, Webber determined.

But Webber found animal control isn’t equipped to handle the expected pet problems that would come with that pace of growth.

Webber estimated new residents could bring up to 26,000 more dogs and 40,000 more cats within city limits by 2040.

The Animal Rescue League has provided all of Des Moines’ animal control services since 2009, handling dog bites, stray and wild animal detainment, and animal cruelty investigations.

“The current building has stayed the same since we have been involved,” said Josh Colvin, animal control services manager for the ARL. “Repairs have been done on the heating and cooling systems, but they only serve as temporary fixes for now.”

The ARL partners with cities across central Iowa and accepts pets dropped off by members of the public. Most of the animals at the Des Moines facility are transferred to the larger shelter if they are not recovered by their owners within 10 days.

Webber recommended the city or a vendor build a new, 16,000-square-foot facility with the capacity to house 75 dogs and 185 cats and a barn to hold farm animals either on site or within a 30-mile radius. The current facility has enough cages to house 40 dogs and 65 cats.

Among other issues noted in Webber’s report were: animals in garage holding cages are exposed to excessive heat or cold, moisture and loud noises, which adds to stress and compromises the immune system; the vet exam room serves too many purposes including euthanasia, animal bathing, laundry, vet supply and drug storage; kennels are made of old chain link and positioned across from one another, contributing to cross contamination of disease and aggressive behavior; kennels offer poor noise control and ventilation; high-risk dogs are not stored in a manner that allows staff to tend to the kennel without exposure to the animal; Cat cages are small, poorly ventilated and overcrowded; the facility lacks a comfort room, or a space to counsel someone surrendering their pet; and the building is generally unwelcoming and the parking lot is small.

City officials hope to make a long-term agreement with a vendor that might build, own and operate a modern animal shelter, but the city’s request for a proposal on that project is still in draft form.

That request could come out as early as June, said Joe Brandstatter from the city police planning and budget office. City staff hopes to receive all the bids by August and make a recommendation by fall.

That’s music to the ears of Sgt. Jim Butler, the sole city employee at the small concrete complex on Southeast 14th Street.

“I’ve been asking for a new building since I got hired in October of 2012,” Butler said. “It was just a matter of getting folks to see what I see.”

Recently, his dog and cat kennels were mostly full. Butler’s six animal control officers use just one small office space.

“This building has been good to us, but we’ve outgrown it,” Butler said.

But Britt Gagne, an attorney and director of the no-kill shelter Furry Friends Refuge, said the city should consider using existing resources before jumping into a new facility project, she said.

“We built an adoption center in Des Moines specifically to help Des Moines animals from being euthanized. But no transfers of those animals have been taking place,” Gagne said. “They have a free resource . that needs to be used first before spending taxpayer money on other things.”

Butler said the city’s contract with ARL stipulates it can transfer animals to only ARL facilities.

Webber’s report also noted that records and data from both public and private shelters should be made public.

“Transparency is essential to maintaining a positive public perception,” Webber wrote.

In 2015, the Register reported that the ARL didn’t disclose how many animals taken in under its city contract wound up being adopted or euthanized. Eventually, ARL published a report showing more than 90 percent of the 4,664 animals taken in or captured that year by control officers in Des Moines were released to owners or others.

The ARL issued its first annual “impact report” with the latest kill numbers in 2016. The ARL’s rate for euthanasia increased from 14.5 percent in 2015 to 16 percent in 2016, but it took in over 2,000 more animals that year.

Animal control services and ARL euthanized at about the same rate in 2016.

Webber also noted in the report that animal control services employees lack formal training and certification to ensure humane animal care and the safety of staff and the general public. That includes animal control officers who are typically trained in-house or on the job.

Butler said the ARL is responsible for hiring animal control officers who are immersed in on-the-job training. Some have received animal control training at a community college.

Des Moines should eliminate its controversial breed-specific language from the city’s ordinance, Webber said. The language labels pit-bull-like dogs as high risk and requires owners get insurance, she wrote.

The city should instead “implement breed-neutral language that concentrates more on responsible pet ownership,” Webber wrote.

Coleman wants the breed-specific language to stay. Councilwoman Christine Hensley has also been vocally opposed to changing the ordinance.

“I think the dogs covered under breed specific ordinance are prone to having traits that are not in conformance with what many people want in our neighborhoods,” Coleman said.

Webber did not return a request to comment for this story.


Information from: The Des Moines Register, http://www.desmoinesregister.com

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