Things at the Mobile County Animal Shelter might not be perfect, but a study by national groups and the University of Florida found the shelter is making great strides in improving, according to a presentation in front of county officials Monday.
University of Florida Clinical Assistant Professor of Shelter Medicine Cynda Crawford stressed the county shelter has made vast improvements yearly, despite having landed in the news for some negative incidents.
“Since this is a study, we had to offer recommendations, but I want to say that the Mobile County Animal Shelter has already made great improvements and have already implemented some of the suggested changes,” she said. “Mobile County’s shelter is one of the best in the state.”
The first set of recommendations came from Crawford.
“The Mobile County shelter is making improvements, but we’ve seen some ways for even better results,” she said. “This will help increase life saving capacity and more efficient performance in field services.”
In 2012, the MCAS took in 7,037 animals. Of those 39 percent or 2,744 animals were adopted out. The national average is 50 percent adoption. MCAS falls short when it comes to saving cats.
“Five out of 10 dogs were adopted out, which is the average. However, only one out of every 10 cats were adopted,” Crawford said. “There are ways to improve both numbers though.”
The MCAS has a blanket policy not to adopt dogs that have been deemed “bully breeds, “ which include pit bulls and chow chows. When a pit bull or chow chow comes into the shelter, then the MCAS euthanizes the animals. However, Crawford said there are many rescue groups specifically designed to adopt out pit bulls and chow chows.
“By working with these groups, you can keep from euthanizing non-aggressive pits and chows,” she said. “These groups have a very successful rate.”
The animals most routinely euthanized, though, are cats. All cats deemed feral, which means not accustomed to humans, are euthanized. Stray cats are euthanized 83 percent of the time and kittens are euthanized 70 percent of the time.
Part of the reason the number is so high, Crawford said, is because cats and dogs have a seven-day hold — meaning they must stay at the shelter that long before they may be adopted.
“Kittens are highly desirable, but the hold can actually deter the possible adopter,” she said. “Also, there is a seven-day hold for puppies. This is really unnecessary. Removing the hold would keep animals from getting illnesses in the shelter and would mean more adoptions.”
Crawford also recommended balancing the number of cats taken in with the number adopted.
The biggest suggestion from the Humane Society of U.S. was to hire a shelter vet. Funding from the county and from the increased adoptions would offset the cost of a shelter vet, Crawford said.
“By removing barriers like the holds and hiring a vet, then the number of adoptions will increase,” Crawford said. “That’s what we all want too — to adopt as many animals as possible.”
Natalie DiGiacomo, a representative of the Humane Society of U.S., urged the shelter to reach out to the public through a series marketing such as having positive photos of the animals up for adoption. She also recommended having a more retail-like approach.
“Keeping convenient adoption hours like those of a store and reaching out to the adopters with off-site events will increase adoption,” she said.
Crawford referenced the Spartanburg, S.C. shelter, which has been using its Facebook page as an example of what the MCAS could do. While MCAS does use its Facebook page, Crawford said there are methods of making the animals look more attractive.
“The shelter in my backyard has done positive PR and the response has been great,” Crawford said. “It makes such a difference.”
George Harding with the National Animal Control Association focused on the animal control officers. Harding recommended adding language about specific authority the animal control officers have in the county code. However, a change in code must come from the state, County Commissioner Connie Hudson said.
Harding also saw room for a more efficient field operations.
“When an animal control officer goes out, they write handwritten notes and then put the same information in a computer system. This is redundancy and can be cut by just utilizing the computer system,” he said. “It will not only save time, but money in the long run.”
Lastly, officers in the field should be better trained on safety with animals and owners, Harding said.
“Mobile County is a large area so if something happens, it could be a while before someone could get there to assist an officer,” he said. “By raising awareness on safety through training, that could help avoid danger.”
The MCAS has already made strides. In Dec. 2013, only 33 percent of the animals were euthanized, which means 77 percent were adopted out or kept in the shelter. That’s a big improvement and better than the national average of 50 percent — something they hope to see carried out over this year.
“The shelter is well on its way to being the best shelter in the region,” Crawford said.