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Did recession spur local pet dump-off, euthanasia numbers?

March 3, 2010 at 8 p.m.
Updated March 3, 2010 at 9:04 p.m.

Bubba the Chihuahua, center.

While the recession spurred a short-lived spike in local pet dump-offs, animal control workers today euthanize a notably fewer number of pets than in years past.

What caused the euthanasia rate decrease and what can the community do to further improve this statistic?

The Advocate reported in 2006 that the Victoria City-County Animal Shelter euthanized more than 5,000 dogs and cats a year, and had for years.

The number of pet euthanizations decreased by 1,000 - or by 20 percent - the next year, according to animal shelter data. Each year since, local pet euthanizations hover at about 4,000, a marked improvement but a tragic number nonetheless.

Dr. Bain Cate, director of the Victoria City-County Health Department and the animal shelter, said the adoption of shelter animals by pet welfare agencies helped to greatly decrease pet deaths.

"Likewise, animal shelter personnel communicate with multiple pet rescue groups all over Texas and are able to relocate many of the pets, thus also decreasing the number of animals euthanized," he said.

Cate praised Adopt-A-Pet, the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center, Pets Are Worth Saving and other private grassroots pet groups for contributing to the decrease in pet deaths. Combined, the groups increased community awareness, financial support and the availability of free and discounted spay and neuter programs.

Renee Wheeler, director of Adopt-A-Pet, witnessed a spike in the number of pet dump-offs last year during the recession's peak, but it has since leveled off, she said. She witnessed similar euthanasia patterns.

"I think another reason we haven't exploded with euthanizations is because of our spay-neuter clinic," Wheeler said.

The group's sterilization program offers financially strapped pet owners partial and even full discounts. It afforded the spaying or neutering of 2,000 animals last year. Since 1996, the group sterilized 18,000 pets.

"Many of these might not have been done had we not had this low-cost assistance," she said. "The program has helped to keep the numbers steady and not worse. It's awful how fast pet populations can get out of hand."

Like most pet groups, Adopt-A-Pet subsists largely on donations. Louise Hull-Patillo, a local real estate broker, organizes real estate agents who contribute to and raise funds for such programs.

Sally Kuecker is executive director at the Dorothy H. O'Connor Pet Adoption Center, a high-tech, no-kill agency that opened in 2007 - the year euthanasia numbers first dipped.

Staff there manage 50 dog kennels and even more cats, plus offer ongoing educational programs on animal care and the importance of spaying and neutering pets.

Staff visits schools, career fairs and expos to also teach pet owners:

To avoid tying dogs to trees.

That pets require proper guardianship.

The importance of providing ample food, water, appropriate living conditions and medical care.

Kuecker and her staff in April will visit Memorial High School to educate students during a career fair.

For the county to become a no-kill county - a place where pet populations remain under control and killing is no longer needed - Cate offered estimates.

First, the county would need several hundred more dog kennels and cat cages. The shelter's pet food, medicine, employee and operation budgets would also need to increase.

Cate estimates at $5 million the cost to build such a county facility, and $2 million per year for operational expenses, he said. The shelter currently incurs $402,000 in yearly costs.

"There is going to have to be some big dollars spent to multiply the current efforts," Cate said. "I am fairly confident that the local governmental entities do not have such money to spend in the current economic environment. Hopefully, there will be some benefactor or agency out there that can step up to the plate and help us out with this problem."

In the meantime, residents can undertake affordable measures to contribute to recent successes. Grassroots and organized efforts are paying off, but these workers need help.

You can spay and neuter your pets, donate to local pet groups and volunteer at any of the local agencies.

Pet euthanasia is often a perpetual problem that remains easy to ignore. The simple idea of it can become too painful. Don't bury your head in the sand to a problem that, for once, isn't worsening.

After all, 4,000 dogs and cats still die needlessly here each year.

Gabe Semenza is the Public Service Editor for the Advocate. Contact him at 361-580-6519 or gsemenza@vicad.com, or comment on this story at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.

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