My Word: 650 reasons to become a no-kill county

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By The Staff

Killing more than 5 million adoptable cats and dogs in the US each year is no longer necessary or acceptable.

So, please, take your pick – Ranger, Marmalade, Bigsby, Coreen, Sadie, Shorty, Rainbow or Oscar – just eight of the 650-plus homeless animals waiting to be adopted here in Shelby County.

Yes, that’s correct. We have at least 650 cats, dogs, birds, rabbits, ponies and even a snake waiting to be adopted from our three shelters and their foster families – the County Animal Shelter, the Humane Society and Woodstock Animal Foundation (adoption facility at Metzger’s Country Store). As this is being written, two of the above – Coreen and Sadie (dogs) – are on a death list, waiting to be euthanized because the three shelters are overcrowded.

Pet overpopulation is a serious problem in the U.S. and Kentucky. Each year more than 5 million adoptable animals are put to sleep nationwide. On average, 570 animals are killed per hour or nine cats or dogs per second.

Our facilities are overcrowded and apparently, people are hesitant to adopt from a shelter. We have far more stray, abandoned, surrendered and feral (wild) animals in our county than we have organizations to care for them.

Additionally, the old methods of controlling animal populations – directing an animal control facility to catch stray pets and then euthanatize them – obviously have not worked.           

So, when facing such dire statistics, how does one county have the gall to think it could reach the goal of becoming a no-kill county?

Because here in Shelby County we are blessed with extremely hard-working, motivated, animal lovers who have educated themselves on the newest successful methods of controlling pet populations. By offering low-cost spay-neuter clinics, by ensuring that every animal adopted through our shelters is sterilized before it leaves, by spaying-neutering the free-roaming cat population, and by promoting humane education, we know that pet overpopulation doesn’t have to be the only reality.

And yes, we have several agencies within Shelby County that are working to control pet overpopulation. Each of our county’s organizations provides one of the aforementioned, very necessary services that, in combination, move us toward the goal of becoming a no-kill county. Only by working together, and being aware of the services provided by each organization, have we been able to move forward on this mission.

The Humane Society (SCHS) accepts surrendered pets, strays and ferals from Shelby County and runs an adoption facility. They also offer weekly low-cost spay-neuter clinics, which are in such high demand that they are booked a few weeks in advance. Thankfully, the SCHS has started work on a new surgical suite that will only increase the volume of spay-neuter surgeries.

Woodstock Animal Foundation (WAF) is the go-to rescue group for injured and ill animals. It saves animals not only from Shelby but also from as far away as Clark, Harlan and Letcher counties. WAF also provides a low-cost spay-neuter clinic that is solidly booked, and Woodstock on Wheels is a mobile spay-neuter service for underserved areas in Kentucky.

Even though it doesn’t have a bricks-and-mortar headquarters in the county, WAF takes strays and surrendered pets from any county when space is available, and puts the animals up for adoption at places such as Metzger’s Country Store and PetSmart.

To save money, SCHS and Woodstock also use foster families to host animals that are waiting for adoption. Every pet adopted through WAF or SCHS is spayed or neutered before it goes home with its adopted family.

The Shelby County Animal Shelter – the only government entity – by law has to accept any pet (healthy, sick or injured) that is surrendered to it, Officials have the unenviable task of trying to find homes or rescue organizations for their animals before all of the cages and runs are full.

When the cages and runs are full, then either the cats or dogs that have been there the longest, or the less-adoptable animals (for example, dogs that don’t like other dogs), have to be euthanatized. Thanks to the hard-working staff at our shelter, they have one of the lowest euthanasia rates in the United States, and for 64 weeks, achieved the no-kill shelter status.

The No-kill Mission (NKM), which organized because the government shelter is prohibited from asking for donations, has been instrumental in saving lives at the county shelter. By raising funds as a separate entity, NKM has been able to spay-neuter the county shelter animals before they leave with their adopted families. (In the past, the pets would go home with a voucher that could be used to get the pet sterilized. Sadly, the vouchers weren’t always used, and the pets would have litters, adding to the overcrowded shelters.)

