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Smyth animal control credits rescues for drop in euthanasia rates

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Smyth County Animal Control

Staff members at Smyth County Animal Control wish everyone a Happy New Year and welcome adoption of dogs and cats available at the shelter in Seven Mile Ford. Posing with Chewy, a 4-year-old part-pit male, and Lance, a 6-month-old male tuxedo kitten, are, from left, front: Linda Bridgeman, shelter manager, and Lt. Kristy Moore; in back: Officer Chandler Dixon, Officer Jason Mash, Sgt. Jonathan Cantrell, and Chief Chris Bennett.

Smyth County Animal Control continues to see a drop in euthanasia rates due to the many rescues helping find homes for dogs and cats.

Chief Chris Bennett said from January to November of this year the rate has been 11% for dogs and 18% for cats and most of those were due to behavioral issues, illness or being unadoptable. Rescues have been pulling hundreds of animals from the shelter for transfer to other areas, foster or adoption.

Euthanasia rates were 42% locally in 2018 and 30% in 2019 so the kill rate is down drastically due to increased adoptions and rescue. Before the pandemic, about 33% of animals in the Smyth County shelter were transferred to a rescue with 20% adopted locally and 16% returned to owners.

There are a lot of variables when it comes to animals that end up at the shelter. There are specific rules regarding strays, owner-surrenders, dangerous animals, adoptable and rescue-appropriate animals, and owner-reclamations. Animals are kept as long as they can be in the small amount of space available at the local shelter.

The main rescue for the shelter is Smyth County Animal Rescue & Resource Center, formed several years ago and working toward a waystation kennel in the northern part of Marion that will offer dogs and cats a place to go between leaving the shelter and going to a new home.

Smyth Animal Rescue & Resource Center will provide homeless and abandoned pets from area shelters a safe place to stay for a few days or weeks before being transported to other areas of the state and the northeast to be saved from euthanasia. The organization also works with the Smyth County Humane Society and provides community outreach, including various education, training and support services to elevate the public’s attitude towards pets.

Bennett said there has been an increase in adoptions at the shelter and many animals taken out by rescues. The biggest problem, he said, is with owner-surrendered animals. These dogs and cats have very little time at the shelter, which has limited space and prioritizes stray dogs that must be kept a certain number of days in case they were lost and owners come to reclaim them.

Animal control does not pick up stray cats, Bennett said, and there is a constant problem in the county and region with stray and feral cats. There are thousands and without spaying or neutering the numbers continue to rise. Animal control and the rescue organizations encourage pet owners to spay and neuter their dogs and cats to help cut down on the number of homeless animals suffering in the wild or being euthanized in the shelter.

Some other types of animals that officers have dealt with recently include a bearded dragon, pot-bellied pigs, rabbits, chickens, ducks and a parakeet.

The officers handle calls for nuisance animals and do welfare checks on those kept outside. New laws require animals to be protected during weather below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees and during inclement weather.

Bennett said the officers advise animal owners about proper shelter and the laws regarding their animals.

“Education has gone a long way in that,” said Officer Jason Mash. “It’s a long process, but we’re getting there.”

“You educate the person the first time and if you get called again you take action,” Bennett said.

Some animal owners seem to ignore the comfort of their animals, “but we’re starting to see a shift in that kind of thinking here,” Mash said.

“When people see the severity of the outcomes,” Bennett said.

“Everybody has a responsibility of care for an animal,” he said. “Most people around here take good care of their dogs.”

The shelter takes many calls about dogs being stolen, Bennett said, and there are many posts on social media about lost dogs, but the officers have found no evidence of individuals or groups stealing dogs or dogs being stolen for sale. Many may wander away from home and get lost, he said. Proper tagging and microchipping can help when seeking lost animals.

The COVID-19 pandemic has not had much effect on the animal shelter other than to limit visitors to one family at a time with required social distancing and wearing of face masks. Before the pandemic, there might be up to 15 people in the lobby at one time.

The shelter closed to the public for six months in 2020 due to the pandemic. The staff continues to follow CDC guidelines for safety.

“Things have worked out better that way,” said Bennett of the limited number of people at a time. “With all that’s come up, it’s worked out surprisingly well. It gives our staff more time to dedicate to the animals and if one needs vet care it’s easier to handle. And [it] helped with cleaning and drying the dog kennels.”

Adding stainless steel dividers between the kennels has made cleaning and preventing the spread of any diseases easier as well, he added.

Some needs the shelter always has are for wet and dry pet food for dogs and cats (must be new and unopened), towels and old newspapers.

You can find out more about Smyth County Animal Control on the county government’s website or on Facebook. A volunteer group called Smyth Shelter Friends has a Facebook page on which photos of animals available for adoption are posted. Appointments must be made to see and adopt animals.

The shelter’s hours of operation are 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, closed 12-1 p.m. for lunch and on Sunday. For appointments to see animals or drop off animals, call 276-646-2222. Patience on the phone and with returned calls is appreciated. Appointments begin at 1 p.m.

The shelter is at 287 Fox Valley Road, past the Smyth Career & Technology Center, off the Seven Mile Ford exit (39) of Interstate 81.

Correction: The euthanasia rates for dogs and cats is currently at 11% and 18% respectively. This story has been updated to reflect that information.
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