The Fort Wayne City Council last week approved a $4.3 million budget request from Animal Care & Control for the next fiscal year. It includes funding for five additional employees and architectural and engineering costs for an expansion to the Hillegas Road shelter.

A year ago, Animal Care & Control Director Amy-Jo Sites requested about $54,000 for the preliminary costs to enlarge the facility, but five of the nine council members voted against the expenditure. So beginning this year, Sites hosted council tours of the shelter.

“I explained to them why I needed the staff I needed, backed it up with our statistics as well as national standards, and showed them the space as to why we needed the actual expansion,” Sites told The Journal Gazette. “I think having the visual along with the numbers really helped them make a better-informed decision. I think they saw the validity of it all when they were here.”

Whether Allen County, New Haven and the other county municipalities that contract with the city for animal control decide to increase their funding remains to be seen.

Sites said the problems her department has experienced over the past two years are twofold.

“What we are seeing are the ramifications of individuals not getting their pets spayed or neutered, so we’re seeing unwanted litters or an excess of litters, if you will,” she said. “And then we’re also seeing pets surrendered to us for cost reasons. Either people are moving, they’re downsizing, they can’t afford (veterinary) care, etc.”

The consequence of the “COVID puppy” phenomenon has Animal Care & Control’s euthanasia rates creeping up after 2019 and 2020, she said.

Animal Care & Control is an open access shelter, unlike Humane Fort Wayne which can choose the number and kinds of animals it takes in. City ordinance and mutual agreements mandate Animal Care & Control must accept all unwanted pets and strays, as long as they come from Allen County.

According to shelter counts from 2021, Animal Care & Control accepted 3,445 dogs, 5,347 cats, 147 rabbits, 155 small mammals, 84 birds, 23 reptiles, seven farm animals and one horse. The facility reported 979 dogs, 1,215 cats, 57 rabbits, 30 small mammals, 35 birds and four reptiles died or were euthanized.

“The expectation of our shelter is it’s not OK for us to just bring (animals) in and, if we don’t have space, to euthanize them,” Sites said. “We are expected – and believe me, we’re rising to that occasion – to make sure that those adoptable and behaviorally sound animals are going out the door into their new homes.”

Animal Care & Control receives less than 4% of its current $3.6 million budget from the county. But more than 13% of the animals it takes in are from outside city limits, according to a report submitted to City Council members. City Council asked Sites to look into the county paying more for animal control services.

“I know that we’re looking to discuss different levels of funding since we do work with Allen County,” she told City Council last week. “With that being said, we’re hoping that if we can prove we have increased our overall revenue, then they’ll support the additional staff that we need to be fully functional.”

Emily Almodovar, an Allen County Commissioners spokeswoman, said the board has not been approached with a funding request. But the commissioners assume one is coming, she said, since Allen County has a financial stake in Animal Care & Control.

Eventual expansion of the Hillegas Road shelter will make way for a behavior room where dogs can interact so staff can assess them with adoption in mind, Sites told City Council last week. And the five additional employees will help toward the facility’s goal of releasing as many healthy animals as it can, reserving euthanasia for the most severe behavioral and medically needy cases.

As the county commissioners and board members of other Allen County municipalities build their budgets for 2023, they should reevaluate their contributions to Animal Care & Control. The shelter needs more space and staff to save the lives of more pets.

Editorials are the opinion of The Journal Gazette Editorial Board: President Julie Inskeep, publisher Sherry Skufca, editorial page editor Fredrick McKissack and editorial writer Jeff Kovaleski.