Transfer van helps to keep euthanasia rates down

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More and more animals are leaving the Valencia County Animal Shelter alive these days.

Shelter Director Erik Tanner said the huge upswing in the number of animals transported to no-kill shelters this year has improved not only the lives of the animals, but has increased staff morale as well.

Courtesy of Valencia County Animal Control: Transfer coordinator for the Valencia County Animal Control Shelter Patty Mugan holds a terrier ready for transfer to a no-kill shelter via the shelter’s new transport van behind Mugan. The $25,000 van was given to the shelter by the ASPCA so it can continue its transport program and get more animals out the doors alive.

“I take no credit for any of this,” says Tanner. “It’s all Patty. I just stay out of the way and let good people do good things.”

Thanks to a new $25,000 Ford Econoline transport van, courtesy of a grant through the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Tanner said shelter Transfer Coordinator Patty Mugan and her band of volunteers can transport many more animals at a time.

Using private vehicles, they could previously only take 20 to 30 animals per trip.

“We got the van in mid-December,” Tanner said. “The day I brought it back to the shelter, Patty had a transport scheduled and it was loaded up and gone.”

That day, 92 animals were transported to Colorado.

To date, more than 1,700 animals have left alive.

To help offset the expense of transporting the animals, the ASPCA and the Carroll Petrie Foundation pays the shelter $50 for every animal over the number it transported last year.

“The ASPCA actually reached out to us. I guess word got around about our transport program,” Tanner said.

The money goes toward fuel, crates for the animals and cleaning supplies for the carriers and the van.

“We take the disinfecting very seriously. If we start transporting disease, the shelters won’t take our animals,” he said. “Without the van, we wouldn’t be able to do this.”

For all of 2012, the shelter transported 1,861 animals. If the current transport rate continues, Tanner says that number will easily double this year.

While Mugan is transporting most of the animals, Tanner said the shelter is looking for volunteers to make the drive. All they need is a valid driver’s license.

Another key part of the transport efforts is a strong foster program for those animals left behind, Tanner said.

Between the transports and foster homes, Tanner said the shelter’s euthanasia rate for 2012 dropped to 49 percent, the lowest it’s been since he arrived 11 years ago.

He acknowledges that percentage is still high but compares it to when 80 to 90 percent of the animals were euthanized.

“We’ve made a lot of progress,” he said.

Now, instead of euthanizing animals to make space for more, Tanner says most are put down for health and behavioral issues.

The director says more live exits means better morale among the animal control officers and kennel technicians.

“We were seeing a lot of burn-out. No one thinks that is fun, no one is getting a thrill from it,” Tanner said. “It’s part of the job. We do it. But … no one likes it.”

Tanner also has reorganized the officers, giving them geographic areas to patrol. They are targeting problem areas, doing what could be considered animal saturation patrols.

“We issue a lot of citations doing that. Most people understand, but that 10 percent is mad at us,” he said. “We cite someone for a dog running lose and they get upset because their neighbor’s dogs are always out. Don’t worry — we’ll get around to them, too.

“We want people to know we exist and we are enforcing the ordinances.”

Another increase Tanner has noticed is the number of owner surrenders. He estimates that 60 percent of the animals recently dropped off at the shelter were brought in by their owners.

“We warn them that when we are at capacity, there’s a good chance their animal will be euthanized. We do all we can to transport them, adopt them out or foster, but we can’t always,” he said.

They leave the animals anyway, he said.

Another project Tanner hopes to move forward with this year is establishing a spay/neuter clinic for county residents. In the last two years, the county has obtained a portable building, and a veterinary hospital in Albuquerque donated nearly $10,000 in surgical equipment for the program.

“A lot of our local veterinarians are on board. We will probably be able to do a low-cost, low-income program with no problem,” he said. “There’s the Albuquerque Humane Association program and just about everybody who lives in Valencia County qualifies for that. If you qualify there, you will qualify here, too.”


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