Tazewell County Animal Control continues to make a difference for our furry friends

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Posted: Tuesday, September 11, 2018 9:51 am

In 2013, any animal (dog, cat, pocket pet, wildlife) that inadvertently became the “guest” of the Tazewell County Animal Control (TCAC) shelter had only a one in two chance of leaving the facility alive.  At that time, dogs were confined to their cages as there were no opportunities for exercise. Dogs slept on the cold, hard and often damp concrete floor.  Cats were confined to cages and frequently suffered from upper respiratory diseases.  Enrichment programs and foster homes were nonexistent. Diseases and other medical issues such as wounds were not routinely treated. In 2013, of the more than 1700 animals received by TCAC, only 79 were adopted into forever homes. Two of the three Animal Control Officer positions were vacant, and other staffing shortages and imbalances existed.  This was the situation that Ryan Sanders inherited when he was appointed Director of TCAC in April 2014.

Fast forward to 2017 and any animal received by TCAC has a two in three chance of walking out the door.  Over the course of four years, the euthanasia rate dropped considerably, from 49 percent in 2013, 46 percent in 2014, 26 percent in 2015, 29 percent in 2016 and to 32 percent in 2017 (statistics include euthanasia of sick or injured wildlife and owner-requested euthanasia).  Concurrently, the facility realized a 400 percent increase in adoptions from 2013 to 2017.  In 2017, of the 2,386 animals that entered the facility, 398 were adopted and 617 were transferred to no-kill and low kill organizations where they stood a remarkably improved chance at a new life.

During the four years of his tenure, Director Sanders and his staff, in cooperation with the Tazewell Humane Society (THS) and subsequently the Tazewell Animal Improvement of Life Society (TAILS), have implemented countless improvements.  While these enhancements were championed by Sanders and the rescue organizations, they were supported by an open-minded Tazewell County Board receptive to evolution in the animal control field and a supportive County Administrator.  These changes have resulted in many animal lives saved, as well as vast improvements to their quality of life while residents of the shelter. In the past, adoptions were difficult due to shelter hours being limited to 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. Director Sanders, in collaboration with TAILS, initiated an aggressive plan to provide other opportunities to present animals to the community such as offsite adoptions at Petco, Tractor Supply and Big R stores in the area. Cats were displayed regularly at the Pekin Petco store in their adoption center. Director Sanders agreed to pilot extended shelter hours in the evenings and weekends. TAILS purchased a truck to carry cages, tents and other large equipment to various offsite adoption venues such as local junior league hockey games. Fans and cage covers were procured to keep the animals comfortable while they were displayed offsite. Animals were photographed by shelter staff and professional photographers for display on TCAC and TAILS Facebook sites and in local newspapers.

Director Sanders, in cooperation with THS and TAILS, pursued relationships with rescue groups and other shelters in the area to provide additional options for many of the excess animals, most notably the cats and special needs animals.  Transports were arranged to carry the animals as far away as Chicago and Indiana. Director Sanders drove several cats with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) to a shelter in Chicago that would find loving homes for these pets. Cats with serious infectious diseases such as FIV and feline leukemia virus (FeLV) were also taken to the Animal Protective League (APL) in Springfield where they could live out their lives peacefully and have the chance to be adopted. 

Several dogs with medical issues such as large tumors were also transported to the APL for treatment and eventual adoption.  In addition, TCAC arranged to participate in a program with APL to sterilize and vaccinate unadoptable feral cats and place them with loving farm families where they would be well cared for.

Meanwhile, back at the shelter, life improved immeasurably for those animals who were not placed right away. Foster homes were established so that anxious animals and litters of puppies and kittens could be removed from the perils of shelter life and raised in home-like conditions. Indestructible Kuranda beds were purchased for the dogs to keep them warm and comfortable. Cats received stainless steel litter boxes that could be sanitized in order to prevent disease transmission.  Medicines were purchased and animals were treated for a wide range of illnesses. The TCAC medical budget is only $10 per animal, so TAILS supplemented those cases that required extensive treatment such as amputations or other surgeries.

During a recent fatal disease outbreak among the shelter cats, multiple cats were necropsied and one was biopsied and cultured to determine the causative agent of the disease and thus the appropriate treatment. Cats were treated upon intake with a product to kill fleas, ticks, ear mites, heartworms and other gastrointestinal parasites.  Director Sanders entered into an agreement with two local veterinary clinics to visit the shelter three times a week and review the treatment of all sick and injured animals. While he had already integrated changes to medical treatments, care and cleaning procedures, the additional veterinary presence provided education for the shelter staff and high-quality care for the animals.  Additional plans are underway to vaccinate animals upon admission for serious infectious diseases and to test every dog for heartworm disease and cats for FeLV with TAILS providing the funds to purchase the expensive diagnostic kits.

TAILS funded the addition of a no cage cat room where cats are free to roam and play with toys or sit in the windows.  A quarantine room was created to minimize the transmission of disease.  Another remodel resulted in a “small animal” room for pocket pets and kittens. A large outdoor exercise kennel was donated by Hohulin Fence company in Goodfield.  TCAC and THS piloted a dog walking program and other enrichment programs for the animals.  TAILS also purchased storage containers, a commercial dishwasher and a high-end washer and dryer set, as well as landscaping for the front of the shelter. TCAC installed a new software that provided a centralized data base with the ability to track and report important data such as the status of animal vaccines, medical treatments, days in the shelter, etc.

While not a “no kill” shelter, under Director Sanders TCAC has never euthanized a dog due to space requirements. It is his goal to limit euthanasia to only those animals that are deemed unadoptable due to extreme mental or physical problems that cannot be successfully addressed. During fiscal year 2017, of the 788 dogs that were taken in by the shelter, 127 were eventually euthanized.  Of this number, 74 were owner-requested euthanasias, 33 were owner-surrender of unadoptable dogs, and only 20 were considered stray and unadoptable dogs. That equates to 2.5 percent of unowned dogs that were deemed unadoptable and therefore euthanized.

The sad truth is that most of the animals in the shelter are there due to no fault of their own. Frequently, they are there because of irresponsible pet owners who failed to provide adequate restraint or proper identification, failed to vaccinate for rabies or to spay and neuter, or failed to address serious behavioral issues.  Many impounded animals are the victims of a change in lifestyle (such as a move or a divorce) that did not include the pet. In order to minimize the number of animals relinquished to animal control, pet owners should exercise due diligence when adopting an animal. Understand the animal’s needs and how they will fit with your lifestyle. Never adopt an animal on a whim. Do not adopt a pet if you do not have the necessary resources (money, time, attention, energy) to deal with its many needs. Always spay or neuter your animal at an early age.  TCAC administers a low cost spay and neuter program, at $15 per animal, for low-income pet owners; an option that is underutilized by the pet-owning public.  Ensure that your pet is appropriately vaccinated, especially with regard to the requirements for rabies vaccination. Microchip your pet and be sure to update your contact information as needed. Equip your pet with highly visual collars and tags that include your contact information.

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way it’s animals are treated”.  There are many ways to become involved and make a difference in the lives of impounded Tazewell County animals.  Adopt, don’t shop! Spay and neuter! Volunteer to engage with the cats and exercise the dogs in the shelter.  Become involved with TAILS or other reputable local animal rescue organization. Committed volunteers, foster homes and donations are always needed and greatly appreciated.

TCAC is located at 21314 State Route 9 in Tremont. The phone number for inquiries about adopting or the low cost spay and neuter program is 309-925-3370.  TAILS may be reached vial email at Tazewelltails@gmail.com or at PO Box 482, Tremont Illinois 61568.  Become involved and save a life today.

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