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County animal shelter gets low marks from activists

Michigan Pet Fund Alliance complains about Macomb’s high kill rate

An animal rights group labels the Macomb County Animal Shelter one of the worst facilities of its kind in Michigan, but county officials say Macomb is unfairly getting a “black eye” due to misleading statistics.

The Michigan Pet Fund Alliance denounced the Macomb facility because of a high “kill rate,” euthanizing nearly three of every four stray cats and dogs that it receives.

The Pet Fund Alliance compiled shelters’ save and kill rates statewide and found that just eight Michigan facilities, including the Macomb site, are responsible for more than half of all shelter animal deaths in the state.

The alliance, a nonprofit group, concluded that Macomb’s shelter has a kill rate of 73 percent, or 2,909 animal deaths in 2010.

County officials say the true number is even higher, but that’s because Macomb accepts all stray animals, including a large number of sick and injured dogs and cats. Those animals rarely attract a family interested in pet adoption and they frequently show no signs of a healthy recovery.

“They are ill or injured or feral or strays,” said Steve Gold, director of the Health and Community Services Department, which oversees the shelter. “Those shelters with a ‘limited admission’ policy can accept whichever animals they wish to accept.”

Gold said the true numbers for Macomb in 2010 were 4,695 animals euthanized, for a kill rate of 72 percent.

Large shelters typically have an open admissions policy, even when they are at capacity; small shelters, which typically serve more than one county, are often run by a nonprofit group focused on animals that are easily adoptable.

Sue Jeroue, director of the Macomb County Animal Shelter, said some “rescue leagues” are selective to the extent that they will accept kittens but not adult cats. At the Macomb facility, located in Clinton Township at the edge of the county’s Elizabeth Road complex, the struggling county economy has also affected services.

The shelter often can’t keep up with the number of families that abandon their pets at the facility because they can no longer afford to care for them. In most cases, those discarded animals are adults — sometimes several cats for one household — that are not popular with families seeking to adopt.

“It happens every day,” Jeroue said. “People are moving, they’ve lost jobs, they’re going out of state, or they’ve lost their home and they’re moving into an apartment.”

In 2008, local rescue leagues pressured the county to reduce their kill rate. Later, then-county commissioner Carey Torrice pushed for a “no-kill” policy at the shelter.

Officials concluded that eliminating euthanasia would require a substantial increase in staff and building space. In 2010, commissioners pushed for privatization of the shelter to save an estimated $500,000 a year, but those figures were later deemed unreliable and Gold said he has seen little evidence that nonprofit groups can run the shelter in a cheaper manner.
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