The deaths of five dogs from heatstroke in a segregation building at the McCracken County Animal Shelter underscore the need to move forward with a new, countywide shelter. The tragedy also emphasizes the need for experience in running shelters, something the county currently lacks.
Our impression is that the county shelter, which was established on a shoestring in 2011 after the county split with the McCracken County Humane Society shelter, has made some strides since receiving a damning review from a Humane Society of the United States inspection last November.
Among the criticisms in the inspector's report was sanitation, or more specifically sanitation methodology. That has been a point of emphasis under new shelter Director Ryan Brown and progress appears to have been made on that front.
However much of the criticism of the county facility in the Humane Society inspector's report had to do with the structures - including segregation and quarantine units - that were makeshift and not built to state standards. Some were (and still are) in violation of state laws and regulations.
And that appears to be a factor in the deaths of the five dogs at the shelter last week. The dogs were being housed in separate pens inside a prefabricated outbuilding. The building is used to segregate animals brought in by animal control for biting or aggression. The building included an air conditioner, three ventilating fans and a misting fan. Necropsies indicated the animals died from a combination of heat and humidity.
Dr. Loran Wagoner, who inspected the shelter June 12 on behalf of the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners, also pointed to the makeshift design of the county shelter when asked this week about the dog fatalities. "That always presents problems when you try to convert something that's not specifically made for a certain thing to something that's usable," he said.
The deaths caught shelter officials by surprise. But our view is that shelters with more experienced staff, both in terms of monitoring conditions and observing the animals, would have recognized the danger signs here.
And that brings us back to a point we've made in several previous editorials, which is that we think it behooves the county to enter into a cooperative arrangement with the city and the McCracken County Humane Society to build and operate a new, state-of-the-art shelter. In addition to funding - the Humane Society has an endowment and property worth well into seven figures - the Humane Society also has several generations of experience running a shelter.
The county split with the Humane Society in 2011 after a scandal over illegal euthanization practices that imperiled the Humane Society shelter's very existence for a time. But many changes have been made since then, including a new administrator and a new board, and it makes no financial sense for the two shelters to operate as they do, right down the road from one another.
A county task force has recommended reconciliation as part of an effort to jointly build and operate a shelter, and although support was not unanimous, it strikes us as the only sensible approach and the one that is in the best interests of homeless animals.
The county has learned the hard way that running a shelter is neither cheap nor something that can be done by amateurs. It continues to operate a shelter that violates state laws and regulations, and last week's fatalities should be a wakeup call.
We hope the ongoing talks about a joint venture between the county, Humane Society and city bear fruit soon.