Shelter wants to lower costs, increase revenue for city, county

Friday, June 24, 2011
Animal control officers here haven't had to put down a dog since November, except for those sick or injured, but the shelter's been helped by volunteers who say the building needs improvement and they just need permission to do it. So far, city councilmen haven't scheduled a workshop on the subject.

A volunteer group here is working to improve the Animal Shelter in Lewisburg with programs to lower government costs and increase revenue. It's also seen as a morale booster for the community by helping man's best friend.

Animal Shelter operations are a joint effort between Lewisburg and Marshall County. The city owns the shelter. Both governments provide one employee each. Volunteers are showing that increasing adoptions lowers operating costs.

However, to get more adoptions, the shelter needs improvement. That's so organizations affiliated with Lewisburg Animal Shelters Adoptions (LASA) will accept dogs for their clients, the people who adopt the animals. Currently, volunteers are taking dogs home for about two weeks so they'll be suitable for adoption.

It's a labor of love that's been personally rewarding for those who enjoy fostering dogs, but they've realized the need is bigger than what a few people can do at home, so they've come up with plans so the city-county operation can do the same thing with an economy of scale.

Members of the LASA Board of Directors have visited Lewisburg's City Council twice. Both times, volunteers and officials agreed a separate working session is needed to air issues and settle on a city-county sanctioned solution. So far, councilmen have been faced with other major decisions such as hiring a treasurer, adopting an annual budget, an election, reorganizing committees and concluding a long debate over how graves may be decorated in city-owned cemeteries.

At the crux of the discussion over the animal shelter are liability issues and other matters faced by municipalities.

Similar concerns were raised when residents wanted to conduct a monthly car show dubbed Cruisin' Lewisburg, according to Ken Todd, a member of LASA's Board. City officials in office then dealt with the circumstances and found a way to hold the events that have attracted more than a few hundred people to the public square where local businesses had opportunities to increase their revenue.

LASA leaders understand there are "dangers inherent to construction projects," but the group has volunteers who want to build additions to the shelter, Todd said.

Volunteers build homes through Habitat for Humanity and a Leadership Marshall class built a lighted concrete pad for helicopter ambulance landings at the county's Emergency Medical Services headquarters.

As LASA leaders continue to seek a working, face-to-face conversation with city councilmen, volunteers continue to prepare for the day when shelter improvements can be built.

The five veterinarians in the county sponsored five kennels - at $300 each, LASA board member Tisha Poling says. The kennels are made of welded wire and measure five by 10 feet. Poling drove to North Carolina and picked up kennels she bought on line.

To install them for their best use, a concrete pad and a lean-to roof should be built, Poling and Todd say. Thereafter, LASA volunteers want to refurbish the rest of the shelter.

PAWS directors attending recent council meetings include Todd, Poling, Janet Lynn Harris and Susan Cook Ragsdale.

As it is now, the shelter is "pretty dark, dank, and in need of repair," Todd says.

Resolving those concerns could set the shelter on a course to reduce costs with more adoptions that prevent euthanasia, and reduce associated costs such as feeding dogs and maintaining the kennel, Todd and Poling say.

LASA's relationship with another group, PAWS Now, is part of the volunteers' solution. Promoting Animal Welfare in the South Now, PAWS Now, is the group dealing with the regional issues of animal welfare such as legislation on licensing and the establishment of spay and neutering requirements.

"There are ... probably between 25-35 dogs there (at the shelter) on a regular basis," Poling said. "We have been working with the Animal Shelter to market the dogs since March of 2010.

During her presentation to the council, Poling said that during a 12-month period before PAWS started helping at the shelter (from March 2009 through February 2010), "There were 58 adoptions, 50 dogs returned to their owners and 595 dogs that were euthanized."

During the 12 months of March 2010 through February 2011 there were 377 adoptions, 91 returns to owner and 219 euthanized, Poling said.

"And," she adds, "there have been none euthanized since November" because an animal remained "on death row" too long.

"There have been 4-6 dogs that needed to be euthanized because of illness, or they were hit by a car and it was determined that it would be more humane to euthanize them," she said.

Animal control officers had to put down fewer dogs after LASA members started to market the dogs, the volunteers said. But the volunteers soon realized that they would always face challenges greater than necessary unless the problem was solved and that the solution is to fix shelter.

Without suitable kennels and appropriate vaccinations and worming, Poling said, "It's very difficult to get non-profit rescue groups to adopt."

Still, even with limited resources, they have placed dogs, she said.

Furthermore, most rescue groups won't accept a dog unless it's found to be safe to place, Poling said.

Renovation of the shelter should be done in a way to provide more isolation between the dogs, she continued. Such separation protects puppies from vicious and/or sick dogs and separates large and small dogs, or keeps males from females, if necessary.

LASA's affiliation with PAWS Now and related groups opens doors for business representatives, the LASA board members said.

"With those affiliations we could have a drug rep and a pet rep provide medicine and other things at below vet prices," she said. One of those groups is "Rescue Wagon [which] will offer grant money and they can designate a local government operation as a source shelter and move the dogs to larger and better shelters.

"Then there may not be a need for a two-week quarantine" to be sure an animal isn't sick," she said.

"For example," Poling continued, "Franklin County is signed up with Rescue Wagon and they come in on a weekly basis and picked up a large number of dogs."

Northeastern states such as Rhode Island and Connecticut receive dogs from the south for placement in homes, the board members said.

The volunteers' willingness to help the city and county reposition the animal shelter for such an economy of scale starts with the nature of the basic need.

Their first goals include: renovation; establishment of standard operating procedures; have conventional medications administered; and start spay and neuter programs so the time for marketing dogs will be reduced.

Marketing the dogs is accomplished on the Internet and LASA has established a Facebook page with 2,200 friends, the directors said. "It's not unusual to have that much involvement with up to 50,000 hits a day" on the Web, Todd said.

While it's unclear where those 2,200 "friends" live, they're apt to be passionate about their interest in the well-being of dogs, the two directors agreed.

"It's not the city's fault," Poling said. "It's because of owners who are irresponsible, or uninformed about the shelter."

Todd insists, "The solution is simple, spay and neuter your dogs."

That could be accomplished with an improved operation at a better shelter, they say.

They're understanding of the need for insurance and the prospect of other construction requirements, including building permits, inspections and other aspects of the construction trade, but work can't start without a sanction from the city.

But insurance is an obstacle for PAWS.

"If we pay it, it will cost the balance of the organization's funds," said Todd, adding that PAWS "wants to work within the system."

They apparently have overcome one hurdle regarding the city-county funded shelter. Marshall County's Animal Control Committee has indicated it advocates improvement of the city-owned facility.

"The county's animal control committee is supportive, but ... the property is owned by the city," Todd said. "The committee is very cooperative..."

However, the county does not currently have a responsibility for the property. It funds one of two employees.

While there are no indications of disharmony, the men in the two-man staff answer to different governments, Todd noted.

Amid such a management schism for the shelter's employees, Todd points to "amazing support from Don Nelson and Buck Beard."

Nelson is the county building official. Beard works for the city in several capacities, including codes enforcement officer.

Meanwhile, the legislative panel with funding authority and ownership of the facility - Lewisburg's City Council - has been trudging through one issue after another.

"First, they wanted to have a workshop, and then they had a lot going on and we couldn't coordinate a schedule," Todd said.

He, Poling and two other PAWS directors were at the June 14 council meeting when they were to have been advised of a date when the council would discuss this issue alone.

Now, the issue remains where it was before. The two panels are looking for a date.