HAZARD — After a month of having its doors closed to the public, the Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter opened back up on Monday, but there were some major changes made as well.
The shelter was closed after a widespread outbreak of canine distemper that forced nearly every dog in the shelter to be either euthanized or sent to an animal rescue. As of Monday afternoon, only around 15 cats and nine dogs remained at the shelter, though most of these dogs have already been claimed by rescues.
One of the major changes in who the shelter will operate is that individuals will now have to help pay for some of the medical expensive of their animals if they wish to drop them off at the shelter. Officials say this fee will help keep down the instances of disease outbreaks at the shelter.
During the month that the shelter was not accepting animals, administrators were also able to make several improvements that will help keep the animals in the shelter healthy. This included painting and sealing all the walls and floors.
Along with the physical changes, there will also be several serious changes in policy. They will no longer be taking animals in the overnight drop off area. Workers are in the process of taking out these kennels so that all animals have to be taken directly to the shelter.
Employees at the shelter will also no longer accept more animals than they have room for. Once they reach the maximum capacity, they will turn people away, said Tom Caudill, an employee at the shelter. He added that the shelter can hold a maximum of 148 dogs.
In the past, they had tried to keep as many animals at they could in an attempt to help neglected or abused animals in the region. However, they have vowed not to do this again in order to ensure the livelihood of the animals that are going to be at the shelter.
“We can’t put 300 or 400 animals in here and go through this again,” said Caudill.
Another way of helping to keep the animal population healthy is by doing vaccinations upon entry to the shelter. This will make the dogs immune to distemper and similar diseases before they are put with the other animals. This will require money, though. The shelter will now charge a $10 fee to drop off a personal pet. This fee will cover medical costs and even pay for euthanasia if a home cannot be found.
“That can pay for the vaccinations, euthanizing, the food,” said Tammy Noble, who chairs the shelter’s board of directors.
The shelter will also not be able to offer a guarantee that any pets dropped off at the shelter will go to a good home.
“We will not guarantee that a personal animal will not be euthanized. We will only guarantee that we will hold it for 24 hours. I am hoping that it makes people think,” said Noble. “Many people think that if [they] bring them to the shelter they will find a good home for them, but it doesn’t happen.”
Overall, Noble said they want to work with people to keep their pets and keep them healthy and happy, and at an affordable cost instead of turning them over to the shelter. One way they have been doing this is with an income-based spay and neuter program.
They have seen an increase in the number of people taking advantage of this program in the recent weeks, and are hoping for this to continue. By getting pets spayed and nurtured it reduces the pet population, especially the unwanted population in the region.
Another program they are working on with local veterinarians is a low-cost doctor visit just for vaccinations. They are also changing the way that they adopt pets. Any kittens or puppies that are at the shelter will be quarantined for two weeks before they can be adopted so they can get both their first and second round of booster shots. This way the shelter can insure that the animals leaving the shelter are healthy.
They will also be changing the way that animals are paid for from the shelter as well. Instead of paying an adoption fee, when you adopt an animal now you will pay for it to be spayed or neutered and for vaccinations. The shelter will then give you a voucher to have these procedures done. This will mean a higher cost at the time of adoption, but since every animal that is adopted comes with a contract stating that the owner will have it fixed, it will make these procedures less expensive in the long run, officials say.
To help keep the number of animals that are coming to the shelter down, they are only accepting 25 animals per county per week from animal control.
“Animal control will come and get a stray, but animal control won’t come to your house and get your animal,” said Caudill. “The only thing animal control is going to do is pick up stray animals and vicious animals.”
The reason for the changes is to hopefully offer a better quality of life for the animals at the shelter and a better quality of animal for people looking to adopt a pet.
While having to put down nearly 200 dogs was a tragedy for the shelter, it has given workers there a chance to start over and set policies that will inevitable help them in the long run. Along with the policies, they have also been able to get more people interested in volunteering and donating to the shelter.
Since Noble told the Herald that they needed a refrigerator for vaccines, they had one donated by Hazard Fire and Safety. Noble said that this whole situation in losing so many dogs has been difficult, but people have been very helpful and supportive.
The Kentucky River Regional Animal Shelter will be working on fundraising to help cover the cost of more medical care for the dogs. They have an upcoming fundraiser at Wendy’s on August 25, and several other events are in the works.