The idea of a no-kill public animal shelter in Waco has moved from a dream of animal lovers to the verge of reality in less than two years.
Officials at the Circle Road animal shelter say that from October to April, their live- exit rate is up to 85 percent, just five percentage points away from nationally recognized “no-kill” status.
“We want to let people know how well we’ve done and how close we are,” said Don Bland, executive director for the Humane Society of Central Texas, which handles adoptions for the shelter. “That 5 percent is going to be the most difficult, but I think within the year we’ll hit it. Then we’ll have to maintain it.”
Bland said official no-kill status could open the door to new grant opportunities and partnerships that were unthinkable when the shelter had a high euthanasia rate.
Sara Pizano, a veterinarian with Target Zero in Jacksonville, Fla., who has consulted with the city shelter on improvements, said it has neared no-kill status faster than anyone imagined.
“Target Zero is thrilled with the progress in Waco,” she said. “We’re very impressed with how quickly everything has improved since when we became involved with them.”
Before the city of Waco took over the shelter management from the Humane Society in December 2012, the live exit rate fluctuated but was typically well below 40 percent, meaning that the majority of healthy dogs and cats were euthanized.
A financial crisis at the shelter in 2011 and 2012 precipitated the takeover by the city, which already owned the facility at 2032 Circle Road. Since then, the city has increased its funding for the shelter by nearly 60 percent, to $557,172 per year, improving facilities, staffing levels and health protocols.
Mayor Malcolm Duncan Jr. said it may take another couple of years to get to “no-kill” status, but the progress so far speaks for itself.
“I would hate to put a date on it,” he said. “But to go from (less than) 50 percent to 85 percent live exit rate this fast is breathtaking.”
Live exit rate improvement
City and Humane Society officials attribute the improvement in the live exit rate to several factors:
A strictly enforced surrender fee that discourages people from dumping animals at the shelter, leading to a steep drop in the intake rate. In the past, Bland said people had driven from as far away as Copperas Cove to get rid of their animals at the shelter because of its permissive intake policies.
New partnerships with animal rescue groups both locally and statewide. While the local adoption rate has improved, the real growth has been in rescues from out-of-town groups that often take 20 or so dogs at a time. Bland said improvements in vaccinations and health procedures have given those agencies confidence that they can pull healthy animals from Waco.
A new way of calculating the live-exit rate, based on standards from the National Federation of Humane Societies that only count dogs and cats and exclude wildlife. Using that methodology improved the live-exit rate by about 10 percent in some months this year.
A growing community emphasis on spaying and neutering animals, which now is mandatory in Waco and surrounding cities that use the city shelter.
The Animal Birth Control Clinic in Waco reports that it has steadily increased its sterilization procedures from 6,000 in 2009 to more than 11,000 in 2013.
This year, the clinic is using $100,000 in city funding to increase those numbers by offering free procedures to pets of low-income families.
The program got off to a slow start last fall but now has paid for procedures for 827 animals, two-thirds of which were dogs. The average cost of the procedure to the clinic is less than $50.
“We’re serving an ever-higher population of target surgery patients, animals in poverty,” said Carrie Kuehl, the executive director at the clinic. “We are loving that that can happen. . . . It helps bring (shelter) intake numbers down so dramatically.”
The shelter, which requires most animals to be sterilized before being adopted or reclaimed, has begun doing the procedures even before putting the animals up for adoption.
Assistant City Manager Wiley Stem said the spay-neuter efforts at the shelter and the Animal Birth Control Clinic are starting to make a dent in the community’s population of unwanted animals.
Bland, the Humane Society director, said Waco is now viewed positively in animal rescue circles, and that should translate into more partnerships and funding.
“I’m optimistic that this is going to help our cause and help us maintain that,” he said of the potential no-kill status. “I think having a major city like Waco say that we are a no-kill community sheds a positive light on us. We’re not just a little backwoods Texas city.”