Lifebridge for Animals is working to promote humane education in elementary schools as well as in community groups, emphasizing respect for animals and the benefits of spaying and neutering pets. They also offer financial assistance with spaying and neutering.

Operation CatSnip (OC) provides the trap-neuter-return-management (TNRM) portion of the no-kill mission. OC identifies free-roaming cats and colonies. Caretakers or volunteers trap the cats, which are then spayed or neutered at one of the aforementioned facilities. After the 24-hour recovery, cats are returned to their home environment where the caretakers will manage the cats throughout their lifetimes. Given that strays and ferals account for 75 percent of the kittens born in the US, this service has been proven to help reduce the cat overpopulation.

Clearly, our six entities overlap very little.

We have only one public surgical suite in the county (SCHS) for spay-neuter clinics. It’s my understanding that the other groups in the county will have use of the facility that is under construction.

WAF utilizes a surgical facility in Oldham County for their clinics.

The government surgical facility is used only for shelter animals and was necessary because of the wasted time and logistical nightmare of attempting to transport 30-50 animals from the county shelter to the humane society’s surgical room on spay day. Staff then had to wait not only for the surgery, but also for the lengthy recovery time in case of a complication. (And that was not good use of taxpayer’s money.)

We have yet to run out of cats and dogs to spay or neuter.

Yes, we have three adoption groups, but as mentioned above, two dogs may die soon due to overcrowding and overpopulation. WAF’s space is limited for dogs. Because of zoning restrictions, the Humane Society can only keep two dogs at their current facility. It is working on a new sanctuary. Dennis Schuman, who is building a unique rescue sanctuary in the county, acknowledged in the Nov. 11, 2009 Sentinel-News article that he wants to work closely with the county shelters to relieve their overcrowding. Both of the new facilities will be welcomed. The need is great.

The truth is that the six entities work on shoe-string budgets. Most of the private organizations are purely voluntary; their members donate time and supplies. In at least one instance, an employee of one of the private organizations once worked in a paid position. Because of low funding, she still performs her work, but now does it as a volunteer – that’s the level of dedication we have from our animal advocates.

The vets work for reduced-rates and sometimes volunteer their time.

Even if all six of our groups banded together, we would realize very little savings because the biggest portion of expenditures not directly related to the animals goes toward facilities, and only one of our groups actually owns a building or is constructing a new facility (that is badly needed). We are all thrifty to a fault.

All but one of the private organizations is 501(c)(3) certified, and the one uncertified group (which is new) is working on the application process. Our financial books are open to the public for inspection.

And yes, we all work together. We all stay in contact, usually on a weekly basis. Lifebridge may contact OC regarding a new colony of cats. A shelter may call Woodstock about an injured dog. In an emergency, supplies are shared without IOUs; however, each organization maintains focus on its individual mission.

In this way, people in the county can donate to the charity of their choice – some support spay-neuter, some support rescue, while others support education. By remaining private organizations, we can set our agendas and missions without being restricted.

Yet, even with at least six entities working to save the lives of county animals, we need more.

We need more volunteers, more foster families, more donations (money and supplies). We need more people to adopt from the shelters instead of buying pure-breds. (Yes, this comment will anger some people). We even need more pet owners to spay and neuter the animals that they have chosen to adopt from outside the county or from friends, neighbors.

So please, take your pick. Choose one of the organizations and offer to volunteer. Choose to donate to one of the much-needed services. Choose to spread the word about the benefits of spaying and neutering. Or better yet, choose one of the 650-plus loving, lonely shelter cats and dogs and give it a forever home, because killing more than 5 million adoptable cats and dogs in the US each year is no longer necessary … or acceptable.


Stacie Rockaway of Shelbyville is co-founder of Operation CatSnip. This piece also is cosigned by Sandy Hill, co-founder, Operation CatSnip; Kelly Jedlicki, director, Shelby County No Kill Mission; Teresa Bottom, executive director, Lifebridge for Animals; Barbara Zekausky, executive director, Shelby County Humane Society; Tracie Lennon, president, S.C. Humane Society; Lisa Lynch, shelter manager, S.C. Humane Society; Denise Jones, founder, Woodstock Animal Foundation; and Stephanie Pollett, DVM, Middletown Animal Clinic.