The city’s crowded animal control center is making several changes to relieve pressure, including no longer accepting surrender of healthy animals, letting a nonprofit takeover low-cost vaccinations, changing hours and the dog bite quarantine policy, and reducing the minimum holding period on strays.
The shelter is taking in more than an estimated 25,000 animals this fiscal year, up from more than 21,000 two years ago, and regularly is at or over capacity, code officials say. The changes don’t cut the shelter’s budget, but contain it, Bennett said.
The new surrender policy, which Bennett said the shelter has already put in place, drew criticism from the Humane Society of North Texas.
The city has long accepted owners’ surrender of animals for any reason.
Under the change, “we’d say to people, unless there was some welfare or safety risk, or some pain and suffering, you need to go out and find somebody to take this pet,” Bennett said. “We’ve made it too easy for people to just give up on their pets.”
Tammy Hawley, Humane Society operations director, said the policy change has already resulted in more animals coming into its East Lancaster Avenue shelter in Fort Worth. Intake was up 500 in August, and the shelter had heard Fort Worth was changing policy, she said.
Animal advocates worry limited surrenders could lead owners to dump their pets, swamping nonprofits. Even though the city shelter still accepts ill surrenders, Hawley worried rabies could surface again.
“Restricting whether or not to take in animal surrenders is an avoidance of their health job,” she said.
“What’s going to happen if they can’t surrender their dog?” said Brenda Silcox, member of the city’s animal advisory board and wife of the late Fort Worth Councilman Chuck Silcox, an animal lover whose name is on the Fort Worth shelter.
TCAP this week ran the second of what will be regular 6 p.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday clinics at the shelter, 4900 Martin St. TCAP will keep the revenue, but take on the costs.
Shots are $25 for a dog or cat; heartworm test, $20; and six months heartworm prevention, $25-$35.
The city no longer had the resources for the vaccines, Bennett said.
“We started with a few hundred a year, then a few thousand, now it’s 4,000,” Bennett said.
The 10-year-old TCAP runs three standalone clinics, spay and neuter programs for several cities, and vaccination clinics around the area.
“Our goal is to be a community service,” founder Stacey Schumacher said.
The city, from Oct. 1 to July 31, took in 1,012 animals from Tarrant County and seven suburban cities.
In the next year, the city will review what those cities pay and probably raise fees to reflect inflation and value, Bennett said.
The shelter is open six days a week and closed Sundays.
Starting the first weekend in November, the shelter will open part of the day on Sundays and reduce Monday hours. It will be open on those days only for owners’ reclaims, and for rescues on Mondays.
At the same time, the city will launch a telephone hotline, where veterinarian assistants will be available for questions.
The city’s partnership with PetSmart Charities Adoption Centers at 4800 Southwest Loop 820 and 2901 Texas Sage Trail makes it easier to reduce hours, Bennett said.
“Whenever PetSmart’s open, those two adoption centers are open,” he said.
Hawley lauded the partnerships.
“You’re already attracting conscientious pet owners” at PetSmart, she said. On TCAP, she said, “I think that makes sense to let somebody take over that’s already accustomed to doing this thing.”
The city has allowed owners whose pet bites someone to do required quarantine at the shelter. The staff plans to propose an ordinance change that would allow quarantine at home for animals that have rabies vaccines, and quarantine at a vet for animals that don't have vaccines.
The staff plans to bring the ordinance to the City Council later this year or early next, Bennett said. The city is already allowing private quarantine.
The city has a 72-hour hold policy for strays, before animals can be adopted out, sent to rescue organizations, or in worst cases, euthanized.
Under the change, which requires a council vote, for animals that come in with no ID, license, chip or rabies tag, the hold would be 24 hours for a medical release to rescue groups; 48 hours for others when the shelter is within 10 percent of capacity; and 72 hours when capacity is available.
For animals with ID, license, chip or rabies tag, the hold would be 24 hours for conditional release to rescue groups; and 72 hours otherwise.
The change would allow quicker processing times, Bennett said.
The shelter has three tiers of animals: healthy and adoptable, unhealthy but adoptable, and unadoptable.
The shelter says it hasn’t euthanized a healthy adoptable animal since April 2010. The shelter estimates its overall “live release rate” – those animals not euthanized – at 70 percent.
Hawley questioned the holding period change.
“Sometimes, it takes people a full 72 hours to get their to their animal and realize it’s here,” she said. “If they shorten that timeframe, they are going to miss some people. Is that the owner’s responsibility? Absolutely. The animal should have been chipped, should have been registered. But the animal gets penalized.”
- Scott Nishimura, Star-Telegram Fort Worth City Hall reporter
(PHOTOS: Animal control shelter Wednesday, Star-Telegram, Joyce Marshall)