ST. GEORGE – Once considered to be dark and foreboding to animal rescue advocates and residents who brought allegations of poor living conditions and animal cruelty to the St. George City Council nearly five years ago, the St. George Animal Shelter has since become a much more welcoming place that has earned praise for operating under a no-kill philosophy.
Night and day
“It’s like night and day to what it used to be,” said Kris Neal, who runs the nonprofit One More Chance CATS program that catches and neutrals feral community cats.
During the summer of 2013, allegations of poor management, conditions and practices at the St. George Animal Shelter were brought before the City Council. The bulk of the allegations were laid at the feet of the shelter’s manager at the time.
Chief among the allegations was the mistreatment of dogs at the shelter. Among those claims: Dogs did not have regular bedding; were not allowed outside regularly thus they were defecating and urinating in their kennels; and they were not removed from their kennels when the kennels were sprayed for cleaning.
Other allegations involved cats and dogs being put down inhumanely through a process known as an intracardiac injection, or “heart stick,” in which pentobarbital sodium is administered via injection directly to the heart. Accompanying accusations said the animals weren’t always sedated before receiving the injection.
The general atmosphere of the animal shelter, coupled with a shelter manager who lacked people skills, did not make for a very welcoming environment, animal rescue advocates claimed.
“It was more of a death row facility than an animal shelter,” Neal said. “I couldn’t recommend to people to take animals there.”
The city launched an investigation into the shelter that confirmed allegations concerning the heart sticks and other issues while dismissing others.
While the investigation, conducted by the St. George Police Department, which oversees the shelter, found that nothing criminal had taken place, the method of euthanizing the animals and their general treatment was “not consistent with current best practices,” according to an 11-page report issued by the Police Department in August 2013.
“It was in need of a lot of improvements to really bring it to where it needed to be for the community,” police Lt. Ivor Fuller, the shelter’s supervisor, said.
Fuller replaced the former shelter manager who was placed on administrative leave during the investigation and ultimately relieved of his position.
A resolution for change
Prior to the release of the investigation’s findings, the St. George City Council passed a resolution to reform the animal shelter that had been operating without attention or notice from the city for nearly two decades.
“We wanted to show we are resolved to do this,” then Mayor Dan McArthur said of the resolution during the Aug 1, 2013, council meeting.
Current St. George Mayor Jon Pike, who was a council member at the time the shelter scandal unfolded, toured the shelter and did not like what he saw.
“I thought it needed more care and help,” Pike said Monday.
One problem at the time was that the city hadn’t allocated enough funding for materials and proper training at the shelter, he said, adding that was an error that has long since been corrected.
Over the next year, vast improvements were made to the shelter. These included changes like providing the dogs and cats better access to the outdoors and adopting a no-kill philosophy.
Becoming a no-kill shelter and other improvements
“It’s defined as a no-kill shelter now,” Pike said, adding that no animals are euthanized at the shelter. In those rare instances where an animal may need to be euthanized, it is done by a veterinarian.
“It’s done humanely and appropriately,” Pike said, adding that those instances of euthanizing animals “are few and far between.”
While rare, euthanizing an animal is typically related to illness, Fuller said, or the overall aggression of the animal to the point adoption is not a viable option.
Many people still think the shelter euthanizes the animals taken there, Fuller said. It is a lingering misconception that frustrates him and the other shelter-workers.
“We are no-kill,” Animal Services officer Sarah Marie Allred. She placed particular emphasis on the “no-kill” part of her words. “I get asked about that daily. We’ve been no-kill for four years.”
Neal said people call her and beg her to take their pets because they fear they’ll be put down at the city’s shelter. She said she assures them that is no longer the case.
“I couldn’t recommend the shelter more now,” she said. “The shelter is much better for the animals.”
Other improvements made between August 2013 and June 2014, when the animal shelter held a grand reopening, included raised bedding for all of the animals; remodeled kennels that allow the dogs to go outside, dog runs and large, grassy areas where the dogs can play and a remodeled indoor and outdoor “cattery” for the shelter’s resident felines.
The shelter’s offices were also remodeled, the property received new landscaping and the shelter overall was made more accessible and compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The improvements continue, Fuller said, adding that new work is being done for outdoor dog kennels.
The shelter today
“I feel very good about it,” Pike said. “We have a greatly improved situation there.”
On top of the physical improvements and better training given animal services officers and shelter employees, there is also a much better relationship and partnership with local rescue groups, Pike said.
“There’s been a huge difference with all those (groups),” he said.
The animal shelter has an animal save rate of 99 percent, Fuller said, referring to those that are not euthanized.
The area’s various rescue groups help place animals for adoption, he said, estimating that with their the shelter has an adoption rate of around 80 percent for the approximately 1,200 animals it serves annually; the rest being taken in by rescue groups.
Pike and Fuller said the shelter has been using social media, including Facebook, to get the word out about the cats and dogs available for adoption or to reunite lost pets with their owners.
And it’s not just cats and dogs the shelter takes in.
“We take all domestic animals here at the shelter. We’ve taken in birds, we’ve taken in domestic rabbits, cats, dogs, turtles, ferrets, guinea pigs, fish – and we’ve tried to get all those moved out,” Fuller said.
“It’s our opinion, truly, that adoption is the only option. We want people to come and adopt from us.”
Anyone interested in learning more about the St. George Animal Shelter and seeing some of the animals up for adoption can visit its Facebook page. Those interested in volunteer opportunities can contact the shelter at telephone 435-627-4350.
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