By Kim Steele
Harker Heights Herald
It's bigger, brighter, smells better and is much more visible to the public.
Most important, the Harker Heights Pet Adoption Center is taking in and finding homes for a staggering amount of feral, lost, stray and owner-surrendered cats and dogs. The pet adoption center, located at 403 Indian Trail, hosted an open house in November 2010 and opened to the public in December 2010.
Harker House Police Lt. Loretta Fox said that in the year since it was built, the pet adoption center has become a central part of the community, both in education and fostering relationships between pets and new owners. Fox has been in charge of animal control for the police department since 2000.
"The city has grown, and this facility is really needed," said Fox. "The other building was small and people weren't aware of it. This facility is very visible and now I hear 'Oh, you have an animal control building.' I say 'Yes, for 30 years now.' They just didn't know what we had until this place was built."
The original shelter, at 120 Harley Drive, measured 1,000 square feet and included 11 dog cages and 18 cat cages. The new $1.44 million, 6,000-square-foot facility features 21 dog kennels and 38 cat cages for adoptions. It also has offices, storage, quarantine kennels and cages, a play area and a sally port.
According to police department statistics, in the last 11 months of the old shelter's operation, from January to November 2010, 33 cats and 120 dogs were adopted. In the first six months of the new center's operation, from December 2010 to May 2011, 58 cats and 186 dogs found homes.
Impounds by animal control also increased. According to police, 433 cats and 344 dogs were impounded at the old shelter in the last 11 months of operation from January to November 2010. At the new center, 290 cats and 248 dogs were impounded in the first six months of operation from December 2010 to May 2011.
Fox credits the increase in adoptions to the new facility's beauty, cleanliness and visibility. Potential adopters can freely interact with cats in glassed cubicles and dogs in an inside or outside play area. Every eight minutes, the building's air conditioners completely exchanges the air to eliminate smells.
As for impounds, two new trucks complete with kennels, fans and louvered windows that open have proven instrumental in gathering more of the growing city's lost, stray and feral animals. The pet adoption center is manned by four full-time employees who run the facility and answer animal control calls.
Fox said the number of walk-in customers seeking to adopt or surrender a pet remains high, with 576 in June, 505 in July, 426 in August and 545 in September. Service calls - animals injured, dead, barking, caught in traps or running loose -total about 200 a month. Fox noted one of her employees is on medical leave until March.
"You can see by the numbers why we're struggling," said Fox. "We have three people trying to get everything done. We've readjusted hours and schedules twice since we opened. But we're not talking about hiring yet. This is our first full year and we need to know what to expect. The city is aware of the situation."
Albert Musgrove, senior animal control officer at the center, said every type of dog breed comes through for adoption, including German shepherds, great Pyrenees, English bulldogs, beagles, dauschunds and mutts. Musgrove, who joined Harker Heights two years ago, said he enjoys the ups and downs of his job.
"I love animals, and I was told I wouldn't be able to handle animal control because part of the job is euthanizing animals," said Musgrove. "But I enjoy my work here. It's a challenge to catch an animal and get it adopted out. I believe we need to do more to get them adopted and save their lives."
Fox said the pet adoption center does euthanize animals if necessary, but employees do everything they can to save lives and find homes. Fox said the center has not put down a healthy, adoptable animal since it opened, which she said is quite an accomplishment.
That's where volunteers and foster parents are crucial, working with sick, scared and needy animals to get them healthy and socialized enough for adoption. Fox said the center took in 22 antisocial Chihuahuas from one home and placed them with foster parents, and all have been adopted.
The pet adoption center has about six active volunteers and 15 foster parents. Also, community service workers paying off Harker Heights Municipal Court fines sporadically come in to pull weeds, clean up animal waste or polish furniture. None are allowed to work with the animals, said Fox.
Killeen resident Nina Wilson has volunteered for four months, taking photographs twice a week and posting them to a Facebook page that highlights area animals available for adoption. Wilson said facebook.com/hands4paws now has about 800 fans, and has found homes for numerous Harker Heights animals.
"I feel that I can help these animals more doing this than by taking one home at a time as a foster parent," said Wilson. "It's great to hear the happy stories about animals that were adopted. Really, we're like a support group for people who adopt. We give them a pat on the back."
Fox said finding homes for more animals requires increased public outreach, from visiting schools to sponsoring shot clinics. The pet adoption center participated in the second annual Puppypalooza dog event that took place in September at Carl Levin Park.
"I'm happy about how it's going here at the center, but we can always do more," said Fox. "I think we've met our animal care and public information goals, but I want to see more involvement in community projects. We want to do more for the public, as well as get more people in here."
Those people include potential adopters Tony and Tatiana Putzeys, of Temple, who brought their 3-year-old son Abraham to the pet adoption center recently to check out the dogs and cats. Although the family didn't take home a pet during that visit, they promised to return soon.
"We're looking for a buddy for Abraham, something small he can cuddle with," said Tatiana. "We're still shopping around. We think it's beautiful here, and it smells so good. We're very comfortable getting an animal from here. We'll be coming back soon."