By Joseph Robertia
With the coming of the new year, the Kenai Animal Shelter has also implemented a new change to benefit the canines and felines that find themselves temporarily at the facility. As of Jan. 1, the shelter closed its external pet drop-off, primarily used for after hours for the surrender of unwanted pets and strays whose owners are unknown.
“The closing of the outdoor cages does not mean the city shelter won’t take animals after hours. It’s just a different intake,” said Rick Koch, Kenai city manager.
Koch said the reason for the change is two-fold. The first is to ensure surrendered pets are receiving more humane accommodations.
“Animals were being left in terrible conditions. We’ve had boxes of kittens left when it was 10 below outside and the outcome wasn’t good. We also had pets being put in cages with other pets they weren’t compatible with,” he said.
The other reason for the change is also to get more information about the animals being surrendered to streamline the shelter’s processes for handling them, as well as to glean more information that could find the surrendered pet a home.
“When an animal was left in the overnight cage, we didn’t know if it was a stray or surrendered for adoption, and just knowing the answer to that question can help us and the pet. If we don’t know anything, we have to treat the animal as lost and hold it for 72 hours before putting it up for adoption, which can be problematic when the shelter is at or near full capacity. Then we have to do things with the adoptable animals, and those things aren’t good,” Koch said.
He said this is especially true in spring when large numbers of animals are brought to the pound, including many sled dogs after the racing season is over. Having the owner bring the dogs in would make it easier to tell a husky that has been a house pet from one that has never lived indoors, an important distinction to make when trying to find the right home.
And finding out the dog or cat is a stray, rather than surrendered, gives the shelter staff more of a lead to finding its owners.
“We can get information on where it was found, the general vicinity and then begin searching or posting on social media for pets lost in that area,” he said.
Not everyone thinks the changes are for the better. Tim Colbath, founder of Alaska’s Extended-Life Animal Sanctuary in Nikiski, has reservations about closing the external drop-off option. From following animal control changes in other areas, he said that he believes it may not work because people will still want to keep their anonymity when dropping off pets and may resort to desperate options, such as leaving pets in boxes that are less secure than the cages formally used, or tethering out animals that could chew through their ties overnight.
“Anchorage was forced to rebuild and open after-hours drop boxes after four years of trying to keep them closed. I see no reason they will work in Kenai, directly across from the airport,” he said.
Colbath said that being so close to the airport brings up another concern, pets that do escape could end up on airport grounds.
“I, personally, was sequenced behind an ERA Convair 580 back in 1997 or ’98 that had to abort their landing and go around because of dogs on the runway. I just flew over them and landed long. Aircrafts over 12,500 pounds have to operate differently than small Cessna 207s,” he said.
Colbath also speculated that the change could be part of a broader plan for the city shelter to stop accepting animals from outside city limits, but Koch said this isn’t the case. He thinks that notion might have come following the rescue of 35 malnourished dogs last year from a home in the Knight Drive area just outside Soldotna city limits. While the rescue efforts and burden of taking on the dogs was shared by several groups and individuals, some individuals spread the word that the dogs — some running loose and in a near feral state — should be caught and brought to the Kenai shelter.
The Kenai facility can and does work with other shelters and foster homes to place pets until permanent homes can be found, but this takes time, Koch said. Bringing in 35 dogs at once would have stressed the shelter’s carrying capacity and could have led to the euthanasia of many pets already there — pets that are likely more suitable for adoptions than some of the semi-feral animals.
“We just couldn’t absorb that many dogs,” Koch said. “But in no way is our motive to not accept borough animals. We accept animals, period.”
Koch said that while anonymity will be lost in surrendering animals in person, the process is a nonjudgmental one. People who want to surrender a pet or find help for a stray they’ve picked up after shelter hours are asked to call a number. They are then met by either a shelter employee, a city police officer or possibly even an airport security contractor. There is a $15 fee for surrendering a pet, but Koch said that the city might be willing to wave this for people who make it clear it would be a financial burden on them.
If problems arise with this system, changes or modifications can be made, Koch said, but so far it has worked as planned.
“We’ve had three or four come in this way and it’s already been better. We got information,” he said.
Koch said that his hope is the new system will help the shelter continue to euthanize less animals annually, a trend that has been occurring for the past few years.
“It’s a hard job, but we’re doing good stuff. In 2011 we had to euthanize 730 animals, in 2012 it fell to 430, in 2013 it was 266, and in 2014 it was 132. We’re proud of that trend,” he said. “And our ultimate goal is to get to zero.”