After receiving a proposal from the business contracted for the county's stray animal holding facility, Hill County commissioners made a change to their contract that could spell good news for the county's stray dogs.
Stray dogs picked up in the county by Hill County sheriff's deputies are held for a mandatory four-day period. During this time effort is made to find the owner and anyone missing a dog can call the county to see if the dog is being held.
Any dogs not claimed by owners by the end of their hold period are considered abandoned and relinquished to the county, said commission chairman Mike Wendland. Traditionally, he added, this meant the dogs were euthanized and the remains disposed of, unless people wanted to adopt them.
Beginning March 1, the amended stray hold contract allows the county to spend up to $100 per dog to be paid toward shots and spaying as well as neutering, if needed, to make adoption a more affordable option for people looking for a new pet, said Wendland.
The $100 is less than the cost of euthanizing and disposal, he said.
"Neuter and spaying that, of course, that has a price," Wendland said, but so does euthanizing and disposing of a dog, which is contracted to be done by the stray hold facility, Bear Paw Veterinary Service.
"The contract said how much it would be to euthanize dogs, so we agreed that if they find a home for a dog, we will give them - we don't give them the full value of the contract (to euthanize) - but we do give them a portion of it," he said.
The idea for the contract change came from Lisa O'Leary, a veterinarian at Bear Paw.
After Bear Paw took over the contract for Hill County's stray hold, the staff found they had a hard time with the idea of euthanizing healthy animals, said O'Leary.
"None of us wants to see these animals put down, we just don't, because for one thing it's not their fault that they're running around," she said.
Of the approximately 40 dogs they got in last year, O'Leary said, about 50 percent were claimed by their owners, who were looking for their dog or were found through the efforts of the sheriff's deputies and veterinary staff. Bear Paw worked to find homes for the other dogs, but "we don't really want to become an adoption facility, either. We don't really have the personnel for that."
Several of the relinquished strays were passed along to RezQ Dogs, a nonprofit, no-kill shelter co-founded by Anita and Jim Wilke and based outside of Dodson, said O'Leary.
"Anita was taking a fair number of the dogs for us off our hands, so they weren't having to be euthanized, or we were adopting them out," said O'Leary, "and there were a fair number of those that were unaltered animals and that expense was falling to whoever adopted them, or RezQ. So my thought process was that the monies were allotted to put the dogs down and do body care, and since that money was not having to be spent, I just put it forth to the commissioners that we could put that money toward the animals being altered and adopted out."
The solution would help save the dogs' lives, but also work to eliminate the possibility of them creating more puppies that might not be wanted or passed on to responsible homes, she added.
"The big thing was the second part (to put a portion of the money toward spaying and neutering)," she said, "because that would make them more adoptable, too, if they were an altered animal, and not to be sending out something that was not neutered or spayed and therefore potentially creating more problems."
By law, private and nonprofit shelters can only adopt out spayed or neutered animals, so that expense falls to the shelters when they take in unaltered animals.
O'Leary said that the new deal in the contract applies to anybody who wants to adopt a dog, or to any area no-kill shelters who have room to take in the dogs. They have gone to RezQ Dogs simply because Bear Paw has a long-standing relationship with the shelter.
"We're thrilled that Bear Paw Vet and the county commissioners made this kind of exceptional agreement to save the lives of these dogs so they don't have to be euthanized," said Anita Wilke. "I hope RezQ Dogs can help in some way, that we can work to help save more of these dogs."
"We all hate to see animals put down, especially if there's somebody out there that can give them a good home," Wendland said, but the commissioners didn't want to be entering into a contract with a shelter, so the new agreement keeps them working solely with Bear Paw Vet, while saving the county money.
"I very much appreciate that the county commissioners are willing to help find homes for these animals instead of just euthanizing them, which would definitely be an easier way to go about things for them," said O'Leary.
• Any dog, or cat, owners who think their animal may have been picked up as a county stray can contact the Hill County Sheriff's Office at 265-2512.
• Anyone who would like to get on a waiting list to be notified if and when relinquished stray dogs come available for adoption, can contact Bear Paw Veterinary Service at 265-8901.