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Flood of animals swells shelter

Over-capacity at the 25-year-old Utah County animal shelter doesn't mean dogs and cats are double bunking.

It does mean that more animals die sooner.And the situation in Salt Lake County is very similar.

With 12 cities now contracting with Utah County for animal sheltering service, that's happening much more often - and too often for those charged with euthanizing the animals.

On weekdays, enough people visit the shelter, 2031 S. State Street in Provo, to keep the animals moving in and out at a fair pace. But on weekends the shelter closes and animals are still brought in, but none go out.

"The thing about the shelter is when we get more animals, it eliminates our option to keep them longer than the legally required three days," said Utah County Sheriff's Lt. Mike Morgan, director of the animal shelter. "We end up euthanizing a lot more of the ones we see as adoptables."

The limited kennel space, 50 kennel spaces for dogs and 30 for cats, has to be cleared for new arrivals - which means some animals that have been there for several days are euthanized. The animal-loving staff has to sort and choose which animals will die and those that get a few more days to be adopted.

"We're all pet lovers here. We all like animals. It's kind of hard on us to have to decide which ones live and which ones don't, but the staff kind of knows after years of experience which ones will be adopted. We'd like to keep them all, but last year alone we had 8,500 animals come through," Morgan said.

Younger animals tend to get a break. So do the healthier, stronger ones. Animals that appear to belong to an owner are given a few more days of shelter in hopes the owner comes in to get them.

The shelter's long-term solution is to educate the public to become more responsible pet owners.

"We get to clean up after a lot of irresponsible people," said deputy Tracey Jones, a staff member at the shelter, while rubbing down a neglected mare. "Sometimes it's really sad, but we try to stay positive."

Salt Lake's shelter is consistently running at capacity, according to Temma Martin, media and public relations specialist for the shelter. "We are almost always at capacity. Unfortunately, we have to euthanize almost daily," Martin said.

In 1997, the shelter took in 16,106 animals.

Davis County shelter director Deann Hess says they receive around 11,000 animals a year with an average census of 100 per day. For now, that's kind of comfortable, Hess said. "We're holding our own."

Shelter officials encourage the public to adopt animals rather than encourage more births. And no animal leaves the shelter without being spayed or neutered first, or without a rabies shot.

The Provo shelter charges between $50 and $70 for an animal adoption, depending on the animal's size. The fee mostly covers the expense of the shots and spaying or neutering.

A partial solution would be to build a new and larger central shelter that could house 300 animals or more. Morgan hopes to persuade the Utah County Council of Governments to explore that option. He hopes a city might consider stepping up and building a central shelter.

"It would be cheaper all around," he said.

Currently, the county charges cities an average of $4 a day impound fee and another fee for carcass disposal based on poundage. The rest of the shelter's budget comes from county funds - about $500,000 - and through private donations.

"We're probably subsidizing the cities, but what do you do?" Morgan asked.

Alpine, Highland, Lehi and Pleasant Grove contract with Orem. Santaquin and Genola have their own facilities, but "everything else is ours," Morgan said.

The shelter takes in all stray animals, which includes dogs, cats, horses, sheep, pigs, rabbits, llamas, emus and the occasional snake, bobcat or iguana.

"Whatever is out there ends up here," Morgan said.

The larger animals, like the underweight mare and filly found in an abandoned trailer in Lehi recently, get fattened up and stabilized before they're put up for auction.

Some of the drop-offs get permanently adopted by shelter staff. "Dragon" the iguana haunts the front lobby and is not for sale. Two smaller ones, in the back, are for sale.

Some, like the big snake found a couple of years ago, are given to a zoo or to the Monte L. Bean Museum at Brigham Young University.

But too many end up dead.

"We make them comfortable, offer what medical care we can within a reasonable cost and treat them well. There's not a lot more we can do," Morgan said. "We have to think of the cost to the taxpayer."

After the movie "101 Dalmatians" was released, the shelter saw a major increase in the Dalmatian dog population.

"They're cute when they're little, but they're a hard dog to take care of. I think people are surprised."

Cost of a new shelter has not been estimated, but Morgan said it doesn't need to be elaborate or expensive.

"We're talking cement and cinder block and good air circulation. We'd need an area for isolation and quarantine and a get-acquainted area for adoptions, plus an area to store food and medical supplies. It'd be a good idea to have an incinerator on site. That kills potential infections and is cost-effective," he said.

Morgan hopes a city within the county will step up to take charge of the proposed central shelter.