Creativity raises pet shelter’s live release rate

A combination of creativity and community support have helped bring the live release rate at Tri-County Humane Society up to 97 percent so far this year.That means the shelter is euthanizing only 3 percent of the animals it takes in, and that’s in cases where the animal isn’t treatable for illness or injury or able to be rehabilitated for aggressive behaviors.”I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” said Executive Director Vicki Davis. “If anyone had told me we’d achieve 97 percent, I probably would have fallen off my chair,” she said. “It’s a dream come true.”The rate compares with 88 percent for the same quarter last year at the shelter.She said the number of animals that have come into the shelter is similar to years past, so it isn’t simply a case of fewer animals.It is well above the average of 72 percent at some other animal welfare organizations.(One caveat: It’s difficult to compare rates across communities for a variety of reasons, and finding a number to represent the success of a shelter is difficult. Read more about this in the side story “Can you trust these statistics?”)The explosion of feral cats locally prompted staff to look at the problem differently.”What’s Einstein’s definition of insanity? Doing the same thing and expecting different results,” Davis said. Every year, they were taking in cats and euthanizing cats. That wasn’t reducing the population long-term.”We were now getting as many (cats) if not more,” she said.Buy PhotoTri-County Humane Society Executive Director Vicki Davis, left, and animal care technician Laura Lund give a little attention to Zeus, a 1-year-old malamute up for adoption at the shelter. (Photo: Kimm Anderson, kanderson@stcloudtimes.com)So she prompted her staff to instill programs to reduce euthanasia while still taking care of the animals they receive.Staff targeted the problem from a variety of angles, attacking it bit by bit by bit.For instance, they used to euthanize more feral cats that couldn’t be house pets. Now they find people who can accommodate barn cats. They spay or neuter them, give them rabies shots and place them at those locations.Another tactic with feral cats involves spaying or neutering them, then returning them to the area where they were found. That way, the cat’s claim on the territory remains, and cats that aren’t fixed can’t move in and reproduce.Davis said she was hesitant to go that route, especially considering Minnesota winters. Then someone pointed out that Minnesota wouldn’t have a feral cat problem if they couldn’t survive the winter. Other shelters have had success, and Davis said they’re moving in that direction slowly.People are willing to take animals with more special needs. Davis thinks Central Minnesota has a greater capacity than other places, because people here are willing to do extra care.”We’re so lucky to have people to walk in and want the underdog dog, or the cat that has a frost-bit tail,” she said.She gave the example of a 14-year-old dog who was blind. The family thought he needed to be put down. But outside of a dental issue, he was fine. So they had his teeth taken care of and placed him.Low-cost or free programs have also helped. Veterans, members of the military and seniors can take home an older pet free of charge.Kitten sales and name-your-own price for slightly older cats also help get cats adopted.”I know they are (working),” she said. “If we had not run promotions, I’m sure we would have had to euthanize a lot more.”Some observers worry that people who can’t afford to buy a pet can’t afford to take care of them. But a shelter in Wisconsin was one of the first to try no-fee adoptions, Davis said, and they’ve had enough time to follow up on the welfare of the pets.”They’re no different than any other,” she said. “They’re as loved and as cherished. … Just because they’re not wealthy enough to buy one, doesn’t mean they aren’t going to be a good home.”And she’d much rather have people get cats from the shelter, where they are spayed or neutered and have had their shots.Another part of the story is the low-cost spay and neuter operations the shelter has brought to the community, programs like the Minnesota Spay and Neuter Assistance Program and the Kindest Cut. They have filled their appointment slots every time a mobile unit is in town, Davis said, with the help of the shelter’s promotion. MNSNAP has spayed or neutered 137 more cats in the area in the first three months of this year than in the same time last year.Then there is technology. Don’t underestimate the power of a cute picture. Davis says the shelter’s Facebook page has been a blessing. They post photos of pets up for adoption and they show up in people’s newsfeeds. Staff also post stories of needy pets, like one needing a double ACL surgery, which was eventually performed for almost no cost.”We’re able to go above and beyond, thanks to the generosity of the community” she said.That means they have more programs to rehabilitate dogs and more resource

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