Better education, pet licensing and microchips are being credited for a steep decline in the number of dogs and cats killed at animal shelters in Spokane County last year.
Between 1993 and 1994, the combined number of pets euthanized for the county animal shelter and the Spokane Humane Society, which handles the chore inside the city, dropped 35 percent, from 10,334 to 6,764.
Of those, 1,976 occurred at the county’s shelter in the Spokane Valley. That’s the lowest number in years, said director Marianne Sinclair.
“This is just great,” Sinclair said. “We haven’t been under 2,000 and I’ve been here 15 years. It’s really good news.”
“We think people are becoming more educated,” said Victor Paternoster, executive director of the Humane Society. “It’s a combination of that and groups working harder to adopt out those pets.”
Part of the credit, according to both Sinclair and Paternoster, also goes to new licensing regulations. Both the city and the county now license cats as well as dogs. There are now 64,439 pets licensed countywide.
The license enables officials to return lost pets quicker, thus avoiding euthanasia.
In some cases, the pets are returned the same day by someone who finds the animal and calls a central hot-line number.
“There are several pets a night returned and we don’t even hear about it,” said Sinclair. “That’s the thing about licensing: We don’t have to handle them anymore.”
The county has also implanted identification chips in 1,800 pets. The chips can be scanned by a hand-held machine and information on owners obtained quickly.
And the Humane Society, SpokAnimal and the county require that people adopting young animals from shelters pay a deposit to ensure the animals later get sterilized. Adult animals are sterilized before they are released from a shelter to a new home.
Licensing fees have helped generate money for low-cost animal sterilizations.
One of the groups pushing sterilization is SAFE (Save Animals From Euthanasia). So far the group has handed out 1,729 certificates for low-cost or free pet sterilizations. The certificates are paid for by private contributions and a share of city licensing fees.
Because of the multiplying effect of animal pregnancies, SAFE president Dona Van Gelder estimates that the first 300 operations prevented 10,000 unwanted animals.
“We’re making a difference,” she said, “but there are still more animals being born than we can assimilate into society. We’re still killing too many.”
That’s the view of animal advocates in the shelters as well.
“In January we put down 99 and the year before it was 130,” Sinclair said. “You wonder if this is a fluke or if maybe, finally we’re killing less animals. Let’s wait and see.”