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NOT CHEAP Costs call for cooperation on animal shelter solution

We hope that in the discussion of what to do about a new county animal shelter the McCracken Fiscal Court does not allow the emotional issue of euthanasia to drag it and county taxpayers into a financial disaster.

This week the fiscal court heard a report from Tim Davis, chairman of a task force appointed by the county to recommend a countywide solution from animal control and shelter needs.

Presently two shelters operate in the county. The privately funded McCracken County Humane Society has been in existence for generations, and was the sole facility in the county until a scandal several years ago over illegal euthanization practices. The administration of that shelter, which operates with property and an endowment worth more than $1 million, has been significantly reshaped since the scandal. Changes include a new executive director and several new members of the organization's board.

The second shelter is one that was established by the county ad hoc in the wake of the scandal. It was created with county money, but also relied a great deal in its early days on volunteer help and contributed equipment. The new county shelter, which is billed as "low-kill", is bursting at the seams. At last report it housed more than 100 animals in largely makeshift facilities that do not meet state standards related to sanitation, quarantine, heating and cooling and other requirements. It is to put it bluntly operating illegally.

The shelter task force after reviewing an array of options recommended that the city, county and McCracken County Humane Society work out an agreement to build a new, large-scale shelter modeled after one currently operating in Lexington. That shelter is described as a hybrid, having a low-kill program for animals brought in by patrons but a more traditional euthanasia policy for strays and problem animals brought in by animal control.

The question now arising is whether it is realistically possible financially for the county to operate a true low-kill shelter. Certainly, the county's current experiment in that realm is not going well.

The task force vote to seek partnership with the McCracken County Humane Society was not unanimous and opponents were present at this week's fiscal court meeting. Diana Cruikshank, a member of the task force who voted against allying with the humane society, was critical of the Lexington shelter. She said that when euthanasia of animals brought in by animal control is factored in, that shelter can hardly be described as "low-kill." She said that of the 10,000 animals that come through the shelter each year only 6,000 are reclaimed or otherwise placed. That prompted Judge-Executive Van Newberry to say that a 40 percent euthanasia rate is "certainly not something we would want."

We don't think it is what anyone would want but the reality is there is a financial limit to what a government-owned shelter can reasonably support and unfortunately, there is no limit to the number of stray or abandoned animals that will find their way to a new McCracken County shelter. The county saw the population of its current shelter surpass 100 animals in just a couple of years. How long to get to 500, or 1,000 using current practices?

The county budgeted $400,000 for the shelter and animal control for the coming fiscal year. That's no small sum, especially when compared with years when the county contracted with the humane society for shelter services.

We continue to believe that the only financially responsible choice for the fiscal court is to pool resources with the city and the humane society to build a first-class shelter with first-class animal placement programs. The problem of stray and abandoned animals is not the sort of problem that has a solution. It's the sort for which people just have to do the best they can. We think pooling all of the local resources is the most effective way to save the maximum number of homeless animals.

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