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Animal welfare group raises concerns on cat euthanasia rates

Animal welfare group raises concerns on cat euthanasia rates

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CHATHAM — An animal welfare group is concerned about Pittsylvania County’s high euthanasia rates for cats at the county’s animal control facility in Dry Fork.

“There’s no reason for a healthy, adoptable animal to die,” said Tonja Reynolds, vice president of the Pittsylvania County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

The euthanasia rate for cats at Pittsylvania County’s animal shelter in 2014 was 79.5 percent — much higher than neighboring Franklin County — and statewide, which is 33.5 percent, according to figures from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The Pittsylvania County animal shelter euthanized 35 of the 44 cats it received in 2014.

Pete Boswell, chief animal control officer for Pittsylvania County, said many localities have lower rates because they don’t pick up cats or they only take them in during certain times of the year. Boswell said the county’s shelter picks up feral cats throughout the year, which drives up rates, he said.

Pittsylvania County houses mostly dogs at its shelter, and sends most of its cats to the Danville Area Humane Society under an agreement with the city. The Danville Area Humane Society does not keep separate records for county/city cats that have been adopted, returned to their owners or euthanized, said Paulette Dean, the group’s executive director.

All cats the county shelter picks up go to the humane society except for those surrendered by owners, hit by a car, those that have bitten someone and must be checked for rabies and those that cannot be socialized, Boswell said.

State law requires stray animals picked up by shelter officials to be held five days if they have no collar and 10 days if wearing a collar, Boswell said. After that, they become county property that can be adopted, transferred to another facility or euthanized, Boswell said.

However, under Virginia law, there is no hold requirement for cats surrendered by owners, he said.

Danville’s animal shelter, which is operated by the Danville Area Humane Society, has a 93.2-percent euthanasia rate for cats, according to state figures. The Danville pound took in 2,691 cats and euthanized 2,510 in 2014.

“Have you seen the number of cats we receive?” Dean said via email Friday. “We receive them because people do not want them on their property, or they can no longer afford them, or the cats have been hit by cars, picked up by hawks and dropped, or they have been abandoned on the side of the road. We receive so many because cats are prolific breeders.”

Pittsylvania County’s feline euthanasia rate is also much higher than that for neighboring Franklin County, which has a similar population, said Pittsylvania SPCA member Jordan Kee.

The Franklin County Humane Society’s Planned Pethood Clinic, a no-kill shelter, euthanized just seven of the 717 cats it received last year. The Franklin County Animal Control and Pound — a separate facility — had a euthanasia rate of 47.4 percent in 2014, much lower than that for Pittsylvania County.

The Pittsylvania County shelter has an animal control officer on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but has no shelter manager. Officers spend time in the field and there is no access to the pound when they’re not there, SPCA members say.

Members said in July the SPCA plans to petition the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors to hire a shelter manager at its Dry Fork facility. That way, a manager would be available to offer animals for adoption. The SPCA could take pictures of them and post them on its website and on social media, Reynolds said.

“There are so many ways we could be proactive and getting the information out there, we could save about all of them,” Reynolds claimed.

Boswell said the shelter makes every effort to adopt out its animals.

“All that are adoptable, we’ll try to get them adopted if possible,” Boswell said during an interview in Chatham on Friday afternoon.

The Pittsylvania County SPCA has picked up animals from the pound and transferred them to animal-rescue agencies — including the Franklin County Humane Society — and found fosters and adopters for them. The group’s efforts — which began in 2009 — reduced the pound’s euthanasia rate for all its animals from 85.6 percent in 2008 to about 32 percent in 2014.

However, those rates will likely rise again because the SPCA will no longer take animals from the shelter unless they already have committed fosters, adopters or rescue agencies for them, Pittsylvania SPCA President Cathryn East said last month.

SPCA cat coordinator Victoria Chumley said a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats would also help reduce the county’s euthanasia rate.

“The county is behind the times when it comes to working toward being a no-kill county instead of a high-kill county,” Chumley said.

It makes no sense to send cats to Danville when the money could be used for spaying/neutering and a trap, neuter and release in the county, Chumley said.

