Maricopa County Shelter Pet Overpopulation

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The Maricopa County Shelter is looking to get the word out that it has too many cats and dogs at the moment, and at the same time faces $2 million in debt. Al Aguiñaga , the Maricopa County Animal Care and Controls Service Agency enforcement division manager, will tell us about the problems being faced by the shelter.

TED SIMONS: Maricopa County Animal Care and Control is housing too many dogs and too many cats, this as the shelter faces millions of dollars in debt. Al Aguiñaga is Divisional Manager of Code Enforcement at Animal Care and Control. He joins us now.

Thank you so much for being here.

AL AGUIÑAGA: Thanks for having me.

TED: Overrun with dogs and cats right now. Is this a time-of-the-year thing? Is it something that's been increasing over time? What's going on out there?

AL: Traditionally this is a busy time of year for us--summer is always busy. We get a heavy influx of animals coming in. A lot of folks are traveling. Monsoon season really hits us hard--every time there's a storm our shelters fill up to capacity and we're struggling and scrambling to find homes.

TED: Are these most… how do these dogs usually arrive at the facilities?

AL: There's a mixed bag. We have our officers who hit the streets every day. They're called in by the general public to pick up and rescue the strays. A large majority is brought in over the counter, folks that are rescuing dogs themselves. They see a dog in traffic, they pull it in and they bring it to our facility. We oversee 9,000 square miles of this county, one of the largest in the country, and we service 22 cities and towns, and all of those animals that are lost.

TED: I'm going to guess here, having been to shelters in the past, we're looking at lots of Chihuahuas, lots of bull terriers, pit bulls. Is that pretty much the case?

AL: Pretty much the case. Before I left the shelter today I checked our west side facility, and we had 80 Chihuahuas, currently up for adoption, that have been with us for up to three months.

That's unusual for shelters to have animals that long in general, but to have 80 Chihuahuas ready to go, and we have a special section just to hold the little guys pulled out from the general population because they keep coming in. In some larger kennels we have up to five and six Chihuahuas per kennel waiting for a home.

TED: So those who are interested in adopting, how do they go through the process and how much money is required here?

AL: It's a simple process. Right now we're running a special, it's $20. It's a license recovery. They pay for a license; they get the dog, because we're trying to create space.

Now, part of our challenge is it costs money to get the dogs out of the system. They have to be spayed and neutered; they need vaccinations and daily care. And animals sitting there for three months, they take a lot of care to take care of them.

TED: And they are sitting there longer because euthanasia isn't the first option anymore?

AL: No, no. Years passed where that was our first option. We were "72 hours hold", and then we would have to make space for more. But the community demands for us to place animals up for adoption, to find their homes, and to hold them longer so that we give the owners an opportunity to claim them. So our length of stay is a lot longer than it has been in the past. Our euthanasia policy is that of, let's do all we can for this animal right here, right now so we can try to place it rather than euthanize it.

TED: I saw a preliminary report of something in the neighborhood of $2 million in debt for Animal Care and Control. Is that accurate?

AL: Last year, some early projections showed that we might be on track for that. We relooked at the budget and it was closer to a million. Then we did a little reorganization, restructuring, and its closer to half a million right now, which is… it's exciting that we've streamlined and looked at our processes and we're doing some things a lot differently.

We had to reorganize and some positions were let go. That's unfortunate, but it's all in the name of what can we do for the animals right now.

TED: And as far as what the public can do to help, why do you want this information out here? Why did you come on the show tonight?

AL: We don't want the animals to come in. One of the best ways to stop them from coming in is to license your pets. A license is a free ride home. If our officers pick it up, we can take it home at no penalty, no citations… we have accurate information, so keep your license up to date with current information.

If the general public finds it, they can call it in, they can get it to you, because we will give them the information to get in contact with the owner. If it comes to our facility, it allows us to work and get the animal back to its original home. That's the real thing.

And then the licensing revenue, that's what supports our facility. So revenue is down in addition to our costs, the cost of keeping animals. But licensing revenue is a little lower. It's about 11% lower than it has been in years past.

So with that comes the cost of taking care of the animals. So if we can get people to license their pets, it saves an animal in the shelter. If a dog doesn't have to come into the facility, then we can keep the animals longer and allowing us to place them.

TED: Right. Well, best of luck to you. Going to the shelters is always a bittersweet kind of thing if you're looking for a pet, because there's so many there and you want to take them all home. It's a very difficult situation, but it sounds like you're doing the best you can. And if anyone wants more information, where do they go?

AL: 602-506-Pets, or pets.maricopa.gov.

TED: Alright, sounds good. Thank you for joining us.

Al Aguiñaga : The Maricopa County Animal Care and Controls Service Agency Enforcement Division Manager

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