INDIANAPOLIS — It was a chilly fall day as animal control officer Becky Knowles headed out on the streets of Indianapolis.
“We are headed to an injured dog run,” Knowles said.
The run was just a drop in the bucket in the city’s backlog of more than 800 calls.
“We are very short staffed,” said Knowles.
When Knowles arrived at the call, she found a puppy hurt and bleeding. She took the puppy to the van, but what happened next was unexpected and hard to watch.
“Hang in there, hang in there,” Knowles said as the dog took her last breaths. “It’s OK, honey.” Officer Knowles did her best to comfort the dog in its final moments.
Officer Knowles took a few moments to compose herself, but she was clearly shaken up.
“I’m angry because this didn't have to happen this way,” said Knowles. "It's not fair. They didn't ask to be brought into this world. They didn't ask for you not to be responsible. Especially with all the resources out there and all the people willing to help you get these animals spayed and neutered."
Knowles drove the puppy back to the city shelter on South Harding Street. Call 6 Investigates was allowed behind the scenes where workers determined the dog was not microchipped and suffered from malnutrition and some kind of trauma.
Knowles said it’s the reality of the city’s animal overpopulation problem.
“It’s all the time, every day,” said Knowles.
DIFFICULT DECISIONS AT THE BACK DOOR
Just steps away from the puppy, a line formed at the back of the city shelter with people looking to surrender their dogs and cats.
Amy Jackson, a pregnant mother of four, arrived at the back door looking to hand over Zena, a dog she’s had for a month. Jackson told volunteers with Indy CARES, who sit at the back door of the shelter, that Zena had been snapping at her children.
Volunteers tried to help Jackson keep Zena at home.
“Spaying can actually calm her down a ton, if you’re at all interested,” a volunteer said. “We could set her up for a spay and we could pay for it.”
Jackson declined. "I can't do it. I have enough taking care of all the kids,” Jackson said. “She's barking and growling and the neighbors think she's going to attack so they keep calling animal control."
Call 6 Investigates headed inside to intake, where an Animal Care Services worker explained a harsh reality to Jackson.
"We are completely at capacity and we have only one or two open cages available,” the worker told Jackson. “So, if we see a dog with signs of aggression, we will euthanize it right away."
Jackson told the worker she would take Zena back if they decided to euthanize her, but still wanted to surrender her.
The kids and Jackson said goodbye to Zena. Zena disappeared behind the door on October 11, and became one of the 14,000 animals that will come into the shelter in 2018.
“It was a little difficult,” Jackson said. “We do care about her, we love her but we just can't take care of her. I knew they were busy, but I didn't know they were at that capacity."
Records show Zena is still at the shelter and is in need of a forever home.
RESOURCES RUN THIN
Currently, the city has 1,249 animals in their care including 639 with foster families and 610 at the shelter. Compare that to 2013, when just 774 animals were in IACS’ care including 220 fosters and 554 at the shelter.
IACS is using temporary cages in hallways.
“We are definitely doing everything in our power to avoid euthanasia, but we are not doing it irresponsibly,” IACS deputy director Katie Trennepohl said.
Call 6 Investigates did some checking and found Indianapolis Animal Care Services has not euthanized animals solely for space reasons since 2013. However, they have euthanized hundreds of potentially adoptable dogs, and a few cats, for behavioral reasons.
“Your animal might be adopted, but it’s going to hurt the chances of the next animal coming through the door,” Trennepohl said. “The number of animals we are able to save is directly proportional to the resources we have available. Our biggest resource is cage space.”
PUBLIC FOOTING THE BILL
You the taxpayer are footing the bill for the city’s animal overpopulation problem.
IACS has a $4.9 million budget, which comes out to $350 per animal that enters the shelter.
“That adds up quickly and affects the taxpayers,” Trennepohl said. “This is definitely a community problem whether you love animals or not.”
The Indianapolis City-County Council just approved a 12 percent increase in funding to IACS, according to Trennepohl.
“It’s going to go a long way in making things better for the staff and the animals here,” Trennepohl said. “Even if you take care of your animal, we’re still paying for those that aren’t.”
Indianapolis Animal Care Services is adding four animal control officer positions in 2019, which they hope will drastically improve the backlog of calls and reduce animal abuse and neglect.