As we enter the new year, we want to share some accomplishments at Orange County Animal Services during 2017. A number of notable innovations continued to buld on our successful effort over the last decade to reduce animal intakes and create a robust rehoming program for healthy and sound animals. But they all ultimately depend upon the strong support of county residents and their diverse communities.
Animal Services continues to seek to eliminate the need for euthanasia as a means of population control in Orange County. Increasingly, we have also concentrated our efforts on wellness, enrichment, and ensuring that cats as well as dogs have their varied needs meet during their shelter experience. Also, as a county agency with responsibilities in our municipalities and unincorporated areas, Animal Services seeks to be prepared for natural disasters as well as to provide more field and sheltering services.
Against this broader backdrop, we want to share the following highlights:
Growing spay and neuter: Thanks to a grant from the Margo T. Petrie Foundation, we have been able to make free spay and neuter services for cats and dogs available to more county residents than ever before. They are now available to residents with a household income of up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level as well as people on public assistance. In this way, we intend to continue to drive down the rate of pet reproduction, animal admissions, and the euthanasia of animals for whom there is no shelter space or homes.
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Redefining adoptable animals: Through our veterinary health care program, we have developed and strengthened initiatives to treat heartworm in dogs and ringworm in cats. We have also made changes in our management of kittens, which have helped to control the incidence and spread of upper respiratory infections within the feline shelter population. These and other health care changes, made possible by reduced shelter numbers resulting from spay and neuter efforts, have meant that many ill animals are now being treated and adopted rather than euthanized.
Generator Installation: Late in the year, a much awaited diesel-powered generator was installed as part of a broader process of capital improvement in county facilities. The size of the generator is sufficient to power the entire Animal Services Center. It operates with an automatic transfer switch and smart digital controls which enable it to be exercised weekly. In addition to enabling Animal Services to operate in all areas of service when there is a loss of electricity, the generator ensures that the shelter itself remains minimally comfortable during winter or summer months in the face of inclement weather, hurricanes, or other incidents requiring an emergency response.
Shelter cat enhancements: In 2017, we concluded our effort to see that our cat enclosures meet the latest housing recommendations formulated by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians. Specifically, we installed portals in stainless steel cat cages throughout our admission and holding areas to allow adjacent cages to be transformed into double compartments (in the same manner we had previously done in our adoptable cat room). These portals not only increase space, but they also benefit cats by allowing food, bedding, and litter to be kept separate. In this and other ways, they helped to reduce stress and improve the health of shelter cats.
Kitten fosters: Our veterinary health care staff created a foster program for kittens too young to be spayed or neutered and adopted upon their admission. More often than not this is the case during “kitten season,” the months from spring through early winter when there is an incessant influx of pregnant cats and kitten litters. Foster homes are an ideal setting for their socialization, and their home care has helped tremendously in stemming both the incidence and spread of upper respiratory infections among felines.
Public animal art: Along with the Animal Services Advisory Board, staff partnered with the Orange County Arts Commission to support “Calypso Cat,” a hand-made steel sculpture by artist Mark Elliott, which now greets visitors at the entrance to Animal Services. A figurative feline was favored because of our ongoing concern with more proactively and humanely managing cats in our county, as reflected in our five-year strategic plan for free roaming cats. At the same time, adding more public animal art – given the prior acquisition of Mike Roig’s “Sit” and “Stay” sculptures – was greeted as a tremendous opportunity to express the rich and varied bond between people and animals.
All of these accomplishments are made possible by truly outstanding community support. Without support from residents and elected officials, stakeholders and partners, and our remarkable volunteers, it is inconceivable that we could continue on this extraordinary path. Thankfully, we have every reason to believe that 2018 will be another year of innovation, growth, and service as we continue to strive to meet the needs of our residents and our animals in a proactive and progressive manner.
Robert A. Marotto is Orange County’s Animal Services director and currently chairs the N.C. Animal Federation.