Euthanasia rates at county animal shelter are at an all-time low

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It may seem like there has been a recent rash of animal abuse cases in the county, but Valencia County Animal Control Director Erik Tanner says animal abuse is always a problem and that recent media exposure has only brought the issue to light.

Tanner said he tries to advertise abuse cases when they occur so that offenders know that officials are looking for them, discourage other abusers and bring the issue to the forefront of peoples' minds.

About nine months ago, Tanner said they did notice a "spike" in pit bull abuse cases in El Cerro Mission. About four or five pit bulls, who he described as "severely underfed," were found with scars from fighting and collars made of bailing wire.

He had animal control target the area but no suspects were found, probably, he thinks, because people were dumping the dogs there from other places in the county.

Lately, says Tanner, the issue of animal abandonment has become a problem. Though abandoning an animal is not abuse in the way that beating or starving an animal is, it is still considered animal cruelty and is a misdemeanor.

He said they see a lot of instances in which people move and leave their animal behind or dump them in a remote location to "fend for themselves" due to economic hardships.

In the most extreme cases, individuals will abandon their animals tied up without access to food or water. In some cases, animal control is able to track down renters who have abandoned their animals through renter information they leave behind and press charges. But, in other cases, they are impossible to find.

If someone suspects that an animals has been abandoned or is being abused, Tanner says to contact animal control immediately because it takes time to process the lead.

"We can't just go onto the property and remove the dog," he said.

At the heart of the abuse and abandonment problem, which Tanner says is not unique to Valencia County, is the idea that animals are a dime a dozen.

"The thing that leads most to the mistreatment of animals is the fact that they're everywhere," he said. "I think a lot of the starvation and the abandonment and the other things would be less of a problem if there wasn't a constant generation of animals coming around.

"They're disposable … Your dog gets hit by a truck, you go get another one; animal control picks up you dog, you go down to the flea market and get another one."

He said the only thing that would have any effect on that situation, as well as to the constant influx of unwanted animals in general, is to spay and neuter pets. If there were fewer pets on the market, it would make them more valuable to their owners and, theoretically, less likely to be mistreated or abandoned, he said.

Some of the animals in abuse cases are determined to be "salvageable," and the shelter works with different rescue organizations to get them rehabilitated. But some are "too far gone," either physically or behaviorally, to save and are then euthanised to be put out of their misery.

Tanner approximates that he's seen about 100,000 animals since he began working for animal control in 2001, and can tell when an animals is too dangerous to be let back out into the community.

When Tanner began working with animal control, he said their euthanasia rate was 95 percent, and if an animal came through their doors, it was "going to die."

Today, the euthanasia rate has dropped to 33 percent and very few of those put down are considered adoptable animals.

He said this year, only 13 puppies and kittens have been euthanised due to illness.

In December, the shelter acquired a transfer van that allows the shelter to transfer several dogs and cats a week to no-kill shelters in other cities and states, which has been "phenomenal," he said, in bringing the euthanasia rate down to its lowest in the shelter's history.

But, he said, just because more animals are being saved does not mean less unwanted animals are being born or coming into the shelter.

Again, he says, the only cure for that is spaying and neutering pets and responsible animal ownership. Having an ever-growing group of foster homes to care for adoptable dogs and cats until they can be transferred is crucial since often the shelter is filled to capacity and can not hold the animals themselves.

To learn more about becoming a foster or to report an abuse or abandonment case, contact the Valencia County Animal Control at 866-2479.


-- Email the author at udavila@news-bulletin.com.