The old adage is cats have nine lives, and dogs are man's best friend. And for many, the furry, four-legged friends are more often than not cherished members of households and families.
A cat or dog can turn into a best friend in mere minutes after an affectionate purr or thankful nuzzle.
The Laurel County Animal Shelter exists to harbor stray cats and dogs with the goal of finding suitable owners, be that the animal's already existing owner or a new one. The shelter also provides vaccines for many common diseases known to plague canines and felines.
Unfortunately, when the shelter runs out of space, it is forced to make room for new intakes. This is when the shelter will euthanize, or put down animals, to ensure more animals can be taken into the shelter's doors. This is especially true for cats where the euthanasia rate at the shelter is 80 percent thus far in 2014.
“We're limited on space. [We euthanize] when we literally cannot find anywhere for an animal to go,” said shelter director Tom Baker. “We also euthanize for the public — an older dog, sick dog or dog who is severely injured. We hold off as long as we can before we euthanize. It's for when we absolutely have to make room.”
Baker said the typical stay for a dog is anywhere from eight days to more than a month. For cats, the stay can unfortunately be a lot shorter; the shelter receives so many cats that it rarely has the space necessary to keep them for an extended period of time.
“We had to put down cats on a daily basis before,” Baker said. “It's nothing for us to get 25 to 30 cats a day. We don’t pick up cats; people bring them to us. There aren’t many rescues willing to work with cats. It’s hard for us to compete with that.”
Still, the Laurel County Animal Shelter has taken great strides into reducing their euthanization rates, which have been consistently decreasing.
For dogs, the euthanization rate has not reached 30 percent in 2014. The number has gone as low as 12 percent in March and only risen to 25 percent in July. The months in between have floated in the mid teens, averaging 2014 at 20 percent for the year. So far, August has shaped up to be the shelter's first no-kill month statistically, with only five dogs euthanized out of 50.
“We have yet to have a no-kill month, which is below 10 percent,” said Baker. “But it’s difficult to argue that things have not gotten a lot better around here.”
While no written annual report exists for 2013, Baker said that the euthanization rates for dogs in Laurel County soared as high as 45 percent when he took the reigns of the shelter in January. He has also made sure to keep the shelter open an hour longer each day and maintain regular hours on Saturday.
As of Monday, the Laurel County Animal Shelter had taken in 1,238 dogs and was able to adopt out 215 (17 percent), rescue 676 (55 percent), return 81 to owners (7 percent), and euthanize 250 (20 percent). A rescue is any organization that will take a dog for a typically longer time than a shelter and/or find a suitable owner at a faraway location. The euthanizations as service to the public — for sick, injured or elderly canines — is also taken into account with these figures.
According to Baker, a major factor in lowering euthanization rates included the hiring of Lana Smith, who serves as volunteer coordinator for the shelter and director of Friends of Laurel County Animal Shelter, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization to finding owners and rescues as far away as Canada for Laurel County dogs.
Smith cites the euthanization rate as high as 97 percent when she started in October 2013.
“We have people who transport every day and volunteers who work on Facebook every day,” said Lana Smith, founding member of the organization who serves as Laurel County Animal Shelter's rescue coordinator. “Photographers are at the shelter every day.”
The volunteer coordinator also said that there really aren't enough households in Laurel County to fit 1,238 dogs and 991 cats taken in 2014. This becomes even more apparent when considering totals for 2013: 2,363 dogs and 1,526 cats.
Smith did allude to the existence of no-kill shelters, but also mentioned that they often have a 30-day waiting period, a strict limit, and a required class. Other, more well-funded shelters outside of Laurel County are known to have a “spay-neuter-release” program, where cats are let go after being spayed or neutered in order to control populations. Laurel County, in contrast, does not have a limit for what they take in, nor the funds to implement “spay-neuter-release.”
According to the American Humane Society, national euthanasia statistics are hard to follow because animal care and control agencies are not uniformly required to keep the books in terms of intake, adoption, reclamation or euthanization.
However, the Humane Society's website does state that a survey of 1,000 shelters in 1997 showed that roughly 64 percent of animals at animal shelters nationwide were euthanized. Since the exact number of shelters within the country is unknown, an updated figure has yet to be established.
The Laurel County Animal Shelter is located at 1697 Chris Hamlin Memorial Lane in London. Office hours are Monday 7:30 a.m to 4 p.m., Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Adoption fees are $100 for dogs and $65, which include a voucher for spay or neuter, wormer and other required shots.
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/laurelcountyshelterky or call the shelter directly at 606-231-4341. Smith can be reached at 606-231-4341.