A number of animal lovers united this week, meeting with Gadsden's Public Safety Committee to discuss animal over-population and how to deal with homeless dogs and cats.
The gathering drew representatives from the Humane Society Pet Rescue and Adoption Center, along with Carol Huckaby and Mitch Chastain of Huckaby's Hope for Paws, Chris Moulds and Ashley Smith, mail carriers working in the area who are active in animal rescue, and others interested in animal care as a community issue.
After about an hour of discussion, Public Safety Committee Chairman Ben Reed suggested those parties continue their discussion while the council members moved onto other work, and he suggested a community committee be named to foster communication about the issues.
The city contracts with the Humane Society to shelter animals that animal control picks up or that Gadsden residents surrender. But with 95 dogs recently at a facility designed for 50, the shelter has been on limited intake. Dogs are not being adopted, or shipped to rescues out of state, at sufficient numbers for the shelter to take in additional dogs.
Spay/neuter program: HSPRAC proposes city-subsidized spay/neuter program for Gadsden residents
It's enough of a problem that the city made an agreement at the end of March with Carol Huckaby to provide a "holding tank," a place where animals could be sheltered when there's no room at the shelter. Reed praised Huckaby's efforts at animal rescue, saying she sent 1,200 animals across the country to other animal rescues in areas where people are looking for such animals.
A couple of weeks later, then HSPRAC Executive Director Mike Jeffcoat asked the council to subsidize a spay/neuter program. He estimated the cost at $35,000 a year to take pets from Gadsden to Irondale for spay/neuter.
A few weeks later, Jeffcoat was out as director. Board member Jean Pugliese said he was "released" from the position May 6.
Spay/neuter programs are a key to resolving animal overpopulation problems, advocates said. But the group said euthanizing animals needs to be part of the discussion as well, when over-population is as large a problem as it is in Gadsden.
In January, Jeffcoat told The Times that the shelter’s live release rate “has been greater than the no-kill threshold of 90% four months and counting.”
That sounds like a great thing — that homes are found for 90% of animals, most of them dogs. But is that always the best thing?
Some of the animal advocates pointed out the recent story about a dog at the shelter for 500 days that was finally adopted. It's good that the dog has a home, but they questioned whether any dog should be kept at a shelter for 500 days.
Pugliese said keeping dogs in cages without enrichment — "and we don't have it" — is a completely unnatural way for them to live, and over extended periods of time it can lead dogs to adopt "aggressive behaviors." There are many factors to be considered, but sometimes, she said, it's better for some dogs to "go to heaven."
The HSPRAC is working on the problem, Pugliese said, through its transfer of animals to rescues outside the Southeast. She said she's been working with Joe Simmons at Bethel Kennels, taking shelter dogs to the Glencoe facility to get dogs ready to be adopted, and "to see if there are dogs that really do need to go to heaven, that don't need to be put back out in society."
Pugliese said shelter manager Casey Champion has "created a matrix to take the emotion out of which dogs" should be euthanized. It evaluates an animal's age, health, history and its behavior to determine whether adoption will work for the dog.
Fostering, enforcing the law
Kate Pickett said she networks to find homes for dogs through out-of-state rescues, but she needs dogs to be assessed so she has information and photos to send potential adopters. She said that's not being done efficiently at HSPRAC.
Gina Hollingsworth referred to existing laws and the city's contract with HSPRAC, and said the ones regarding proper care for animals and animal tethering aren't being enforced.
Gadsden Animal Control Officer Sam Noaker said the city's tethering law allows the city to bring a charge, which then goes to court; if an animal's owner appeals, it then goes to circuit court. All the while, the dog may wind up staying on a tether because the city has no authority to remove it.
Even when cases go to court, some outcomes are not what animal advocates want. In a recent case, an owner convicted of cruelty to two animals was fined $500 for each, and the judge then returned the animals to him.
Arlene Myers said there's been discussion of a surgical suite at the HSPRAC for spaying/neutering but that the city would have to help to finance it. The center also is seeking more fosters — people who will take in shelter animals temporarily and care for them to free up shelter space for others. The shelter's "foster to adopt" program lets people animals, including puppies or kittens too young to sterilize into their homes. Myers said the center follows up on those animals when they are old enough, and if the owner has them spayed or neutered, they can be adopted. All animals old enough to spay or neuter must be, before they leave the shelter.
Ultimately, the answer lies with people, animal advocates said, treating animals properly, and spaying and neutering them. Even with discounts for the procedure, and offers to come get pets, get them fixed and return them, some people won't do it.
To change that, Myers and others agreed to try to bring an educational effort to the school system — to go in and teach children about how to care for animals and why measures like sterilizing animals is needed.
Another meeting will be scheduled, probably in June, to continue the discussion.
Contact Gadsden Times reporter Donna Thornton at 256-393-3284 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on The Gadsden Times: Gadsden animal control advocates want to tackle over-population issue