Kee urged the board of supervisors during its July 21 meeting to back the SPCA in initiating a a trap, neuter and release program.

“The killing of healthy, adoptable cats is not euthanasia,” Kee said in a prepared statement to the Danville Register & Bee. “It is just plain killing. Nothing good about it.”

Jennifer Fleisher, coordinator with the Franklin County Humane Society, said trap, neuter and release is less costly than euthanizing the feral cats.

“It is a lot cheaper to trap, neuter and return than it is to euthanize,” Fleisher said. “It’s fiscally more responsible for the taxpayers.”

Of the 717 cats taken in at the Franklin County Humane Society in 2014, 493 were adopted, 109 were transferred to other facilities, 36 were reclaimed by owners, 25 died at the facility, and seven were euthanized due to untreatable illness, Fleisher said.

Franklin County’s Planned Pethood offers a low-cost spay/neuter clinic, as well as vouchers to Franklin County taxpayers that give discounts for spaying/neutering and rabies vaccinations for three animals per family or citizen, Fleisher said. It also offers pet food, trap rentals for feral cats and education on the purpose of feral cats.

“It has been tremendous in helping us lower the euthanasia rates in the county,” Fleisher said.

Pittsylvania County’s shelter offers $25 rebates per family — funded by money paid for pet-friendly license plates in the county — to get their pets spayed or neutered by a provider or agency, Boswell said.

Fleisher said the humane society also works closely with the Franklin County Animal Control facility to promote adoption and reduce euthanasia at both facilities.

Trap, neuter and release entails trapping the feral cats, spaying or neutering them, vaccinating them for rabies, clipping their ear for identification, and returning them to where they were found, Fleisher said. The practice stabilizes the feral cat population, she said.

Reynolds said the local SPCA would like to partner with the county and seek grants to help pay the costs of a program in Pittsylvania County.

But Dean said trap, neuter and release is not effective unless 75-90 percent of the cats in an area are sterilized, Dean said.

“Who will pay for the surgeries?” Dean said. “Who will feed the cats and monitor their heath?”

Dean said the Danville Area Humane Society considers the practice of trap, neuter and release a re-abandonment of cats.

“Shelters that tout the success of TNR in reducing the number of cats fail to mention one thing — they simply stop taking cats,” Dean said.

The Virginia Department of Health, Virginia Animal Control Association, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and the American Veterinary Medical Association all oppose TNR, Dean said. It’s cruel to cats and wildlife, she said.

“People in communities that have the programs complain about the odor, damage to their properties and the dangers the feral cats pose,” Dean said.

Boswell said the results of trap, neuter and release programs are questionable.

“It has not been proven that it reduces the number of cats,” Boswell said. Of course it decreases euthanasia rates if they’re picked up and released back into the wild, Boswell said.

However, County Administrator Clarence Monday said the county is always open to options.

“We’ll consider any program that makes sense if we have resources to allocate,” Monday said.

As for adoptions, Pittsylvania County animal shelter officials promote them by running four photos of animals per week in a local weekly publication, Boswell said.

The pound is open and accessible to anyone wanting to come and adopt an animal, Boswell said. If officers are out in the field, someone will return shortly to help citizens, he said.

As for hiring a shelter manager, the county has operated without one, Monday said. County officials realize it would be better to have someone at the facility to clean the pound and adopt out the animals, Monday said.

“We’re taking that seriously by looking at this as a long-term strategy,” he said.

A firm the county hired for a study of a possible new animal shelter will present its findings to the board of supervisors Monday afternoon in Chatham. The firm, Dominion 7 Architects in Lynchburg, will discuss the cost of additional staffing and other aspects of building and opening a new animal shelter.

Monday said staff is looking into the amount of savings the county has left over from the most recent fiscal year, 2014-15, to see if more staff can be hired at the shelter.

“That’s been our plan for several months,” Monday said. “We’re working diligently to try to determine if we can do that, and if we can, to do it now.”

The county has three full-time animal control officers, including Boswell, but one has been on sick leave for three months.

Crane reports for the Danville Register & Bee.

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