There’s been much rightful outrage over Nashville’s high animal euthanasia rate, with three-quarters of all animals that come into city custody being put down. And while that has put Metro Animal Care and Control squarely in critics’ sights, the agency has made some modest gains.
The question, some say, is how MACC could spend its resources to lower the rate even more.
Speaking at the Metro Public Health Department’s budget presentation on April 1, Dr. Bill Paul discussed the modest gains in progress over the past few years, in which total complaints and service requests, total intakes and total euthanasia have dropped year-to-year since fiscal year 2008, though total euthanasia increased slightly from fiscal year 2010 to 2011 before decreasing again in 2012, according to data presented in the March minutes of the MAAC Advisory Council.
In his budget request presented to Mayor Karl Dean, Paul included the addition of three animal control employees, two field officers and one field supervisor to respond to complaints.
The added positions would return the number of officers to the 2007 level. The new employees, Paul told Dean, would cost $150,000 a year and would be offset by raising the yearly pet licensing fee paid by owners from $4 to $6.
Dean asked if Paul had identified anything that could lead to more animals being adopted or reducing the rate of euthanasia.
“I think with more resources we could always do more adoption,” Paul said. “I think the biggest … if I was given a resource opportunity to try to intervene on this problem, where I would spend my money is to try and make spay-and-neuter more widely used and more widely accessible.”
What appears to be clear is the need to focus efforts on increasing adoptions as well as spaying and neutering services. What isn’t as apparent yet is exactly how to go about doing that.
Members of the group Concerned Citizens for Change — which has pushed Metro to lower the high euthanasia rate — asked what was being done with the “animal education and welfare” funding stream created by the Metro Council in 2009, which gets $3 from each boarding fee MACC collects.
The short answer is of the $27,823 raised so far, about $16,500 was spent last year on items such as a Samsung 55-inch monitor, a cat condo and promotional leashes, “awareness bracelets” and magnets with MACC contact info on them to be handed out to school children.
But animal control officials and council members involved say the MACC Advisory Council is investigating just how that funding stream can be used in the future, particularly as it pertains to spaying and neutering services.
In 2009, Councilman Phil Claiborne and Councilwoman Karen Bennett co-sponsored a bill that increased daily animal boarding fees and set aside $3 of each boarding charged into an “animal education and welfare” fund.
As part of the Metro Council’s budget hearing for the Health Department, At-Large Councilwoman Megan Barry submitted questions (though she wasn’t present for the hearing) for MACC officials regarding that fund and what it was being used for.
Paul answered, “Most of what it’s been spent on, frankly, so far have been educational things and things to give away to build awareness — some of them little gifts for children, when you go to a classroom and you’re teaching them to be kind to animals, those kind of things.
“Where we are right now is really trying to investigate how to put this money to a more productive use in terms of enhancing community goals like spay-and-neuter. We’re in a planning phase with how best to move forward with the funds at this time,” Paul added.
A breakdown of the items appearing in a MACC expense report shows that of the $27,800 collected in the fund so far, the two biggest items include the installation of what officials described as a cat condo listed at $4,050 for the adoption area at the Harding Place facility, as well as a 55-inch television and digital media software server to display pictures of the animals up for adoption as well as educational videos on responsible pet ownership, to be viewed by MACC customers in the lobby.
Metro also paid $1,649.77 to Francis Communications Inc. (including $690 for awareness bracelets) and $4,150 for custom printing from C Specialties Inc. for what Paul described as bracelets, leashes and magnets with the MACC contact information printed on them.
Also listed as expenses is a $450 charge from Art Pancakes Party & Wedding, for two costumes — a dog and a cat — worn by MACC employees at community events and when speaking to school children on how to be safe around animals and help take care of them.
The thought behind directing educational efforts and take-home materials such as bracelets, magnets, etc., to children is not only in line with the practices of other animal care and control operations in the region, according to MACC Director Judy Ladebauche, but also “our best resource” to reach their parents.
Sarah Martin, who’s a member of Concerned Citizens for Change, said of the use of the animal welfare and education monies so far were unacceptable.
“I think most people would agree that bracelets are not an acceptable expenditure to address the animal welfare and education.”
Martin speculated, “Twenty-seven thousand dollars would spay or neuter more than 1,000 animals.”
In March, Bennett and Claiborne reiterated their hopes at a MACC Advisory Council meeting that some of the animal education and welfare funds, of which there’s about $11,000 remaining currently, would be earmarked for use of spay-and neuter programs.
Bennett said, “We have tried to spend the last couple months having that discussion as to what that [fund] really means, because each person interprets education and spay-and-neuter differently.”
Though Bennett said it is important to have educational videos on at the facility, “In education, I frankly had hoped we’d be doing ad pieces on being responsible pet owners, spay and neuter your pet, maybe education in our local schools.”
She added, “We have realized that we need to be a little bit more specific in what our hopes were with that legislation.”
The bracelets? “Not probably one of the first things I would have picked to do with the money,” Bennett said.
Claiborne said the idea for the fund when it was established certainly included in its scope buying materials to share with children in educational settings, but “we could also use this money from time to time to either supplement spay-and-neuter procedures or to cover the cost of those in some instances.”
The councilman, Paul and Ladebauche all point to partnerships with outside groups and nonprofits, such as the Nashville Humane Association.
NHA, using grant money and resources including its Rover mobile spay-and-neuter truck, has handled the bulk of such surgeries in Metro.
According to the minutes of the March 13 MACC Advisory Council meeting (the most recent available), through February of this year alone the Rover truck spayed or neutered 939 animals in zip codes 37207 and 922 in zip code 37013, which had been designated as high-risk areas. In addition, Rover spayed or neutered 117 animals during its monthly visits to MACC from October 2012 to February 2013.
And while there may be some money in the animal education and welfare fund to pilot some more spaying and neutering procedures, a big part of the problems Metro officials say they’ve run into is identifying the qualified persons to perform them.
As Claiborne pointed out, there’s only so much MACC can do with one veterinarian on staff. “It’s a resource problem, not resources in terms of dollars, but resources in terms of hands to actually do the work.”
Paul said his department is looking to create new partnerships with animal welfare organizations as well as continuing the program with NHA.
Ladebauche said, “We certainly look forward to and plan to expand the spay-neuter outreach, but it will be done in a way that is totally need-based, because we cannot be competing with private veterinarians’ practices.
“Unfortunately, there’s a lot of people in this county that never visit their veterinarian’s office. … Those are the ones that we hope to expand our spay-neuter outreach to.”