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We see them every day on our Facebook pages, in tweets and on various websites. Pleas for help in saving a dog or cat who was abused, or has a medical issue or is scheduled for euthanasia because no one has been willing to adopt them.
Our hearts break for these animals. We wish we could save them all. Reality can be so cruel.
Imagine you’re responsible for these animals. Imagine the day-in, day-out frustration of seeing unwanted pets come through your doors, knowing full well more than half of them won’t ever leave. Imagine you’re Carly Luttmann.
Luttmann, the program supervisor of the Kent County Animal Shelter, shared with me the reportable statistics she’ll be turning in to the Michigan Department of Agriculture this month. The shelter services all of Kent County and is located in the heart of Grand Rapids (740 Fuller Avenue NE).
KCAS took in 3,216 dogs in 2011. Astonishingly, 2,026 (63 percent) were put down. Cats fared even worse, with 3,789 taken in and 2,952 (77 percent) euthanized. There are some bright spots: 603 dogs and 25 cats were reclaimed by their owners, 359 dogs and 179 cats were adopted from KCAS and 179 dogs and 591 cats were transferred to other facilities where they might have a better chance of being adopted. But those glimmers of hope don’t offset the stark reality that too many pets are dying unnecessarily every day.
The numbers are appalling. But as director of an open-admission facility, they are Luttmann’s reality. Unlike limited admission organizations, who might specialize in certain behavioral or medical issues but can choose not to accept an animal because of them, the animal shelter and any open admission organization must take in any animal brought through its doors.
“I think it is important that folks understand that we are accepting everything that is brought to our doors and that we receive the vast majority of animals in the community that will have severe health and behavioral issues,” Luttmann said. “We see medical and trauma issues, like animals that were hit by a car, and animals that are just generally ill-kept, with viruses, parasites, malnutrition and behavioral issues. We get a lot of aggressive dogs and cats, cats soiling, pets not getting along with other pets in the house, that sort of thing.”
Luttmann said an average of 30 animals a day come into the animal shelter. She’s not happy about that.
“Our euthanasia rate is very high, and it’s sad,” she said. “When you do it day in and day out it’s hard to understand why people don’t take more care with their pets and spay and neuter so we’re not having excess animals coming to our door every day. That’s a large part of it.
“Secondarily, they don’t think through their decision to get a pet and what it means and what a commitment it’s going to be. They have to be prepared to manage and work through some of the [behavioral] things. I understand sometimes they can’t. People’s circumstances change. But not taking care of them or not looking for their stray animal is what’s sad to me. People don’t come in here looking for them.”
The keys to decreasing euthanasia numbers at her facility, Luttmann said, are communication and education.
“We need to get word out about adoption program, internally speaking,” she said. “And we need to get the word out to the pet-owning community about responsible pet ownership.”
Luttmann said there are many dogs in the community classified as “resident” dogs, which often come to the shelter with behavioral or health issues.
“There’s a divide in our community between family pet dogs and resident dogs,” she said. “The resident dogs are the ones acquired for breeding or guarding, and they generally live in the yard with no social interaction. Or it might be a resident cat who doesn’t spend time inside and just comes and goes. Our responsible ownership message that we’re trying to get across has to do with making pets a part of your family… training them and keeping an eye on them and socializing them so they’re physically and behaviorally healthy.”
Spaying and neutering is a huge big part of the message Luttmann is trying to get across.
“There’s a huge lack of spay/neuter education in our community, and it’s a big problem,” Luttmann said. “Any public presentation we give, we drill the message of spaying and neutering, whether it’s in a child or adult learning classroom. It’s not very often one our animal control officers comes across an intact animal and the subject of spaying and neutering doesn’t come up. They’ll talk to that owner about spaying and neutering We distribute a lot of C-SNIP [a reduced-cost spay/neuter clinic based in Grand Rapids] material via animal control.”
Aside from helping control the pet population, Luttmann said spaying and neutering has health and behavioral benefits. A spayed/neutered pet is less likely to escape and roam the streets looking for a mate, thus reducing the changes of getting hit by a car. It also has been shown to increase the lifespan in dogs and cats. According to SpayUSA.org, altered animals have a very low to no risk of mammary gland tumors/cancer, prostate cancer, perianal tumors, pyometria, and uterine, ovarian and testicular cancers.
“In general, you’re going to have healthier, happier animals when they’re spayed and neutered,” Luttmann said. “They’re less likely to roam and they’ll form a bond with their human family a bit better because they don’t have that extra urge to mate.”
Luttmann realizes people may be surprised and angered by the euthanasia rate at KCAS. She also realizes she can’t change those numbers on her own.
“I’m never happy with them, but you can’t shy away from it,” she said. “You have to look at it and understand what can be done to change those numbers around. We’re trying to chip away at the mountain.
“People will be outraged by the numbers. We don’t like it, either, but we need their help to make it happen.”
I am a veteran journalist who is passionate about animals. My 30-year newspaper career revolved mainly around sports, as a reporter, copy editor and sports editor, but I also wrote pet news and features with "Unleashed," a blog for the Grand Rapids Press and MLive.com. In November, 2011, I was inducted into the Central Michigan University Journalism Hall of Fame. I look forward to sharing pet news and events with Rapidian readers and welcome story suggestions or pets-related event listings. You might also be interested in checking out pressunleashed.com, where you'll find even more pets news.
Reports on: Pets features and news, animal welfare