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Gains over five years have cut sharply the use of euthanasia

Tabby cats that were surrendered by an owner who could not care for them arrive at SCRAPS in Spokane Valley in June. (Colin Mulvany)
Tabby cats that were surrendered by an owner who could not care for them arrive at SCRAPS in Spokane Valley in June. (Colin Mulvany)

Sterilizations, adoption programs, national group’s help credited

Spokane animal shelters are nearing a long-sought goal of not killing healthy cats or dogs, in large measure by increasing pet sterilizations in recent years.

The “live release rate” in Spokane – the percentage of pets adopted out or returned to owners – has risen to 73.6 percent during the first five months of 2012, from 55.9 percent in 2008.

At the same time, the use of euthanasia has dropped.

“I think we are all doing an amazing job compared to what we were doing in 2007,” said Gail Mackie, executive director of SpokAnimal at 710 N. Napa St.

Mackie said aggressive spay and neuter programs may be the biggest reason for the improvement, but a larger number of adoption programs, licensing options and better public outreach also get credit.

The progress comes at a time when local government leaders are considering consolidation of animal control under Spokane County Regional Animal Protection Service (SCRAPS) at 2521 N. Flora Road. SCRAPS is operated by the county and serves unincorporated areas and Spokane Valley.

The intake of animals countywide, including the city of Spokane, has dropped to just below 15,000 last year from 17,500 in 2008, with the trend continuing this year.

ASPCA credited for progress

Mackie said major progress in pet welfare dates back to 2007 when the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals selected Spokane as one of a handful of cities across the country that the organization would assist in building more humane pet programs.

During the past five years, the ASPCA committed $200,000 to helping Spokane, and at one point it brought 17 veterinarians here to help fine-tune the system. They advised agencies on a range of issues from clinic services to public education.

An ASPCA program for assessing pets, for example, assigns categories of personalities. A cat might be described as a “love bug” or an “MVP.” A dog might be a “go-getter” or “free spirit.” People can use those assessments to help choose the animal that’s right for them.

Spokane will be recognized by the ASPCA at an August graduation ceremony in Austin, Texas.

The number of pets euthanized dropped to 5,019 last year from 7,824 in 2008, a reduction of 35 percent. In 2007, SpokAnimal alone euthanized 4,700 animals.

A certain number of pets arrive at shelters with injuries and illnesses or may be too young to thrive. They might be unsuitable for adoption as well; all pets put up for adoption must pass temperament tests.

Officials said a live release rate of 80 percent would mean the community has largely achieved a “no-kill” status for adoptable pets.

The Spokane Humane Society, 6607 N. Havana St., operates with a no-kill policy, holding animals for longer lengths of time to find them homes.

Dave Richardson, executive director, said the Humane Society boasts a 98 percent live release rate, up from about 65 percent in the past five years.

“We only take in animals we can humanely care for,” he said. “Our focus is principally on adopting companion animals.”

The Humane Society focuses on pet welfare and can be selective in accepting animals. It is not an animal control agency.

48 cats in a Forester

It turns out that Spokane is getting help from a pet shortage in the Seattle area.

Loads of cats and dogs are regularly transported to animal agencies on the West Side to satisfy demand for pets.

Through early June, SCRAPS alone has sent 188 dogs and 601 cats there.

“Did you know you can get 48 cats in a Subaru Forester?” Hill said.

Mackie traces progress to the spay-neuter vouchers that have been offered in conjunction with city pet licenses since 1996.

That program initially had 11 participating veterinarians. Now all of the vet clinics in the area accept the coupons.

Spokane County joined the voucher program in 2001.

“For every cat we spay, we probably save two litters a year,” Mackie said. “It’s stopping that breeding cycle.”

“Spay-neuter is the key to everything.”

SpokAnimal opened a larger spay and neuter clinic in 2010 on an adjacent parcel at 715 N. Crestline St.

The Spokane Humane Society, which relies on donations for 70 percent of its funding, is opening a new clinic later this year.

Adoption promotions are held regularly throughout the year. SCRAPS through Tuesday is offering cats and kittens for the price of an annual license of $15.

More pet owners are having microchip identification tags implanted, allowing lost pets to be returned quickly to owners.

Another program is turning stray cats into farm pets. The cats are sterilized and vaccinated and are available to be rural “rodent managers.” Adopting owners get a big bag of cat food to sweeten the deal.

Volunteers have been trapping cats in feral breeding colonies, and in many cases returning them to the colonies where the sterile animals are causing populations to stabilize.

Local shelters are supplying Petco and PetSmart with adoptable animals. The Liberty Lake and Spokane public markets make pets available, too.

The Pet Savers spay and neuter clinic, 7525 E. Trent Ave., provides its own range of services.

In 2011, SCRAPS closed its drop-off box for unidentified pets, reducing the number of unwanted animals that were being brought in anonymously. That has the effect of enforcing accountability in pet ownership, Hill said.

SpokAnimal only accepts owner drop-offs if the shelter has room.

‘Community has evolved’

Online services are helping link animals with potential owners, especially if owners are looking for a particular breed, Richardson said.

Dachshund Rescue Northwest has done more than 800 adoptions since 1991, according to its website, is another resource.

Even seemingly small programs are working to reduce unwanted pets.

At the Spokane Humane Society, staff and volunteers regularly “de-bark” the dog kennel by offering treats to dogs that quit barking. Richardson said that trains them to be better pets when they are adopted.

The other agencies follow that practice.

Still, only one in five pets is obtained from a shelter. Most pets come from family, friends or breeders, officials said.

That means that most pet owners have to decide on their own to do the responsible thing and have their pets sterilized, licensed and implanted with a microchip, animal welfare officials said.

Shelter animals are all vaccinated, sterilized, licensed and given microchip identification, Mackie said.

Licensing of animals provides a part of the funding for animal control work.

Progress in reducing the number of unwanted animals shows that more people are being responsible, shelter officials said.

“I think Spokane is becoming a pet-friendly community,” Richardson said.

Hill said, “I would like to think the community has evolved.”

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