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June 2012
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RIGHT PATH Shelter committee did well to recommend partnership

We commend members of McCracken County's animal shelter task force for their recommendation Wednesday to pursue construction of a new shelter in partnership with the McCracken County Humane Society.

The vote was not unanimous, and public sentiment is not either, because of the difficult and emotional issue of euthanization. That is understandable. But in the end we think the task force's vote speaks to the proposition that idealism must at times be tempered by reality.

A majority on the panel voted for a proposal to build and operate - in partnership with the privately funded McCracken County Humane Society - a shelter modeled after one in Lexington. That shelter operates as a hybrid, with a low-kill philosophy for pets put up for adoption but a more traditional euthanasia policy for nuisance animals brought in by animal control operations.

The panel also recommended establishment of a second, privately supported and operated shelter, which we assume would be of the no kill variety. That presumably smaller operation would serve to complement the larger facility.

From a financial perspective, we believe this is the most rational course.

The 12-member task force was appointed to recommend a resolution to the crisis that has emerged from the county's decision to part ways with the Humane Society after a scandal three years ago and open its own shelter. That low-kill shelter has quickly grown beyond the county's ability to manage, administratively or financially.

The county shelter currently houses more than 100 animals in largely makeshift facilities that shelter officials themselves admit don't meet legal sanitation and care standards. We think the county's experience reflects the reality that low-kill shelters are a limited resource for which there is near-infinite demand. The handful of low/no-kill shelters in our region are constantly at capacity and frequently struggle to raise sufficient money to cover needs. Add to that the fact that some counties in the Purchase have no shelters at all, and one can see how a publicly funded low-kill shelter in McCracken County could quickly be overwhelmed. That in fact is what has happened.

As we have noted in the past, the McCracken County Humane Society has an endowment which, including property, approaches $2 million. It also has decades of experience operating a shelter. The scandal of several years ago produced significant change, including retirement of the executive director and appointment of seven new board members. It only makes sense to leverage the experience and private wealth of the Humane Society with public money from the city and county to produce the best possible, economically supportable shelter solution.

And we don't think the community should stop there. A smaller, privately funded no-kill shelter would be welcome and probably would enjoy good support. So might private programs to trap and spay or neuter feral cats before re-releasing them.

Everyone who cares about animals dislikes the idea of euthanasia as part of animal control, but with public animal control facilities it is unavoidable. There simply is a limit to what the public can and will pay to support a shelter.

So the more realistic goal is to develop a strategy or strategies to minimize the necessity of euthanasia, and that is the path the community's animal lovers should pursue.

The task force recommendation still must be acted on and approved by the fiscal court, and that may take some backbone. But we think the committee majority has done good work and produced the best recommendation that can realistically be implemented to remedy the mess that now exists.

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