Williamson County homeless pet population swells

No-kill WilCo shelter beyond capacity

Animal euthanization is historically low at the Williamson County Regional Animal Shelter despite record-high intake rates.

The shelter opened in 2007 to serve the cities of Cedar Park, Leander, Round Rock and Hutto as well as outlying areas of the county. WCRAS may soon need to expand or change its policies to keep pace with area growth, Director Cheryl Schneider said, or risk losing their no-kill status, which she describes as saving at least 90 percent of the animals that come through the facility.

This summer, Schneider is updating city councils and the Williamson County Commissioners Court on the shelter's status and anticipated future needs. Each entity pays a percentage of WCRAS' operating budget based on the number of animals it sent to the shelter the previous year. In 2012, WCRAS admitted 3,020 cats and 4,454 dogs.

"We've been here for six years, and despite more than a 30 percent increase in the shelter population, we still managed to save 90 percent or more of the animals that have come in for the last 2 1/2 years," she said. "We are nationally recognized as having a no-kill shelter in an open-admission environment, which is really difficult to do."

No-kill intentions

In 2007, approximately 60 percent of cats and 25 percent of dogs entering WCRAS were euthanized, Schneider said. However, since becoming director that year, Schneider said she has strived to implement a no-kill mission, although it is not required by any county or city policy.

"If we continue in the same space we have currently, we are eventually going to get to a point where we can't save them any longer, or we are going to have to start euthanizing for space issues, which currently we don't do," she said. "We only euthanize for behavior, aggression or medical reasons."

Support groups

Many area rescue groups with no-kill missions help bear the load of an expanding stray animal population. Approximately 15 percent of WCRAS' dogs and slightly more of its cats are rescued by nonprofit groups.

Private nonprofit rescue shelter Texas Humane Heroes, with a facility located in Leander, pulls at least 90 percent of its animals from various Central Texas municipal kill shelters, some with 50 percent to 90 percent euthanasia rates, Executive Director Ron Marullo said. The organization's high-volume adoption model aims to pull animals from kill shelters and place them in permanent homes as quickly as possible.

"What we tell our adopters is, when you adopt an animal, you're not just saving that life; you're saving the next life because you freed a kennel, and now we can go back to a kill shelter and get another animal," Marullo said.

Current and future growth

Education, adoptions and access to affordable services are the best ways to curtail the area's growing stray pet population, Schneider said. WCRAS, located in Georgetown, and numerous regional nonprofits offer low-cost spay and neuter, adoption, vaccination, trap-neuter-release and microchipping clinics designed to support responsible pet ownership. WCRAS' animal foster families, adoptions and volunteers are also vital to saving lives and alleviating overcrowding in the coming years as the shelter nears an expected 10,000 animal intake count in 2015, Schneider said.

The continued growth will likely lead to changes at the shelter, said Josh Selleck, WCRAS board president and Cedar Park assistant city manager. The organization's board of directors, which includes one representative from each entity it serves, is set to evaluate the area's future needs in the coming months.

"I think there are a lot of different possible outcomes in terms of what we will look at from the strategic planning standpoint. Expansion is one of them, but there may be other opportunities in terms of how we deal with pet population," Selleck said.

Cedar Park and Leander both require owners to register their pets with the city, which is a key way to keep claimed animals out of the shelter, he said.

"Some of the issues we've talked about are ways to reduce intake and specifically ways to increase registration of animals within their own community," he said. "When you go into a plan like this, your goal is to make sure you don't leave any stones unturned, so we will be taking input from different avenues."

By Emilie Lutostanski
Emilie reported on education, business, city and county news starting in 2009. After a stint as a radio reporter and writing for the Temple Daily Telegram, she joined Community Impact Newspaper as a reporter in 2011. In 2013 she was promoted to editor of the Cedar Park | Leander edition, covering transportation, development, city and education news. In February 2015 she advanced her passion for online media and was promoted to manage digital content, metrics analytics, and quality assurance as well as branding and social networks in various inaugural roles at the company, including community manager and digital managing editor. Most recently in 2017, Emilie expanded her responsibilities to include sales support as Community Impact's first digital product manager. She oversees digital product development, enhancement, and monetization strategies; online content innovation, processes and efficiencies; and company-wide training for Community Impact's digital offerings.


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