By Alicia Lacy
Killeen Daily Herald
The Copperas Cove Animal Control handles stray, lost, wounded and dead animals within the city, in addition to the maintenance of the animal shelter, and boasts an above-average adoption rate.
Finding a good home
Ernie Lee, animal control supervisor, said last month the shelter had 144 cats and dogs impounded, which does not include animals that were surrendered or dropped off by residents. According to the 2008 Animal Control Annual Report, 2,305 dogs and cats were impounded, which includes strays, animals held for safekeeping, animal cruelty cases and animals that are euthanized on scene due to exigent circumstances.
The shelter has a maximum dog capacity of 48 kennels; however one is always left free and three are used for quarantine, and 12 cages for cats with two quarantine cages.
Lee said the influx of animals to the shelter does not balance out the number of animals that are adopted or returned to their owners. "The average adoption rate and return to owner rate in shelters nationwide is less than 20 percent," Lee said. "Our average is way about 45 percent and we had it as high as 60 percent."
"Our adoption rate is one of the highest in the state of Texas," he added.
Animal control officers Stephanie Powell and Jorge Oliveras said the best part of their jobs are when the animals are adopted to good homes.
Lee said the animal control officers go to great effort to find the home of any stray animal, through scanning for microchips, searching the animal for anything unique – from tattoos to numbers inside the animal's collar – and checking the area the animal was picked up to see if the animal belongs to anyone.
After those efforts are exhausted, the three-day wait period begins. "We do everything we can to keep from having to bring them in," Lee said. Owners are given up to three working days to claim their pet.
On the fourth day, the animal become property of the city and can be adopted out. Because the shelter cannot adopt out pitbulls, rottweilers or chows, Lee said they hold the dogs for the three-day waiting period, but if they are friendly, he holds the dogs for about a week to give the owner a chance to redeem them. Once the shelter reaches capacity, surrendered animals are no longer accepted, and the shelter, which does euthanize, puts down a few of the animals that have been there.
The worst part
All the staff at the facility said the euthanizations are the worst part of the job. Because of the overpopulation, staffers have to euthanize animals to make room. Powell said it is state law for anyone who adopts an animal to have it either spayed or neutered. Olivares said the facility euthanizes every week.
The three animal control officers and animal control supervisor employed at the animal shelter receive several calls every day from residents, with a majority of the calls concerning domestic animals at large, or stray dogs. Last year, the animal control facility received more than 3,000 calls for service to assist in the capture of an animal, rescue an animal, animal attacks or bites and all other calls.
"We get a lot of cat in the trap calls. A majority of calls are domestic pets at large," Lee said. "They get out under the fence, over the fence, through the fence…somebody opens the door and out they go."
With the large number of incoming calls each week, officers have to treat and assess each call on a case-by-case basis.
"Every call is different. Every call is handled different," Lee said. "You've got to be able to read the animal and know what to expect, know what they're going to do and know how to react and be prepared for it."
Handling rabid animals
With only two animals test positive for the rabies virus this year, Animal Control Officer Beau Brabbin said the facility receives a large number of calls regarding suspected rabid animals, but 98 percent of the time the claims are unfounded, or an animal is acting suspicious, but tests negative. Lee said a majority of the calls are for bats, but the main animals in the area that carry the virus are cows, foxes, skunks and raccoons. Last week the facility impounded two skunks, in separate residential areas, that tested positive for the rabies virus.
"For the nine years I've been here, these are the first two skunks," Lee said. In the event that an animal is suspected of carrying the virus, Lee advises everyone to stay away and call animal control. The virus can be transmitted through a bite or scratch. Once exposed to the virus, Lee said the wound must be washed immediately and the series of rabies shots must be administered. According to the World Health Organization Web site, Once the signs and symptoms of rabies start to appear, there is no treatment and the disease is almost always fatal.
All animal shelters and control facilities are run the same, but Lee said the care and dedication the staff has sets Copperas Cove apart from most shelters. Beverlee Nix of the Department of State Health Services Region 7, who manages and inspects shelters in a 30-county region, said like Copperas Cove, all the shelters in her region are ranked satisfactory, which is the highest rating possible.
Meet the City
During the city's Meet the City event Wednesday, the animal shelter will have a few adoptable dogs and cats available for attendees. Lee said the animals will act as attention grabbers to encourage attendees to visit the shelter. The Meet the City will begin at 2:30 p.m. at the Copperas Cove Civic Center.