Fresno Humane Animal Services has its shelter at the former Fresno County morgue, but death has taken a holiday for most animals since the agency took over the county’s animal control contract a year ago.
Dogs and cats are dying far less frequently and leaving much faster for faraway new homes than ever before.
Fresno Humane Animal Services just completed its first year as the contractor for Fresno County. When the agency took over, it promised more reunifications with owners, more adoptions and less euthanasia.
In all three cases, the numbers have improved, but most substantially in the number of euthanized dogs and cats. The previous three years, euthanasia rates under different contractors were as high as 70 percent of animals.
Since taking over a year ago, Fresno Humane Animal Services has cut the euthanasia rate to 14 percent – a level likely among the lowest in the Valley.
“They have far exceeded any benchmark we could have established for them,” said David Pomaville, director of Fresno County’s Department of Public Health. “They have done a lot of great work, and there still is more work to be done.”
Pomaville said Fresno Humane’s officers often will canvass neighborhoods talking to residents to return dogs home before they drive them to the shelter.
Number of pets sent to rescues or other communities from Fresno Humane Animal Services
And when all else fails, the word goes out on social media about lost or adoptable animals, said Wayne Fox, the county’s environmental health services director.
Of the 5,556 dogs and cats that came through the shelter, 768 were euthanized. About 3,000 were euthanized the previous year under different contractors, according to Fresno County figures. The shelter brought in nearly 5,000 dogs in the past year. Cats are accepted in limited numbers – 600 last year – and many are trapped, sterilized and released back to where they were found.
By comparison, the Central California SPCA – which provides animal control for the city of Fresno – euthanized about 65 percent of roughly 23,000 animals that entered the shelter in the year ending June 30, 2015, the most recent data available.
Many of those euthanized by Fresno Humane were either aggressive to humans or animals, or euthanasia was authorized by owners. The shelter and its veterinarian work to nurse sick animals back to health, said Brenda Mitchell, president of Fresno Humane.
While the euthanasia numbers are significantly better, adoptions are not rising quickly, and reunifications are difficult to improve for Fresno Humane.
If people can’t afford the expense to have their dogs returned, which includes spay or neuter, microchipping, license and vaccines, Fresno Humane will waive fees.
“We don’t want anybody’s dog,” Mitchell said.
But the main reason for the sharp drop in euthanasia, said Mitchell, comes from efforts to move dogs to other places, such as Portland, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Canada, where demand for pets exceeds what is locally available.
Almost immediately after the contract with the county was signed, Mitchell and her staff began working with a network of rescues in the Fresno area to reach out to other animal welfare agencies around the country.
Fresno Humane, Animal Compassion Team, which Mitchell also oversees, and Animal Rescue of Fresno have sent out about 1,340 mostly Chihuahua mix, smaller breed dogs to Minneapolis, and nearly all were adopted.
Linda Guthrie, president of Animal Rescue of Fresno, said Fresno Humane is “an example of what animal control should be.”
It’s as difficult for Valley animal rescue advocates to imagine a community that wants dogs to fill their shelter as it is for others around the country to imagine communities like Fresno that are flush with strays.
“It still amazes me how many puppies are in Fresno,” said Cynthia Karsten, a veterinarian in the Koret Shelter Medicine Program at UC Davis and a consultant to Fresno Humane. “In Minneapolis, they haven’t taken in a litter of puppies in years.”
In Minneapolis, people want the smaller breeds because they are easy to travel with and live easily in small homes, said Sally Thornton, philanthropy adviser for the Animal Humane Society in Minneapolis.
“They get here and they get noticed,” Thornton said.
They are an example of what animal control should be.
Linda Guthrie, Animal Rescue Fresno on Fresno Humane Animal Services
Ultimately, Thornton said, the offer from Minneapolis was that “if you could send them, we could place them.”
Oregon Humane Society, based in Portland, has taken 647 dogs and cats from the Fresno area since 2015 through its Second Chance program, said David Lytle, agency spokesman.
“We’re thrilled to lend a hand to the Fresno shelter any way we can,” he said.
Last year, he said, Oregon Humane took 6,000 pets from other shelters.
The next efforts will aim to make pet owners more responsible, teaching the value of licensing, microchips, spaying and neutering and making their properties more secure, Mitchell said.
County officials are impressed.
Fresno Humane was expected to do a handful of spay and neuter events in the first year; the agency did about 20, said Fox, the county’s environmental health services director.
Pet owners from across the county don’t have to drive to Fresno, but can look for lost animals by going online and find them through Fresno Humane’s website, Facebook or Twitter sites.
Karsten said Fresno Humane has earned the affectionate title of “the little shelter that could” despite its deficiency of being nearly all outdoors.
Although Fresno Humane has had considerable success finding new homes for smaller dogs, larger dogs are more of a challenge – both in terms of housing them, and finding them new homes.
The shelter has mostly large dogs and while many are being saved, some healthy dogs must be put down to make room for others that cycle in.
“If we could get two large-breed dogs out a day, we wouldn’t have to euthanize any,” Mitchell said.
While that number seems small, it could be difficult to achieve because few would-be adopters visit the shelter at Nielsen and Teilman avenues, where all large dogs are housed outdoors.
“If we get 30 people coming in here, we’re lucky if we get one adoption,” Mitchell said.
Karsten said the county needs a more inviting place for people to find their lost pets or look for new ones.
Fresno County is gathering cash to build a new shelter. The county is considering adding $800,000 to the $3.2 million it already has squirreled away. If the county raises $4 million, it will get a match from Derrel Ridenour, owner of Derrel’s Mini-Storage. Ridenour also has offered property at Grantland Avenue and Highway 99 for a new shelter.
Pomaville said he wants a better place for the animals, but the county still is trying to resolve what kind of shelter it wants and how much it ultimately will cost.
“We have to get that corrected, and I think the county administration and board want to see that,” he said. “Considering the environment they have to work in, they have been more than patient.”