Staffing, money hinder Indianapolis animal shelter

Keywords Animal Welfare
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The largest animal shelter in Indiana is failing to meet the basic needs of thousands of animals in its care despite recommendations dating back more than a decade, a recent study has found.

A report commissioned this year by the Indianapolis Department of Public Safety has found that few changes have been made at the city's Animal Care and Control since a 2003 task force called for better medical care, increased staffing and clearer euthanasia procedures.

The report's authors say conditions are so dire that the shelter may be violating the city's own animal cruelty ordinances.

City officials told The Indianapolis Star that many of the problems at the shelter stem from revenue issues caused by property tax caps and the national recession. But animal welfare groups and even some City-County Council members question whether animal care is a priority.

"There have been various times where we've gotten a lot of publicity about the problems, and then there's a hurry-scurry by the administration to do something, and then it kind of dies down again," said Republican Councilwoman Christine Scales.

"In a sense, it's almost like the administration knows: They've heard it before, (animal welfare groups) get upset, they make their passionate pleas, and then they go away. They go back to working for the animals."

The concerns, however, persist.

Animal Care and Control serves 17,000 animals a year. It has gone through 10 directors in 12 years and just hired a new one. Its lone veterinarian position has been vacant since March. At any given time, the shelter's 12 animal care technicians tend to more than 500 animals.

Decisions to euthanize a wounded animal are routinely made without a basic medical workup.

The city doesn't budget for food for the animals. Instead, it relies on a hodgepodge of donations that veterinarians say is detrimental to the animals' well-being.

John Aleshire, CEO of the Humane Society of Indianapolis, noted that the city is supposed to investigate animal cruelty.

"How ironic it is that we would bring an animal back to a shelter that is not properly staffed, that does not have proper medical care and (where) the staff has to scrounge around for food?"

Valerie Washington, deputy director of the Department of Public Safety, which oversees Animal Care and Control, said money for the shelter isn't easy to find. The police and fire departments have numerous revenue streams. Animal Care and Control's money comes exclusively from the county's consolidated general fund, which last year was cut 5 percent.

She said she hopes to add at least three vet techs and hire a part-time veterinarian. She also wants to add $150,000 for food if additional funds come through.

Despite its challenges, the shelter has shown some improvements.

A decade ago, it killed more than half of its animals. Today, as many as 70 percent of the animals that enter the shelter leave alive, thanks to better coordination with private rescue groups.

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