The Idaho Falls Animal Shelter has stemmed the tide of euthanasia.
In 2008, the shelter killed 71 percent of the cats and more than a third of all dogs it took in. Euthanizations were scheduled every Tuesday and Friday, with more than a dozen dogs being put down most weeks.
But a recent tour of the shelter showed how much things have changed.
Several dogs had just arrived at the shelter when the Post Register visited Monday afternoon and Animal Services Supervisor Irene Brown explained that most animals are only there for four or five days. Within a week they’ll either be returned to their owner, adopted by a new family or shipped to another animal shelter with more room.
The only animals that tend to stay longer are the ones being held as evidence in court cases, as animal services fall under the Idaho Falls Police Department.
Brown had no experience working with animals before she began leading the department 13 years ago. She and her husband had visited the shelter once before to try and adopt a pet but was quickly turned off by the smell and the crowded conditions some of the animals faced.
“We walked in through the back door, then I turned around and walked back out,” she said.
Idaho Falls City Code had once required newly-adopted animals be sent to the vet the next day, but that would cause weekend backups. Friday adoptions had to wait until Monday to leave and more animals were impounded in the meantime. Dogs that were already adopted took up space for the new arrivals, forcing healthy dogs that hadn’t been adopted yet to be euthanized to make space.
Brown said she was horrified by the number of deaths at the shelter when she took over and has worked over the past decade to change things. As she and a number of the other shelter workers told the city council in late March, that effort has made a big difference for the local animals. Last year the shelter euthanized just over 20 percent of cats and 1.36 percent of dogs.
Idaho Falls Animal Services‘ shelter has officially been a “no-kill” location for dogs for the last five years. A no-kill shelter is still able to put down dogs that have debilitating injuries or pose a safety risk but will not kill healthy dogs to deal with overcrowding. More dogs were put down by the shelter in 2014 than in the last three years combined.
“It was a matter of saying ‘that’s enough, we have to do something different here,’” Brown said.
Part of the change in animal euthanizations has been brought on by the shelter’s cooperation with other locations in the region. To avoid overcrowding, animals will be sent from Idaho Falls to locations around the region that have more space to hold animals. Frequent collaborators include the Idaho and Utah Human Societies, the animal shelter in Pocatello or the Beaverhead County Animal Shelter in Dillon, Mont.
Idaho Falls also reduced the number of other animals it has killed, which in most cases were wild squirrels. Brown said the department had received so many requests to kill or capture wild squirrels every year that they began charging $5 per squirrel euthanized. The fee helped dropped the number of “other animals” killed to 206 last year, less than half the number of any of the previous few years.
The shelter’s next goal is to improve conditions for their cats and become a no-kill shelter for them as well. On Thursday, it announced via Facebook that the shelter would spend $25,000 to renovate their cat kennels to make them more sanitary and comfortable for the animals. The shelter has also been using grants to launch two programs aimed at humanely reducing the cat population — trap, neuter, return and shelter, neuter, release.
The programs have similar end results of limiting the number of stray cats that can reproduce but the TNR program focused more on unfriendly and unowned cats captured in neighborhoods, while the SNR treats cats that are sheltered and could later be adopted. Last year’s $50,000 grant from Best Friends Animal Society paid for the shelter to trap and spay 600 cats and the shelter has completed about 500 sterilizations.
“If we determine a cat is unowned, we will get them spayed or neutered, fully vaccinated, ear tipped and microchipped and then they get released back to the community they came from,” animal control officer Danyelle Harker said.
The programs should eventually decrease the city’s feral cat population but Brown said it would take nearly a decade to fully appreciate the effect of the new program.
Most of the people currently involved with the animal shelter are volunteers. They managed the department’s social media account, sharing photos of the animals as they come through the doors, and take care of the dogs and cats. Brown said the majority of the workers and volunteers end up taking home one of the animals though she hasn’t adopted one recently.
Animal Services’ role within the police department also has expanded over the last few months. In December, the service officers began working swing shifts for the police department, handling late-night calls about animals that previously would have been delayed until the next morning.
“If you found a dog at 8 p.m., you either had to keep it in your house or let it go again. That’s a rough choice,” Brown said.
The department worked 78 swing shifts over the first three months, taking around two calls on a typical night. In February, it also began tackling some of the vehicle citations and parking complaints employees came across while responding to animal calls. Over the first month of that program, the responders issued 48 parking citations and found an equal number of abandoned vehicles to report.
If you’re looking to adopt a pet from the shelter, the cost can vary wildly between animals. Brown explained that male dogs are generally cheaper than females, as are smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas and animals which had already been spayed, vaccinated and microchipped. Cats are cheaper to adopt than dogs because they are more plentiful, with adoption costs getting as low as $10 for some.
“Hopefully, one day, we’ll be desperate to find kittens and strays for people to adopt,” Brown said.