Animal shelter requests funds following overcrowding

Michael Hutchins
Herald Democrat
A cat sits in the Sherman Animal Shelter in 2019.

As overcrowding and overpopulation issues continue at the Sherman Animal Shelter, city leaders are considering options and strategies to balance operations and inflow. After nearly a 40-minute discussion on animal control Tuesday night, the Sherman City Council directed city staff to pursue additional staff and review service contracts for the shelter following concerns by police leadership.

The direction by council comes nearly one year after animal control was moved under the oversight of the Sherman Police Department, who spent the majority of last year looking for ways to streamline operations, including cutting the budget by nearly $150,000 for 2021-2022. Now that some of the issues have surface, officials are asking for the majority of those funds back.

"We feel like we really have a good grasp on it at this point," SPD Chief Zachary Flores said Tuesday. "We feel like we really do understand the issues that face the shelter and the fixes that were put in place along the way."

Flores spoke before the council Tuesday to give an update on the operations of the shelter. During his speech, Flores highlighted several potential solutions to the shelter's continued issues ranging from additional staff to moving away from the shelter's reputation as a no-kill shelter.

Flores estimated that there are about 200 animals currently in the Sherman Animal Control system. This includes animals that are in the shelter itself, which is beyond capacity, those living with foster families and those living at their forever homes who have not been formally adopted yet.

A dog awaits its forever home. The dog resided at the Sherman Animal Shelter in 2020.

In order for an animal to be legally adopted, they must be spayed or neutered, however the high demand at the shelter and limited resources have created a backlog of animals. Currently, the shelter takes in about 40 animals a week, but only adopts out 21 on average.

The shelter is served by a single vet who visits once a week to spay and neuter animals. On average, the shelter is able to provide surgeries to about 20 a week. Flores recommended that the city consider hiring a vet tech to help offset some of the duties, which would allow the vet to visit twice a week and double the number of surgeries.

Flores is also requesting a administrative assistant to help at the shelter. Many calls are currently routed through police dispatch, which puts further demand on communications resources. Flores' administrative assistant also spends about two days a week at the shelter providing administrative services.

Another concern that was raised by police staff relates to the agreements the shelter has to the agreements the shelter has to take in  animals from other entities. Flores said the majority of these agreements are essentially handshake agreements, but the city should formalize them and make them fair and equitable while also covering the demand they put on the shelter.

"We are the only shelter in the county. Denison takes their animals to a vet or to a rescue group," Flores said. "That rescue group, Denison Animal Welfare Group, help us out a ton and so we are very, very grateful to them."

While outside groups account for about 25 percent of intake, they make up only three percent of the revenue for the shelter, Flores said. The biggest outside user of the shelter is Grayson County, who pays the city $50 for each animal it takes in from the county. The contract also includes a clause for an additional $12 a day if an animal stays more than three days, however Flores said this has never been enforced.

The current contract with the county is up for renewal, but Flores included a 3 percent increase in costs and reduced the contract to one year in order to give the city time to determine a permanent solution. However, the city council voted later in the meeting to take no action on the  the contract renewal and directed staff to renegotiate with the county.

"I am not interested in signing another contract agreement with them for a loser for one or two years," City Council Member Josh Stevenson said.

"The one thing that I am sure of is that $50 a dog is a loser for us and I am not interested in it any more," he added.

The contract negotiations could also provide information on the demand for the shelter, which could then be used in determining any facility expansions that are needed,  Flores said.

If none of the other solutions are pursued or alleviate the issues at the shelter, Flores said staff could move away from the city's reputation as a no-kill shelter and euthanize animals that are unadoptable.

Flores estimated that the shelter has a 95 percent live release rate. By comparison, a rate of 90 percent is what is used to define a no-kill shelter.

Dogs fill cages at the Sherman Animal Shelter when the facility was at capacity in 2020.

Unlike an animal rescue group, the shelter is unable to be selective about the animals it takes in, which can include animals with aggression issues and those with serious illness. These animals are not adoptable and only serve as a drain no resources. 

"We recognized here, once we paid attention to the numbers, that it was telling a story," Flores said. "... There was a presumption that things were going well when they were just going and the presumption that it was a no-kill shelter.

"I can promise you that our staff was doing everything that they could because they were under the same presumption. Then, we continued to exacerbate the problem by spending more money on ill animals, bringing them back into the shelter and not getting them adopted."

In total, staff asked that $126,000 be added back to the budget to pay for the two new positions, which would bring the shelter back to the nine staff members it had prior to the transition to SPD management. However, the layout of these positions has changed.

The request for funds after announcing the budget cut drew some criticism from the council, who said it sent mixed messages. City Council Member Willie Steele added that he did not feel comfortable funding new facilities after a single discussion.

"We have a budget calendar that we follow and we have absolutely cut that money out. However, we had not fully figured out animal services. So now, it is no mystery to us. We know where we are out there. It took us time to get there."

Ultimately, the council recommended that staff pursue filling the two new positions.