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Shelter hours reduction prompts group opposition

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Posted: Wednesday, October 23, 2019 12:00 am

Kerr County commissioners, who last week announced new hours for the county’s animal shelter – including Saturday closures – have released some of the facts they used to make their decision.

Deliberating the matter, which involved personnel issues, in executive session on Oct. 15, the commissioners’ court then reconvened into open session before voting unanimously (5-0) to approve the new shelter schedule.

“I would like to make it very clear that the court did not make any decisions in executive session,” said Commissioner (Pct. 2) Tom Moser. “All decisions and actions are taken only in public court sessions” as is required by the 2017 Texas Open Meetings Act.

“I would also make the point, as I mentioned this morning (in the court’s special meeting,) that the action taken by the court was based on balancing the requirements and consideration of five things,” Moser said. “No. 1 was rabies control, as it is required of us by the State of Texas.

The other considerations cited by Moser were as follows:

2. Consideration of the county employees;

3. Care and welfare of the animals;

4. Honoring the commitment to the City of Kerrville as per the Interlocal Agreement that dictates the city provides library services to all county residents and, in exchange, Kerr County Animal Services provides animal services to the city, and,

5. Consideration of the county’s budget, in particular how it is being affected by the cost of employees’ accrued comp time - a topic that has been under close examination in recent weeks in all county departments.

In considering the above issues, the county’s leaders took a hard look at several statistics regarding the animal operations as they were presented by KCAS Director Reagan Givens. Here are a few of those numbers that formed the basis of the commissioners’ decision:

• 1,000 dogs and cats were adopted from KCAS facility from Jan. 1 through Oct. 1, 2019.

• 33 dogs and cats were adopted during the shelter’s two-hour morning shifts on Saturdays.

• 27 additional animals went home with citizens on Saturdays as part of the shelter’s Family Fit program, although, “unfortunately, a large number of those were returned for various reasons,” Givens said.

• Pets adopted on Saturdays accounted for around 5% of the total adoptions in 2019 so far.

• 35 dogs and cats were surrendered to the shelter on Saturdays by pet owners who could no longer take care of them or who were no longer willing to do so, creating a strain on the shelter.

• 33 strays were also taken in by the shelter on Saturdays.

• That’s 68 animals (combined strays and owner surrenders) that were handed over to the custody of the shelter on Saturdays, far out-numbering the number of animals who left the facility destined for their forever homes.

• 15 “lost” pets were reclaimed by their rightful owners on Saturdays, around 6 percent of the total 257 pets reclaimed by owners so far this year.

“My initial concerns were the same as the public regarding the Saturday closings,” said Commissioner (Pct. 4) Don Harris. “But after seeing the numbers, it is blatantly obvious the Saturdays were not being utilized by the public as much as we all thought.”

“When the commissioners’ court approved being open on Saturdays (last fall,) it was understood that it was for a trial period, after which we would reevaluate,” said Commissioner (Pct. 3) Jonathan Letz. “The trial period was for a year, and the numbers turned in by the shelter do not justify the costs of continuing with Saturdays open.” These numbers also refute the claims of those who state working people can only adopt a family pet or reclaim a lost pet on Saturdays.

Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly pointed out that the process of adopting out pets is not the primary focus of Kerr County Animal Services. “Pet adoptions are not required of us by state law. Our constitutional mandate, however, does require us to work extensively to provide rabies control and ensure public safety.”

In most communities, there is a nonprofit organization that takes the pets from an animal control facility and then that nonprofit handles the adoptions, Letz added.

In Kerr County, there are two facilities that assist Kerr County Animal Services: the Freeman-Fritts Animal Shelter and the Kathleen C. Cailloux Humane Society of Kerrville.

“These organizations help a great deal but are not able to take all of the pets. Out Kerr County Animal Services plans to continue its excellent adoption efforts,” Letz said. “However, what we need is a local nonprofit organization to work with that can take on housing the pets and adopting them out. This has been brought up numerous times to the local pet advocacy groups and, hopefully, this will take place in the future.”

Kelly pointed out to the public during Monday’s meeting that he serves on the board of the Alamo Area Council of Governments. Through his interactions there, he has leaned of at least three corporate grants available for animal services through AACOG – but only for 501(c)(3) nonprofit, non-governmental entities.

“There is substantial corporate support for pet adoption services, which is expected because it is not truly a governmental function,” the county judge said.

Kelly added he is willing to personally support the financial start-up of a 501(c)(3) organization that would apply for grants and assist with pet sheltering and adoption in the county. “It’s more of an option, and in a deficit budget cycle that Kerr County is currently in, I think it is a cost-cutting option everyone should consider.”

Volunteer Scheduling

When the commissioners announced the latest schedule adjustment, they also added a volunteer policy. “We appreciate our volunteers and the helping hands they lend at our shelter – both on behalf of our limited staff members and the animals we house,” Letz said. However, after reviewing the county’s insurance, it became apparent that the county needed better measures to protect both the safety and liability of the volunteers and itself.

“Having volunteers sign up in advance and limiting the number of volunteers inside the facility at one time is prudent, efficient for operations and ensures the safety of pets and volunteers,” Letz said. “The other neighboring animal control facilities use this same procedure and it works fine.”

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