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James Collins stroked the head of "Willie," a cuddly Yorkie with a blue ribbon in his hair, as he talked about an email that had a caused a stir in the community.
His email, which had been sent out community wide on Wednesday, read, "With tears flowing, I have made the decision that we must euthanize on Friday if we cannot move the animals currently listed on Pet Finder. Please help us now."
Collins said that email has accomplished what he hoped it would: Enough animals were adopted so that euthanization will not be necessary.
At least on Friday.
Collins, director of the Shelby County Animal Shelter, said what may be confusing to the public is that while the shelter was officially certified as a "No Kill" shelter on May 27, that status is not permanent. It only means that the shelter has not had to euthanize animals for lack of space for the past year. The "No Kill" designation is only good for one year. Then the shelter must begin working to make it for another year without euthanizing to obtain the same status next year.
In other words, the shelter has done well enough that it hasn’t had euthanize dogs because of overpopulation. The "No Kill" designation does not mean that animals won't be killed if taken in by the Shelby County Animal Shelter.
He added that the email was necessary to help accomplish that goal.
"We want to get the word out about our animals because we don't want to have to euthanize because we're a 'No Kill,' shelter and we want to stay 'No Kill,'" he said. "But I don't want people to be misled and think that everybody here is safe. The only way we can ever stay 'No Kill' is for people to continue to help the shelter."
The shelter currently houses 95 cats and 74 dogs, in 30 kennel runs and 45 cat cages.
"We are at capacity," Collins said.
Rusty Newton, acting animal control director for the past two years, said if it were not for all the various groups and animal rescue organizations that help find homes for pets, the shelter could not keep its "No Kill" status.
"There are too many to name and I don't want to leave anybody out," he said. "But just for example, Life Bridge for Animals helps us with spaying and neutering, something we do for each animal before it's adopted out."
Newton added that the staff and the shelter’s many volunteers are largely responsible for being able to attain the “No Kill” status, especially Collins, who was the recipient of the 2008 Animal Professional Award.
Newton, who has adopted two dogs himself from the shelter - a poodle mix and a yellow lab mix - said the shelter, as a county agency, must take any animal that someone wants to drop off.
"So when we're full and someone drops off an animal, we don't like to be faced with that decision," he said.
Collins explained that the "No Kill" policy means that animals are not euthanized because of lack of space, but could be for other reasons.
"The animals that are euthanized at the shelter are those that are so seriously ill or injured they can't be helped, or are so aggressive that they are a danger to the public."
He noted that the local humane society has been a "No Kill" organization for 10 years because they can refuse to take animals when they are at capacity.
"But we are open admissions, which means we're here for you, so we must take them and we'll try to find a home for them."
Collins said that one thing that has increased the population of the shelter lately is the increased number of home foreclosures in the county.
"Today, for example, somebody came in - she was very upset - and had to surrender her five dogs because her home had been foreclosed on and she has to move into an apartment," he said. "That is happening more and more often.”
Other counties are in the same boat, he said.
Donna Croggins, a volunteer at the Grant County Animal Shelter, said their shelter is overrun with cats.
"We are overwhelmed with them," she said. "They are coming out of the woodwork. We had a guy come in today with four mother cats and 17 kittens. We took all of them except for one mother cat and five kittens."
The Lincoln County Animal Shelter also sent out emails stating that many dogs would die yesterday unless someone made a commitment to adopt them by then.
Their “time is up,” the email said.
“These pleas have to be sent out from time to time,” Newton said.
Many shelters, including Shelby, have their own Pet Finder Web sites.
Collins said these sites can be very helpful to someone who is thinking of adopting a pet, explaining the that pets who have been there the longest are in the most danger of being euthanized.
“The pets are listed in order of time, so when you look at Pet Finder, the first dog you see has been here the longest,” he said. “People can fax us applications, and we review them as soon as they come in. We can transport to other states or to other rescues. If somebody lives in, say, Ohio, but they can’t get down here, as long as they’ve got a good home and we can verify that, we’ll get the pet to them.”
Collins and an animal control officer are the euthanization specialists at the shelter, a job that Collins says he doesn’t relish.
“I never thought in my entire life that I would ever have become a specialist in killing an animal,” he said, glancing around at the various dogs and cats, turtles and even a boa constrictor preparing to shed its skin.
“I never thought I’d ever have a title like that.”
At the shelter, the procedure is that a stray is held five days for an owner to pick it up. If the owner does not, then the animal is up for adoption. All animals up for adoption will be spayed or neutered and shots administered before they are adopted out. The price is $65 for dogs and various prices for cats. Also, Newton wants to encourage farmers to take feral cats to keep in their barns to control the mouse population. These cats will be given to farmers for free.
Animal Shelter Information
• 266 Kentucky Street (public urged to visit)
• www.shelbycountykentucky.com (click on animal shelter link)
• Open Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to noon
• To make a donation, visit the site and click on wish list