Regional animal shelter uses rescues to improve conditions

Amelia Holliday — Staff Reporter

September 10, 2013

HAZARD—The Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter (KRRAS) has faced numerous uphill battles in the last few years, including overcrowding issues and a battle with canine distemper. Now, the shelter is taking a large step forward in its fight against rising euthanasia rates.

Paul Bale, a pilot and volunteer with Pilots for Paws, which helps transport rescued animals to rescue agencies using planes as an alternative to ground transport, made his first trip to Hazard on Monday to pick up a family of dogs for the rescue program Homeward Bound at the Wendell Ford Airport.

“They fly them because it’s quicker, it’s easier … for either puppies or older dogs that have health issues because there are ground transports that drive like 24 hours straight through, and that’s really hard on the animals because they can’t let them out,” Bale said, adding it only takes around six hours and three stops for animals who are flown to get to their destination. “They call me up and say we’ve got a momma dog up in Kentucky, can you help?”

Momma dog, as volunteers at the shelter have named her, was found on the side of the road in Breathitt County and brought into the shelter almost two weeks ago. Perry County resident Cynthia Marcum was called by the shelter to foster her until a rescue agency could be contacted. Almost a week and a half after undergoing an emergency caesarian section, Momma dog and her seven newborns were ready to take off.

“We’re going to miss them,” Marcum said as the dogs were being loaded onto Bale’s plane. “It (the shelter) helps people, and it helps the animals so they don’t get set out by the side of the road.”

Tammy Noble, chairman of the board of directors for the shelter, which serves Perry, Knott, Letcher, and Breathitt counties, said the shelter started an initiative in 2011 when euthanasia rates were at their highest — around 95 percent — and began working with over 30 different rescue programs, like Homeward Bound. And just like the 1993 Disney movie, Noble said this initiative will have a happy ending.

“We have saved over 4,000 animals since then,” she said, adding that, currently, the kill rate for the shelter sits below 30 percent.

The shelter has been working on other programs besides those focused on rescue and adoption, including multiple spay and neuter programs intended for low income families, Noble said.

“We’re trying to attack it from each angle. We’re trying to attack it from the intake side … and we’re trying to attack it on the other side with the rescue,” she explained.

A new program implemented just this year, Spay it Forward, allows families to have any unwanted litters rescued while also having the puppies’ mother spayed for a fraction of the normal cost.

“They pay $35 and a rescue will pay for the mom to be spayed and then rescue the full litter of puppies. So, basically they’re getting their momma dog spayed for $35,” Noble said.

Noble said she and the board hopes this part of the initiative helps to keep the pet population down in the region.

“We’re a four-county shelter and all the efforts that we’re putting forth, it’s to the benefit of all four counties at one time. We’re not trying to control one county’s population, we’re trying to control all four counties’,” Noble said.

Though Noble said the full effects of the initiative are not expected to be seen until around 2015, it is obvious the impact of the shelter’s work on the region has been significant so far.

“Our reward is seeing those animals leave that shelter safely, knowing they’re going to be adopted, or seeing them like today get to fly off into the sunset,” she said.