Taxpayers are pushing for change after a Call 6 investigation that exposed thousands of unwanted cats and dogs loose in Indianapolis neighborhoods, putting residents' health and safety at risk.
According to records obtained by the Call 6 investigators, the city euthanized more than 8,877 animals last year, many of them perfectly healthy and adoptable, in part due to a lack of space and resources.
"The status quo needs to stop," said Kirsten VantWoud, former kennel manager for Indianapolis Animal Care and Control and current operations director for the Humane Society of Indianapolis. "Animal welfare in this city is not a priority."
Calls about animals are the No. 1 complaint received at the Mayor's Action Center, generating more than 18,000 calls a year, and 2,800 animal bites have been reported since 2008.
Yet Indianapolis Animal Care and Control's 2011 budget was $3.5 million, only 0.3 percent of the city's entire budget, Call 6 Investigator Kara Kenney
Animal advocates argue that the city's animal overpopulation problem is 100 percent preventable but that city leaders are not taking the action needed.
Animal control officers do crack down on pet owners for violating the leash law, writing more than 2,300 citations since January 2010, but some argue that the solution to the overpopulation problem is preventing animals from being born in the first place.
"I think it's a disaster right now," said Ellen Robinson, executive director of the FACE Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic, which spays and neuters 75 dogs and cats each day using mostly private donations and grants. "It's just tough because we don't see any support from the city."
FACE is located in the 46201 ZIP code, which covers Indianapolis' east side, one of the worst areas for strays.
"We're trying to target populations that are the greatest risk," Robinson said.
The Call 6 investigators crunched the numbers and found that more than half of the animals coming into the city shelter typically arrive from just five of the city's 37 ZIP codes -- 46201, 46203, 46221, 46222 and 46241.
Robinson said the city needs to devote more resources toward education and spay/neuter services, especially in those ZIP codes.
"It would ultimately save money in the long run because we wouldn't just waste money on killing and destroying animals every year," Robinson said.
The Indy Pit Crew also works to promote spay/neuter awareness, but focuses on what RTV6 found to be the most popular and euthanized animal in Indianapolis -- the pit bull.
"The city could do something more to encourage responsible pet ownership and encourage a more humane community so people are more apt to get their animals spayed and neutered and think twice about breeding," said Indy Pit Crew board member Cynthia Pearman.
Animal Care and Control Administrator Teri Kendrick told the Call 6 investigators that the agency has zero money in the budget for educating the public about spay/neuter services, and that only about 1 percent of the agency's budget, or $45,000, goes to spay/neuter surgeries, a point she's made in public meetings.
"Most of the animals that come in here are not spayed or neutered," Kendrick said at a Sept. 8 Animal Care and Control advisory committee meeting. "The only other option if we don't have the money is to just euthanize, because that doesn't cost as much money, but that's obviously not the choice anyone wants to make."
The shelter has little money in the budget for food, and relies almost entirely on food donations.
Faced with an overwhelmed shelter and budget constraints, Kendrick and the advisory committee have proposed charging out-of-county residents a fee to drop off an animal, which would generate revenue and reduce the number of animals coming in the door.
Others suggest charging an animal license fee on a sliding scale, lower for spayed and neutered animals and higher for intact animals.
"It's been very successful in a number of jurisdictions," VantWoud said.
The Call 6 investigators sat down with Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who said the city has always dealt with an animal overpopulation problem.
"You do what you can with the resources you've been given," Ballard said. "This is every city in the nation."
But the Call 6 investigators found that other cities have made great strides in curbing their animal problems, including Austin, Texas, which now considers itself a "no kill" city.
Kansas City, Mo., drastically reduced the number of animals coming into its shelter while boosting the number of adoptions by privatizing its shelter from March 2009 to April 2011, boosting staffing levels and aggressively promoting spay/neuter awareness.
"We're open to almost anything, but with everything Teri (Kendrick) is doing over there, I think the numbers are moving in the right direction," Ballard said.
The city euthanized 10,817 animals in 2008, compared to 8,877 in 2010.
Animal advocates told the Call 6 investigators that the decrease has more to do with efforts of the city's many nonprofits than the work of city leaders.
"There's always a balancing act. You spend the dollars where you think they have the most impact," Ballard said.
Animal advocate groups such as the Indianapolis Animal Welfare Alliance aren't giving up and said they hope to work with the city on opening another spay/neuter clinic.
But without a drastic change in funding, policy and strategy, thousands of animals will likely die in the next year.
"I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Robinson said. "We can get to zero, but we need all hands on deck."
Indianapolis Animal Welfare Alliance
FACE Low Cost Spay/Neuter Clinic
Spay-Neuter Services Of Indiana
2009 Animal Welfare Report
2008 Indianapolis Animal Care and Control Statistics
2009 Indianapolis Animal Care and Control Statistics
2010 Indianapolis Animal Care and Control Statistics
2011 Indianapolis Animal Care and Control Statistics
Marion County Health Department Info On Animal Bites
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