Five to six days. That was it. That’s about how long on average a dog or cat used to have at Pima Animal Care Center. If the animal hadn’t been adopted within a few days, it was euthanized.
We used to euthanize over 10,000 animals at PACC every year. Primarily for no other reason than keeping them longer than a few days cost money.
Over the past decade, the county’s attitude toward animal care has changed with the times and the community. The majority of our citizens want the animals in our shelter to have a chance to find a new home and new life. They don’t want an arbitrary time limit determining whether an animal lives or dies.
A decade ago, more than half the animals that came to PACC were put down. Now it’s only about 10 percent, with most of those severely injured in accidents, suffering from disease or exhibiting severe aggression.
This change in philosophy, which we informally call Saving the Saveable, has come with a cost. The Animal Care Center is a regional facility, serving the entire county through intergovernmental agreements with the regional municipalities—Tucson, South Tucson, Marana, Oro Valley and Sahuarita. The County has viewed these agreements as a partnership; we’re saving animal lives together and therefore we’re all sharing the costs (and the revenues from licenses and fees) together.
Two of those partners, Marana and Sahuarita, will go their own way July 1 and start providing their own animal care services. I wish them well and hope they follow the county’s lead in providing humane animal care services. If they do, they’ll quickly find as we did that humane animal care comes with a cost.
Animal welfare advocates had been lobbying the county to change its animal-care methods and build a new, modern animal care facility since the early 2000s. In 2012, the County met with numerous welfare groups and formed the Pima Alliance for Animal Welfare to coordinate and support regional animal care centered on PACC.
In 2014, with the support of PAAW and others, county voters overwhelmingly supported a bond election to build a new care facility, which will open later this year. Also in 2014, the county began to implement Saving the Saveable in earnest.
And the costs for animal care began to rise.
The county has gone to great lengths to hold those costs down as much as possible. We started a development program to tap the donor community to help fund programs that increase adoption rates and reduce pet overpopulation. Individual community members help us buy food, toys and medical supplies.
Grants from major pet retail charities help us pay for behavioral training programs and an owner-pet support call center to reduce pet surrenders and increase the likelihood of perfect pet and owner matches. We have a large and robust volunteer program in which hundreds of selfless community members help us care for the hundreds of animals at the shelter every day. These incredible volunteers provide the community the equivalent of millions of dollars of labor annually. Saving the Saveable wouldn’t be possible without them.
We try to keep our jurisdictional partners informed about the care and costs for care at PACC. A few years ago, they asked for more and timelier information and we obliged. We understand tight budgets. We have one ourselves to deal with. We understand the need to balance the cost of one government program against another. And for the most part, our jurisdictional partners have stood with the county in support of Saving the Saveable.
Pima County will not support turning the clock back, literally and figuratively, on our pets’ chances for survival. We will continue with our humane and just treatment of these companion animals while seeking alternative funding for programs that reduce pet overpopulation and hold the line on animal-care costs.
Chuck Huckelberry is the Pima County administrator.