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Shelter on right track in limiting pet numbers

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The animal population at the Johnson County Animal Shelter has changed. No longer do stray dogs and cats make up most of the animals housed at the county shelter. Instead, it’s filled with pets that have been left there intentionally by their owners.

The number of animals that are found in neighborhoods and brought to the shelter to be claimed by their owners has decreased the past five years because more owners are having their pets microchipped, meaning animal shelter workers can return the animals to their homes without ever bringing them to the shelter in Franklin.

But during a similar time period, more residents are giving up on pet ownership. In 2010, owners brought 118 animals to the shelter to give them away. So far this year, more than 200 animals have been given up at the shelter, animal shelter director Michael Delp said.

Delp and kennel manager Bethany Fults said more residents have been leaving their animals at the shelter because they have lost their jobs and can’t afford to take care of their pets, or they are moving somewhere they can’t have pets, such as an apartment complex or a family member’s house.

The increase has put a burden on the shelter, its employees and the animals that are surrendered. It also has changed the role the shelter plays in the community, Delp said.

“Animal control is set up not to deal with owners surrendering animals but with strays. Typically, animal control is for stray and aggressive animals,” Delp said. “It’s almost like a jail. It’s set up to take in people that have broken the law. It’s not really designed for this.”

The animal control department’s job is to take stray and aggressive animals out of the community, but when owners take their pets to the shelter, the department has to spend taxpayer money to feed, house and provide medication for those animals as well as sometimes euthanize other animals to make room for surrendered pets, he said.

To stop the shelter from becoming overcrowded with stray and surrendered animals, the employees have tried to decrease the number of strays they take in by scanning microchips in the dogs they pick up and returning them to their owners before taking them to the shelter, Delp said.

All employees with the county animal control department have scanners in their vehicles to check if a dog has a microchip under its skin. Then, the employees can call the company where the microchip came from to get the name, address and phone number of the dog’s owner, he said.

Shelter employees also try to prevent overcrowding by offering ways for owners to keep their animals. For residents who can’t afford to keep their pets, employees help get them assistance. They also try to educate owners about training pets to correct problem behaviors.

Finally, the shelter works to find homes for animals that were pets in the past and would adapt well to new homes.

Pet overpopulation remains a problem, and euthanization of animals often is necessary to keep the shelter population under control.

In addition, the lingering effects of the recession have forced many families to give up their pet dogs and cats, which adds to an ongoing problem.

The Johnson County Animal Shelter is to be commended for its efforts to find homes for adoptable animals rather than killing them.

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