FORT WORTH — The city issued a call for help this month when its animal shelter topped its capacity of 460 animals. Residents responded by quickly adopting 197 dogs and cats.But that relief will only last about two weeks. That’s because the city recently put a new team of three animal control officers into the field dedicated to finding and capturing strays, said code compliance director Brandon Bennett.Their first week on the job, the team found 71 dogs, which is in addition to the normal shelter intake of about 50 animals a day and was part of the reason the city hit capacity in the first place. “One way we could keep capacity available is not picking up as many strays, but that is not a good public safety policy, to leave these animals out there, so we have to pick them up,” Bennett said. He expects the team to find an additional 75 to 100 dogs each week, based on their first week of performance in mid-June and on estimates of the stray population. “When it comes to adopting and getting these animals out of the shelter alive, there is a double whammy, because not only are we bringing these dogs in and having to find more homes, but a lot of the times the strays they are bringing in are the hardest-to-adopt animals,” Bennett said. The strays are often large, mature dogs with behavior and health problems, and they are often skittish around people. “They just have everything working against them,” Bennett said. “They are just not the kind of pet people are generally looking for.” As a result, he said, dogs that are not adopted or rescued by another organization will be euthanized. Currently, the city has a live release rate of 65 to 70 percent, which includes adoptions, reclaiming of animals and rescues.The rest of the dogs, because of health or behavioral problems, are euthanized.Last year, the city did not have to hold any of the emergency adoption events like the one the past weekend, but Bennett said officials are “anticipating capacity a lot more often this summer.” In 2013 nearly 13,000 stray dogs were removed from the streets of Fort Worth. That is expected to increase by about 5,200 dogs in 2014 because of the new stray-catching team. Adoption events provide relief The Fort Worth Animal Shelter partnered with PetSmart and Apollo Support & Rescue to host a huge shelter pet adoption event last weekend at both PetSmart Adoption Centers.In addition to the 197 dogs adopted, 35 found temporary homes with rescues. The city adopted out 457 dogs for the entire month of May and 435 dogs in April.Heather Coleman of Fort Worth said she heard about the shelter’s need and decided it would be a good weekend to add a pet to the family. On Saturday, Coleman adopted a 2-year-old black cat, whom she named Dahlia. “She is a handful,” Coleman said, laughing. “She is very sweet. She is into everything and very energetic. I think her last mom or dad must have spoiled her rotten, because she tries to eat your food and drink your drinks.” Coleman already has two dogs she adopted from the Fort Worth shelter several years ago, a 15-year-old Akita mix and a 12-year-old beagle mix.“I would recommend adopting from the city of Fort Worth at any time,” Coleman said. “I am a big fan of rescuing rather than buying, because these animals will really appreciate it and give back the love. They really need a home.” The city offered a discounted adoption fee of $10, and PetSmart Charities Adoption Centers hosted a weekend-long adoption event. Normally, dogs cost $49 and cats $25. The adoption fee covers the initial health assessment, spaying or neutering, vaccinations, microchipping and licensing by the city. “We are looking at creative ways to try to get these animals out alive, and we will do all of those things,” Bennett said. “At the end of the day, if we have to humanely euthanize because they are not adopted, they have been in the shelter for four to six weeks and there is no one interested, it is in the animal’s best interest and the community’s best interest to euthanize that animal, as opposed to never pick them up.”The capacity at the Chuck Silcox Animal Shelter should increase by at least 100 new kennels, or 21.7 percent, in about 12 to 18 months, said Bennett, because of a $1 million expansion in the 2014 bond package, which voters approved May 10.“Within one week of that bond passing with the voters, we had already met with the city’s architect on a master plan for expanding our existing shelter,” Bennett said. Also approved in the bond was $1.3 million for a new shelter in north Fort Worth. That’s a longer-term project, and Bennett doesn’t expect it to be operational for several years. It will be able to house about 100 animals.Responsible pet ownership neededMany of the strays in the community could be prevented if more people were responsible pet owners, Bennett said. “If the owners take care of their own pets, they are fenced in, licensed and vaccinated, you have a community that is much safer and you cut down on the public health concerns,” Bennett said. In Fort Worth, pet owners are required to fence in their dogs, and cats must remain on the owner’s within property. All female dogs and cats over age 6 months and all male dogs and cats over 8 months must be spayed or neutered, unless the owner obtains a special permit from the city. All dogs, cats and ferrets must be vaccinated against rabies by 4 months, receive a booster 12 months after that and be vaccinated at least once every three years. They must also be licensed with the city after age 4 months.Each property in Fort Worth is limited to three cats and three dogs over age 8 weeks.“It is a very complex issue because we can go into a neighborhood and virtually pick up every stray, and then six months later there are strays all over the place again. These are not naturally occurring wildlife issues; these are pets that have owners that have been irresponsible,” Bennett said.
Caty Hirst, 817-390-7984 Twitter: @catyhirst