Animal shelter’s euthanization rate comes under fire

Only reason county euthanizes a pet involves public safety, Dooley tells Call

By Gloria Lloyd

The county’s animal shelter and its euthanization rates are under fire from animal advocates, who have joined forces with county executive candidate and 6th District County Councilman Steve Stenger, D-Affton, to say the county is unnecessarily killing dogs.

With his wife, Allison — who volunteers for the Dent County Animal Welfare Society on weekends — and their rescue dog Lucy by his side at a press conference last week, Stenger said that more than 50,000 dogs and cats have been euthanized by the county since Charlie Dooley became county executive in 2003.

He contrasted the county’s 57-percent euthanasia rate to the 7-percent rate at the city’s animal shelter, which is a public-private partnership with nonprofit rescue organization Stray Rescue.

“These numbers were as shocking to me as they are to you,” Stenger said. “I think that it is simply easier for them to put the dogs down than it is to seek adoption for these animals. And I think well within the resources that we currently have available, we could achieve a much, much better euthanasia rate, and it’s really shocking.”

Fighting back at Stenger’s allegations, Dooley said that the only reason the county euthanizes an animal is for public safety.

“I don’t know where he’s getting his information. I think it’s a flaw there,” he told the Call. “There is no county in this state that’s got a better state-of-the-art pet facility, adoption facility, than St. Louis County. It is second to none.

“We euthanize individual pets if they’re sick or (if there are) some human issues or public safety issues, that’s what we do. Other than that, we do not euthanize pets. We have an adoption agency for cats and for dogs. We have a state-of-the-art facility. It is simply outstanding, the care and the food that we give our pets, the space, everything is there … It is second to none.”

The four goals of a 2007 strategic plan that Dooley presented to the Council included expanding the county shelter, increasing adoptions, decreasing euthanizations and improving the quality of care of shelter animals, goals which Dooley said that he met on all four fronts.

Although the county has a brand-new 25,000-square-foot $4.5 million shelter in Olivette staffed with 16 animal-control officers, Stenger said the shelter’s space is not used properly and is mismanaged by Dooley and Department of Health Director Dr. Dolores Gunn, who was appointed by Dooley and oversees the shelter. Stenger said he does not believe the shelter is understaffed — just mismanaged.

He presented a plan to expand spay-and-neuter programs and use more online and offline methods to promote adoptions, noting that only 12 dogs currently appear on the county’s website for adoption. At the time the Call went to press, that had increased to 14.

Animal advocates appearing at the press conference in support of Stenger backed his claims, including Helena Servis of west county. She said she stayed outside the facility for a week to count how many times the dogs were taken outside for walks — and they never were.

“The facility is a state-of-the-art facility, so much could happen there. Good things could happen there for the animals,” Servis said. “But it’s not — not from what I see … When I spoke with Dr. Gunn two years ago, she gave my husband and I and two friends a tour of the facility. I asked her about walking the dogs, and she said to me that not walking the dogs is not an option. And I have found that to be totally untrue. These dogs are not being walked …Why are these animals not being walked? We have people who want to walk them.

“It is just unconscionable to use the kind of taxpayers’ money that we have used to provide so little comfort and enjoyment for the animals who are ultimately put to death,” she added.

Animal advocates appearing alongside Stenger said that they know of people who have tried to volunteer at the county shelter and have been turned away or never contacted.

“They’re pretty much doing everything they can to not have volunteers,” said Leanne Fritsch of University City, who runs a 1,000-person listserv for local animal advocates.

Another concern shared by advocates is that the same management team that was in charge of the city of St. Louis’s Gasconade pound, which was ordered shut down by Mayor Francis Slay for its poor conditions, is now in charge of the county shelter.

“I don’t know how that happened,” Fritsch said.

Although Dooley issued a statement saying the county works with 90 different rescue groups to adopt dogs, local animal volunteers told the Call the county shelter has a reputation for not allowing rescue groups to pull dogs out to save them from being euthanized.

“I do a lot of rescue work,” said Jackie Schneiderman of Chesterfield, who volunteers at the city shelter. “My perception of the shelter here is that they’re just not very rescue friendly. It’s kind of definite — once an animal goes there, there’s not a chance of getting them out. The city euthanizes less than 10 percent. We’d have the same thing in the county — I know we’d have people come from all over to help these animals if they’d let us.”

The Humane Society of Missouri and the Animal Protective Association of Missouri regularly pull dogs from the county shelter to place for adoption at their own facilities, along with 90 additional rescue organizations, Dooley said in a statement.

Crestwood eliminated its animal control position at the end of last year, turning to the county to provide those services as a cost-saving measure.

The city ran a 200-square-foot shelter in Whitecliff Park, which the Board of Aldermen voted in January to turn over to volunteer group Friends of Animal Control and Rescue, or FOACAR, which has continued to run the shelter on donations.

“We still care for animals here at our shelter, and we attempt to adopt them out here,” Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby said. “I don’t know of any issues where FOACAR has actually taken any animals to St. Louis County — I believe they try to take care of all the animals here.”

Right now, the Crestwood shelter mostly houses cats.

Some stray animals from Crestwood might have gone to the county shelter if a resident directly contacted the county about a stray, although Roby said he has not heard of any specific instances where that has happened.