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Fewer animals being euthanized thanks to shelter’s efforts

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Every time a dog or cat is brought to the county animal shelter, employees search for a way to get them back out.

The Johnson County Animal Shelter takes in animals faster than they can be adopted.

One traditional solution to reduce the number of dogs and cats in the shelter is euthanization. But in the past few years, animal shelter employees have worked to decrease the number of animals put down due to space limitations.

Their efforts are working. In 2009, the shelter euthanized 335 dogs and 1,090 cats. In 2011, 120 dogs and 444 cats were euthanized, animal shelter director Michael Delp said.

The county opened a larger shelter in 2009, with more space for cages and kennels for dogs and cats, which is one reason why fewer animals have been euthanized.

But once the shelter’s 120 cages are full, employees have to find a way to get those animals out of the shelter.

To do that, they have called organizations that run their own shelters, worked to adopt animals and even turned to local farmers. The goal is to keep as many animals alive as possible.

Most of the cats that were not euthanized were sent to farmers to kill mice in their barns, kennel manager Bethany Fults said.

Most of the dogs were sent to nonprofit rescue organizations that specialize in finding homes for pets, Delp said.

The shelter works with organizations that run their own shelters and keep dogs that are up for adoption there. They also work with organizations that place dogs with foster families until they are adopted, Fults said.

Sending pets to other organizations and foster homes reduced the adoption rate for the shelter because the shelter is finding fewer permanent homes for the pets, but the number of animals that must euthanized also decreased, Delp said.

Most of animals that come to the shelter are cats, which means some cats still must be euthanized to make room for others, but the shelter has had to euthanize only four dogs in the past year because of space issues, Fults said.

Cats pose problem

Few of the organizations the county works with take cats, so the county shelter started a program that involves giving farmers cats that still have their front claws to chase mice in their barns, Fults said. About 300 cats were spayed or neutered and then sent to local farms in 2011, Fults said.

“I know we can euthanize mass numbers of cats, or we can give them a chance,” Fults said.

The employees have to euthanize animals to make room when all of the shelter’s 120 cages are full, Delp said.

When that happens, the employees decide which animals to euthanize based on how likely the animals are to be adopted and how many animals they have that are the same type, Fults said.

Earlier this month, Fults euthanized four dogs to save space. Three of the dogs were pit bulls. Fults said the shelter can spend months searching for homes for pit bulls because people think the dogs are dangerous.

“I would have been able to keep the pit bulls if we had been able to move the other dogs. I did hang on to our Labs because in a couple weeks, someone will be able to take them. With the pit bulls, nobody would have come for them,” she said.

Pit bulls can stay at the shelter for months before a rescue organization that specifically takes pit bulls will have room for one or a resident adopts one, Fults said.

In her years working at various animal shelters, Fults has had to euthanize more than 12,000 animals.

“I don’t think people realize how many animals we put down in this country per year. Even the people we think really love and care for their pets; they throw them out like they don’t matter,” she said.

Fults started working at the Johnson County Animal Shelter in 2009 and contacts friends she’s made who work or volunteer for rescue organizations to help move animals out of the shelter and into another shelter or foster home.

The county animal shelter keeps a running list of organizations that employees can send animals to, including ones that take specific breeds of dog. Most of those shelters are in Indiana, but some of the organizations the shelter works with are as far away as New York, North Dakota and California.

Network of organizations

The shelter works with more than 80 organizations that take dogs, but only one rescue that takes cats, Fults said.

Some weeks, the shelter sends 25 dogs to rescue organizations. But when the other shelters are full, she said, they aren’t able to send as many animals elsewhere.

If the other organizations have room for any animals, they send employees or volunteers to pick up the animals they can take, Fults said. Sometimes local volunteers drive the animals.

On Friday, one organization picked up a few dogs from the shelter and drove them to Michigan, Fults said. From there, another person drove the dogs to Massachusetts, Fults said.

The rescue organizations will take animals if they know they can get them adopted quickly, Delp said.

But county shelters around the state want to send their animals to the nonprofit organizations instead of euthanizing them, and the organizations also have limited space, Fults said.

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