Cops and dogs

The Town of Marana now employs its own animal services team (with some help from the Marana Police Department during off-hours).

Marana’s Community and Neighborhood Director Lisa Shafer has got out of bed in the middle of the night more than once to deal with a call about an animal. Shafer runs Marana Animal Services along with Bill Lorefice, the town’s chief code enforcement and animal control officer. And they are hands on.

Marana Animal Services celebrated a year in business back in July. From fiscal sense to improved customer service, proponents and former critics alike agree the program has been a success. When the town chose not to renew its contract with the Pima Animal Care Center in 2017, some Marana residents were concerned about what would happen with sick and injured animals during the off hours. 

When someone calls Animal Services after hours with an emergency, the automated system will connect to the Marana Police Department. For an annoyance like a barking dog, MPD will respond when it’s possible. For a more serious situation, like a significant bite, a stray or a hit animal, MPD responds and if needed, Shafer or Lorefice will dispatch an Animal Services officer.

On-call Animal Services officers will contact the owner immediately if the pet has tags or a chip with current information. Otherwise, they’ll house the animal in the town’s overnight kennel at the civic center, originally set up for the MPD K9s. Only once has Animal Services had to take an animal to an all night vet. And three times they’ve used emergency vet services during day-time hours.

After-hours voicemails with Animal Services also send an email with the message to Shafer and Lorefice so they can check them in the middle of the night if so inclined. And Shafer says, “Bill and I are crazy enough to do that.”

Animal Services opened with two officers, and has since hired a third to expand its regular hours to 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. most days, except Sunday and Monday, when the regular hours end at 5 p.m.

In the first year, Marana Animal Services picked up 263 stray dogs and cats, of which 133 were returned directly to their owners and 130 were taken to the Humane Society of Southern Arizona, which the town contracts with for shelter services. Area residents brought another 82 strays found in Marana to the Humane Society, who returned 38 Marana pets to their owners, putting the overall return-to-owner rate for strays found in Marana at nearly 50 percent. 

Shafer said the Animal Services Officers often have to do a bit of sleuthing to find a dog’s owner if there are no tags or the information on the animal’s chip isn’t current. She said they’ve even knocked on people’s doors on a tip from neighbors.

PACC’s return-to-owner rate is about 15 percent, which PACC Director Kristen Auerbach said is on par with the national average. 

The county center typically has 5 to 6 officers on duty at one time, and typically locate owners by checking for a chip or tags. They’ll also follow an animal to see if it will go home instead of immediately picking it up. Recently, they hired someone who Auerbach calls the “doggie detective,” who checks lost-and-found postings as another way to locate owners.

PACC is dealing with a much larger pool of animals than Marana, and so can’t provide the same type of personal service that the town can. Auerbach said in August alone, 1,600 animals passed through PACC’s doors. As well, they respond to a lot of calls regarding animal abuse, neglect and safety.

Shafer said the main difference since taking Marana animal services in-house is that with three dedicated officers, the town is able to provide quicker and more thorough service. Calls to Animal Services are often immediately answered, and if not, call backs are most often same-day.

The town first considered taking over the services when faced with rising costs from the county. The cost rose from $10,000 less than a decade ago to $238,000 the 2017 fiscal year. The rising cost, in part, had to do with the county moving away from euthanizing animals and building a new animal-care facility.

When the Marana Town Council voted to create the Animal Services division, only council members Roxanne Ziegler and Herb Kai voted against it. Both have since said the division is a success. Ziegler didn’t return the request for an interview. Kai said he can’t remember exactly why he voted against it but now he’s on board.

“I think it’s a good program,” he said. “The numbers are working good, and we’re able to provide a service for our residents.”

Town Manager Jamsheed Mehta said since Marana created the animal division, the level of service is in a different league than what they were with PACC.

“Costs would go up, but the services weren’t changing,” he said. “In fact, we weren’t even convinced that the services were exactly what our residents wanted or deserved.”

Mehta said the evidence that the services were not up to Marana’s standards was more anecdotal than empirical. He said it seemed like Marana residents would call about a stray dog, but PACC took so long to get there, the dog would be gone.

Marana wrapped up the first year spending about $228,500 on Animal Services, on top of the $127,000 the town invested to get the division running. They generated $95,800 in licensing revenue and $3,400 in donations. Based on last year’s contract with PACC, which presumably would have gone up as it had year over year, animal services expenditures were down about $9,600 and licensing revenues were up about $12,000.

Marana Animal Services issued over 4,400 dog licenses and has a goal to increase that by 10 percent in its second year. They’ve also held nine events that provided pet services, including free and low-cost vaccination, microchipping and spay and neuter clinics, in which about 400 pets were served. As part of increasing the pets licensed, Marana hopes to increase awareness on the importance of rabies vaccinations.

The town also held a number of adoption events in partnership with the Humane Society. The Humane Society’s policy is to hold animals with a tag or chip for five days before getting them ready to put up for adoption. They hold animals with no tags or chip for three days. Marana pays for the holding days but not beyond. The Humane Society doesn’t euthanize animals for space reasons, only for serious behavioral or medical complications.

Shafer said the town received limited data from PACC on what services Marana was actually paying for. On the other hand, the Humane Society provides the town with direct information on charges related to every dog, cat and turtle (yes, there was one stray turtle).

Shafer said the customer service Marana Animal Services provides is phenomenal. She’s proud of the department’s ability to get the animals back to their owners and the lengths the officers will go to to make it happen.

To find out more about Marana Animal Services events go to maranaaz.gov/animal-services or download the Marana Pets app.

Initially this story reported 16,000 animals in one month, the correct amount is 1,600 and has been updated within the story. 

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