Anyone immersed in the animal rescue business has run across horror stories. Whether it involves hoarders, puppy mills or deplorable conditions in which animals are housed, the stories have come across our Facebook feeds, emails or word of mouth.
Many times, such stories have a happy ending. Such is the case with the City of Gary (Ind.) Animal Control Department. Thanks to the support of the Bissell Pet Foundation and Animal Rescue Corps, the animal control department in Gary recently partnered with the Humane Society Calumet Area to give the homeless animals in their city a second chance.
“The story really starts about a year ago, when we started receiving information about the shelter [in Gary] from different contacts in the area,” Veronica Dainelis, Bissell Pet Foundation coordinator, said. “We had heard the animals coming out of there weren’t in the best health and were really struggling. We investigated ourselves to see what was going on. The dogs were being kept outdoors … there was not much indoor protection, and they were in an old dilapidated building.”
The outdated record-keeping system in Gary made it difficult to get a handle on the shelter’s euthanasia rates, but Dainelis said the numbers were not good.
“But it’s easy to blame a shelter for having to euthanize animals when, really, there’s nothing they can do,” Dainelis said. “They take in an average of 1,600 animals a year and their maximum holding capacity is probably about 30 to 40 cages.”
This summer, BPF paid for Scotlund Haisley, president of Animal Rescue Corps, to go to Gary for a full assessment of the shelter and offer recommendations on how to improve the conditions.
“He said there’s not much we can do without closing the shelter down,” Dainelis said.
But Haisley did work to find solutions as well. He approached other facilities in the Gary area and found HSCA in Munster, about 15 miles from Gary, to be a progressive organization with resources to take in other animals.
With the help of BPF, Haisley and Animal Rescue Corps, a plan was presented to Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and the city’s chief of police to have animals transferred to HSCA. In addition, animals picked up by Gary Animal Control would be taken to the Calumet facility, where there is adequate housing, proper veterinary care and behavioral modification programs. Instead of facing sure euthanasia in Gary, the animals will be put up for adoption at HSCA.
Freeman-Wilson agreed to the plan, and signed a contract with HSCA that runs through the end of 2014. Gary Animal Control will pay HSCA $50 per animal (feral cats are excluded) per month for its services, with an annual budget of $82,000.
The transfer of animals began in early October, and all are now housed at HSCA. The Gary Animal Control Department is still in operation, however.
“There still are animal control officers working for the city and doing the transporting,” Dainelis said. “They’re still patrolling, keeping the community safe and picking up stray animals.”
The difference is, those stray animals will be taken to the humane society, where they’ll have a second chance at life by being evaluated, cared for and put up for adoption.
And while some may balk at the fees the City of Gary is paying to save these animals, the alternative should be considered, Dainelis said. Building a new shelter in Gary isn’t a viable option, given the city’s budget. And besides the moral objections, euthanizing animals can be expensive.
“This definitely was the most economical option for them,” Dainelis said.” Euthanasia is expensive when you talk about everything that goes into it, including the removal of the animals. That’s where a lot of (Gary Animal Control’s) funding was going. Now, it will go to help keep the animals alive.
“It’s a much more positive outcome, the best option in many ways. The city wins and can run a more effective animal control department because they’re not trying to manage a shelter in addition, they’re not losing money, and the pets have a second chance.”
Dainelis said she hopes animal advocates in the area will still work to address the homeless pet population in the city. Ideally, a program to educate the community on responsible pet ownership, including spaying and neutering pets, would be put in place.
“We made recommendations about introducing humane education programs and safety net programs like spay/neuter, vaccinations and food to help keep pets in their homes in Gary,” she said. “It’s really a pets-for-life model. They don’t really have the resources, but there are rescue groups in the area that used to do a lot of rescue out of the shelter and I hope they might be able to do more safety-net type of programs.
“Now that the shelter animals are taken care of and we know they’re safe, it would be great if Gary could work at proactive means of limiting the amount of homeless pets. In turn, it will save them [money]. The less they’re taking in, the less they have to pay the humane society for taking them.”