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Need for new animal shelter rising

December 16, 2018

Lori Baker was cleaning bleach out of her hair over the weekend, after she spent hours on Saturday scrubbing kennels at the Odessa Animal Control shelter due to a feared outbreak of distemper.

Tuesday night, she asked City Council about the possibility of a new shelter.

“I want to know if there is a way that we can come together and build an animal shelter, because what we have is an animal control, and it’s never gonna work,” Baker told Council members.

Baker said part of the need of a new shelter is more buildings to make space for more animals. She also brought up a lack of transparency, and said the shelter had euthanized 56 percent of the dogs and 80 percent of the cats that have gone through the shelter.

The shelter drew mass attention on social media last week after Susie Clark, chairwoman of the Odessa Animal Control Advisory Board, posted on Facebook that the decision was made for every dog at the shelter to be put down.

“Over 140 pups,” Clark wrote. “Many have been there for months and are fully vaccinated as well…I am sickened in disbelief that this could ever happen.”

But, as it turned out, there wasn’t any distemper. Lt. Kevin Chance, who oversees the shelter, said they weren’t sure if it was distemper or not.

“The reason that we even suspected it might be is we had some dogs come through the shelter that had been reclaimed and then got ill shortly after being reclaimed,” Chance said. “They took it to their vet and the vet said it might be distemper.”

Chance said no distemper has been confirmed. Animal Control ran their own tests on dogs showing symptoms, which all came back negative.

“Were there dogs euthanized? Yes, there were a few, just because their symptoms are too severe, but it was actually pretty limited,” Chance said.

There was still a large evacuation of the dogs due to the suspected outbreak. Chance said most of the animals were taken in by local rescue shelters, and a few were also taken by American Pets Alive, a branch of Austin Pets Alive.

Mass euthanasia is actually a common practice among many shelters, Chance said, because of the contagiousness of distemper. There are a high volume of animals euthanized at the shelter, Chance said, which is largely due to the large amount of animals coming in and the limited space at the facility.

“We run out of space on a pretty regular basis,” Chance said.

The shelter has a total of 76 kennels, which the vast majority of the time have more than one dog per kennel in them.

“We could definitely benefit from having a new facility, just because once a building gets so old, you have certain issues you have to deal with, such as maintenance, that affect your daily functions,” Chance said.

While Chance said they could use a larger building, more space may not fix the overcrowding problem.

“You increase kennel space, you increase the number of animals you take in,” Chance said. “That means you have to increase the number of people you have to care for those animals, and then the rate that animals come in and the rate that they go out, however big you build it, you’re still gonna be filled up.”

Chance said Animal Control is taking some measures to try to prevent overcrowding and euthanization, such as posting their intakes onto the Odessa Police Department’s website and working with other rescue shelters. They also try to have adoption events, but Chance said this is difficult due to their short staff.

The problem isn’t so much keeping employees as it is finding employees, Chance said, due to the low pay and the more stringent hiring requirements due to the shelter being run by OPD.

There are also volunteers at the shelter, but the number of volunteers fluctuates and Chance said they would like to increase the level of activity of volunteers.

Baker suggested to council members they could possibly fund a new shelter by adding an additional dollar to city water bills to be used to fund it, which she said was done previously to improve city parks.

City Manager Michael Marrero said the council has given his staff some direction to start looking at the potential costs of a new shelter, but hopes it becomes part of a larger discussion of the totality of needs for the city.

“Obviously, an animal shelter is certainly important and it’d be a valuable asset,” Marrero said. “But as a council, they’ll have to decide the whole scope of things, because we also need additional road improvements, additional fire stations. We need a number of things because of the growth of this community.”

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