Animal Services director hopes to see euthanasia end
By YVONNE BETOWT
They never stop coming through the door. Big ones, little ones, nice ones, scared ones, long-haired, short-haired and everything in between arrive daily at Huntsville's Animal Services.
But Animal Services' director, Dr. Karen Hill Sheppard, believes one day the revolving door of unwanted and homeless animals will end. She has to believe. Otherwise, she says, she would lose her mind.
Last year, more than 9,100 dogs and cats, including 5,000 from Madison County Animal Control, were turned in to Huntsville Animal Services. Many of those - 6,819 - were euthanized, 903 were adopted, and 935 were returned to their owners. Another 349 were rescued by local animal-protection groups.
In 1997, 9,774 animals were turned in to Animal Services with 6,786 euthanized, 1,290 adopted, 1,210 returned to owners and 249 rescued.
Sheppard is trying to ease the problems of homeless animals in this area through educational and adoption programs.
"We've come a long way in the last 10 years," said Sheppard. "I believe one day we will no longer have homeless animals. We've got to keep educating people and help them realize a pet is part of the family."
She started a program two years ago in which local veterinarians sterilize newly adopted cats and kittens and dogs and puppies for greatly reduced rates.
"I would love to praise the veterinarians for their support of this invaluable program to our attempts to slow the problem of pet overpopulation in our city," said Sheppard.
When Animal Services places an animal up for adoption, unless the animal becomes sick or cage-crazy, it will remain there until it finds a home, said Sheppard.
But, despite Animal Services' efforts at saving animals, sometimes tragic situations occur. Recently, two Rottweilers placed with Madison County Animal Control were euthanized before dog owners Dennis and Luanne Lovin had a chance to adopt them.
The Lovins recently moved to Madison County from the Knoxville area. When two Rottweilers showed up at their home one recent Monday, the Lovins, who have three dogs, put them inside their fence until Madison County Animal Control could pick them up.
"They were such nice dogs, we thought surely their owner would claim them," said Luanne. "We really wanted to adopt them."
She was told by the county field officer they had seven days before the dogs would be up for adoption.
Not knowing they had been taken to the Huntsville city animal shelter on Triana Boulevard, Lovin called the county office three days later to inquire about the dogs. She was told to call Huntsville city shelter on the next Monday. She did so about noon to check on the dogs. They had been euthanized less than one hour earlier because no one at the city shelter was told the Lovins were interested in adopting them.
Luanne Lovin was devastated.
"I can't tell you how sick I was," she said. "They were two beautiful, gentle dogs. My daughter in Florida was going to take one, and we were going to keep one."
She said she was never told the dogs might be euthanized - only that they would be up for adoption after seven days.
When Sheppard learned about the mix-up, she, too, was extremely upset. The department had just had a record-setting weekend "adoptathon" with 36 animals getting homes, and she was ecstatic.
"It was very painful for me," said Sheppard. "If we can adopt an animal, we obviously want to do that. Any type of mistake, whether it's our department, the county employees or citizens, if it ends up affecting the life of an animal, we would not want that to happen.
"This truly was a failure to communicate."
While the Lovins were grieved over the dogs, Dennis has decided to volunteer at the shelter to help ensure that no other animal endures the same fate as the Rottweilers.
Because of the Lovins' experience, Madison County Animal Control Director Mike Fritz has implemented a method to let people who turn in animals know how to go about adopting them if they desire.
"We now have a notice that we give to people telling them where to call to check on the animals they turn in," said Fritz, whose department covers 850 square miles in Madison County Monday through Friday with three field officers.
"Unfortunately, we are in public animal control. We don't have a place to keep any animals, so we contract with the city to take any strays or unwanted animals. We do take the injured ones to the vet."
Fritz said the department picks up as many as 500 animals a month.
Sheppard said her goal is "to end euthanasia in Madison County." She hopes it will come about through changing people's attitudes toward their pets and Animal Services.
"All across the U. S., we're helping animals out of bad situations," she said. "We don't want people to think we are the big, bad dog killers." story