Animal shelter shows dramatic drop in euthanasia rate

Fewer animals were euthanized last month at the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center (ARC) than at any point in recent years, a shift coming after an independent review of the shelter and the replacement of its longtime shelter director.

The county’s live release rate hovered between 50-56 percent from 2104-2017 and rose to 65 percent earlier last year. But December’s dramatically-improved 89.9 percent live release rate is more in line with modern shelter standards, according to animal welfare experts.

“We have made enormous progress in a short period of time, but we still have plenty of work to do,” said Bob Gruhl, who was named the shelter’s interim director succeeding Mark Kumpf who was eventually fired by county commissioners after an independent review of the shelter in November.

RELATED: County animal center report: ‘Avalanche of negative consequences’

Other shelter benchmarks showed improvement as well during December, according to the county, which cautioned that shelter numbers usually decrease during winter months and changes to the county’s cat policy with local jurisdictions further diminished numbers.

But compared to December 2017 when 92 dogs and 40 cats were euthanized not at an owner or guardian’s request, just 18 dogs and 17 cats were euthanized last month not on behest of an owner.

During December, the ARC adopted out 139 pets, which included 95 dogs, 29 puppies, 10 cats and five kittens. A total 105 pets were spayed or neutered, 94 were returned to owners and 79 were transferred to other organizations such as animal rescues.

ARC’s December statistics are moving in the right direction yet many remain both skeptical but hopeful of long-term change,” said Beth Miller, president and founder of Wagtown, a local nonprofit that advocates for dog-friendly communities.

“I think it’s a good start. I think that I see more positive feedback from the community,” Miller said. “Of course, it’s paired with a lot of mistrust, so I think a lot of people are looking at this like ‘show me what you’ve got. Prove to me that you are truly going to be a community partner.’”

MORE: Critics target Montgomery Co. Animal Resource Center for animal deaths

The ARC under Kumpf’s leadership had come under intense public scrutiny for putting to death animals too quickly — in some cases while their owners were still looking for them.

A new policy now requires the shelter director to approve all euthanasia, but a change made at ending cat control contracts, which puts more responsibility for controlling the feline population on municipalities, may have played a bigger role in the month’s dramatic change.

MORE: County looks ahead after embattled animal shelter director’s job ends

The county brought in Team Shelter USA in November to study the ARC’s operations and propose recommendations for improvements.

The deepest examination into shelter operations in 15 years turned up dozens of ARC shortcomings.

Animals were inconsistently monitored and vaccinated, housed in cramped, filthy cages and sometimes put to death for reasons other than failing health, according to the report.

Employees suffered from burnout and “compassion fatigue” and were unable to adequately provide appropriate customer service nor proper care for animals, according to the study.

The cumulative dysfunction at the shelter created “an avalanche of negative consequences,” the report read.

Team Shelter USA identified 30 emergency action steps. Those and others less critical brought the total number of recommendations to 174. As of Friday, 15 percent of the recommendations had been completed while 42 percent remain in progress and 43 percent are under review, according to the county.

Critical changes first addressed included fixing a freezer, discontinuing behavior temperament testing of animals and offering fee-waived adoptions. The county is also fast-tracking new staff positions.

Colbert said he has reviewed a request by Gruhl to hire eight and half new equivalent positions at the shelter and will soon be asking commissioners to approve those.

“We are moving down the path of getting the staffing where it needs to be,” Colbert said. We will request the commissioners approve an additional eight and a half different positions that Bob has requested and I have reviewed.”

While the numbers may be improving, both the federal Drug Enforcement Administration and Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office have started separate investigations into the facility, county officials said last week.

RELATED: DEA and county sheriff open animal shelter investigations

DEA agents turned up at the ARC on Jan. 4 looking at how drugs at the facility are handled, said Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert.

Kumpf, the ARC’s former director, is also a named defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit of Klonda Richey, who was mauled to death in Dayton in 2014 after she alerted the ARC about two dozen times to a problem dog next door. Court documents filed by Richey’s estate also allege key evidence in the case was destroyed by the ARC.

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