Lubbock Avalanche Journal
With a 70 percent kill rate, Lubbock leaders agree it’s time for change in animal services.
By Matt Dotray / A-J Media • Posted Feb 24, 2018 at 6:28 PM
Hearing that seven of every 10 animals entering Lubbock’s animal shelter are euthanized, Lubbock leaders agreed changes are needed in the city’s animal services department.
But there’s been little public discussion over policy changes and no recent open talk of increasing funding for animal services. Still, those discussions seem to be on the horizon.
During a city council work session last week, council members and staff acknowledged the city needs to do better.
Lubbock’s excessive kill rate causes a public stir every so often, and this current council, at least for now, appears to be taking recent backlash more seriously than past councils. According to the Lubbock Animal Shelter, 70 percent of the 9,932 live animals taken to the shelter in 2017 were euthanized - more than three times above the national average.
“I can’t get past the kill rate, I just can’t get passed it,” said Mayor Dan Pope, who prior to recent a public outcry called for a work session to go over animal services. “When I know what’s going on in West Texas towns, some of them much smaller than ours, we can be much, much better. I hope I’m not speaking out of turn for the council in that regard, but if we need to set that direction then we’ll work to do that. ”
Other council members agreed, as did City Manager Jarrett Atkinson, who was in Amarillo when significant improvements were made to that city’s animal services department, as well as other city staff members.
“I’m going to stand up here and tell you that we can do better, we’re going to be better,” Assistant city manager Bill Howerton told the council after a presentation from the director of Lubbock Animal Services. “We’re going to take the steps that we need to take to address the issues we have.”
Thursday’s work session was attended by some animal safety activists, as was the city council meeting Thursday evening when about 10 more Lubbock residents signed up to speak during citizen comments. Some who attended the work session said the council’s remarks about change were encouraging, but want to see action.
Both Lorri Michel, board president of the Texas Pets Alive advocacy group, and Alexandra Protopopova, a professor of companion animal science at Texas Tech, said there’s a road map that exists to improve animal services and they offered their assistance in the effort to better Lubbock’s animal adoption and claim rates. Michel said it requires a cultural change, and that starts at the top.
Atkinson echoed this sentiment, telling the council the next step is to hire a new director of animal services committed to better practices. Current director George Torres has announced his retirement in March.
Lubbock, right now, is seeking applicants for this position, and the job description says the city is, “seeking a progressive and dynamic individual to serve as its Director of Animals Services. The ideal candidate will be a team builder who is enthusiastic about the animal services profession. A hands-on manager who has a strong commitment to accountability and transparency will be successful in this position.”
Apart from that, council members suggested a more in-depth work session should be scheduled to have actual discussions about potential policy changes. Some ideas council members raised briefly on Thursday included questioning whether the city should respond and capture animals at the rate it is, or if the county should be assisting with animal services, that volunteering at the animal shelter should be an easier process, and whether there’s a need for more advertising and social media efforts promoting adoption.
“There’s a major problem - this animal shelter is pretty much a killing machine,” said Michel of Texas Pets Alive. “It’s time to end excuses and blaming, and just start saving. There needs to be a focus on life saving rather than gathering, collecting and killing.”
Protopopova, who along with two graduate students at Tech, presented a report to the council detailing changes that should be made specifically at Lubbock’s animal shelter to make improvements. Protopopova’s report said the national average for adoptions is 49 percent of animals taken in, but Lubbock’s is only 9 percent. The death rate is 23 percent nationally, and in Lubbock it’s over 70 percent.
Some immediate recommendations outlined in the report are: implementing vaccinations on intake for cats, hiring a full-time shelter veterinarian to reduce medical expenses, passing an ordinance that allows the shelter to spay/neuter and return community cats, reduce staff workload by dropping unessential burdensome programs like picking up pet remains and trapping wildlife, and training staff on best practices.
The report also details 22 step-by-step changes the city should take. These ranged from creating pet owner classes, not picking up healthy, socialized dogs who most likely will return to their owners, and making adoptions simpler.
These changes would take time, Protopopova agreed, but how much time depends on the commitment and resources from the city.
Mainly, Protopopova said the city needs to make responsible animal ownership easier and more affordable — like providing a low cost spay/neuter program, which Lubbock does not.
“One of the things we can do from the animal services perspective end is remove barriers to successful ownership,” she told the city council Thursday. “Historically, animal services really focused on enforcement. However now, nationally, the shelters are going in a different direction — rather than enforcement, they’re providing services to their community. Providing services such as microchipping, low cost spay and neuter opportunities... right now even if you’re interested in spaying your female dog, you’re going to have a hard time finding a cost effective solution for your desire to be a responsible owner.”
According to information provided by the animal services department,it received 17,235 service calls and 15,899 calls to 311 (the city help line) in 2017. The department is budgeted to have 12 field officers, although three of those positions are vacant. When an animal is caught, the department’s policy is to search for a microchip or tag and contact the owner. If the animal has none of these or if they’re unable to reach the owner, the animal is taken to the shelter.
Upon arriving at the shelter, owners have three business days to claim unidentified pets, or 10 days if the pet has a tag or microchip. After that time the animal is either taken by a rescue group, placed for adoption or euthanized.
Like the activists who attended the work session, citizens who spoke during public comments later Thursday expressed disappointment and urged the city to change its practices.
Michel said she worked with the city of Austin when, a decade ago, it was killing 15,000 cats and dogs a year. That’s been turned around to less than 1,000 a year. Michel said it’s possible, and it requires a cultural change. She said Lubbock has the resources available for that change.
Members of the city finished the meeting this week saying once the new director is in place, it’s time to think about policy and set some goals regarding Lubbock’s animal kill rate.