The Changing World of Animal Welfare

Andrew Rand, Peoria County Board

PCAPS is keeping pace with changes in the field… and in the community.

A unique, challenging and changing workplace—that’s the best way we can describe the environment in which animal control officers work. Many people in the animal welfare field are attracted to their chosen career because no two days are alike. And because their world is constantly changing, they are always finding new ways to be innovative and progressive.

Changes in the Field
Peoria County Animal Protection Services is no exception. On any given day, our officers and staff may take in anything from an alligator to cattle to a litter of puppies. For example, in one week, PCAPS took in a bearded dragon, several fish, two roosters, three hens and a pair of turtles, as well as a plethora of dogs, cats, rabbits and guinea pigs. It takes a dedicated and flexible person to work in an environment where we may have empty cages one minute, and be flooded with five dozen cats and dogs from a hoarding house the next.

Along with flexibility in daily routines, the changes that are taking place in the field on a larger scale require some adjustment from both management and staff. PCAPS has seen a 53% reduction in animal intake and a 64% decline in the number of animals euthanized since 2007. This means PCAPS has gone from full kennels and the need to euthanize for space to occasional days with no dogs available for adoption at all. It’s a great problem to have, and we’re seeing similar trends across the country. The push to have pets spayed and neutered and educate the public on humane care issues has clearly paid off.

That leaves leaders in the field to think differently about where we go from here. To be a true resource in our communities, we need to focus on quality of care for each animal we encounter—rather than herd management—and transition to a more proactive, community-oriented approach to animal welfare. Instead of reacting to one priority call after another, all over the county, animal control officers now have the ability to plan and execute proactive programs that meet the needs of smaller neighborhoods and individuals.

This shift in thinking has inspired a reevaluation of PCAPS’ programs and services. While PCAPS has always held a couple of foster licenses, we received a grant through ASPCA to begin an Adoption Ambassadors Program, which allows us to funnel the most at-risk animals into already certified foster homes—where they will have a better chance at survival, socialization and finding a forever home. The goal is for fosters to promote their animals and find them suitable families so they never have to come back to the shelter. Since beginning this program in 2016, 296 animals have found homes in this way. These are animals that would have been at risk of disease exposure or euthanasia in the past.

Changes in the Community
PCAPS also understands the needs of the community have changed drastically in the last decade. When aggressive packs of stray dogs were common, it was important to take a very reactive enforcement role. Today, however, our animal control officers rarely receive calls about dog fighting or packs of roaming dogs. While the number of calls for service has only dropped slightly, most of our calls now involve concerned citizens looking out for their animal neighbors; low-income residents who need resources for food or veterinary services to keep their pet in their home; injured wild animals; and rabies registration and compliance issues.

To expand upon our law enforcement role and be a well-rounded resource for all things animal in Peoria County, we are actively listening to our citizens—and working to meet them where they are. We partner with the Peoria Humane Society for humane education, medical assistance for sheltered and publicly owned animals, transfer programs for animals with behavioral or severe medical issues, adoption outreach events, a therapy dog program, and children’s camps and events. We recently began a partnership with the food pantry at Sophia’s Kitchen to provide pet food, treats and medical resources for low-income families. PCAPS now offers spay/neuter programs for cats and pit bulls, with Peoria County residents paying what they can afford for these services; in some cases, they may even be free. PCAPS also coordinates a low-cost, all-breed spay/neuter clinic.

A Shelter Makeover
Along with our added community support services, our shelter has recently gotten a facelift. In 2017, we removed the cages in our main cat adoption room, opening up the space for our feline friends to socialize and roam freely. We’ve seen a drastic reduction of stress and stress-related illness in our cats since we made this change, which follows national trends.

This year, it was time for the dog kennel to get an upgrade. We removed the old chain link from our dog adoption space and added colorful kennel doors that gave the runs more of a “room” feel for each animal waiting to find a family. We created pass-through gates for stray dogs waiting to be reclaimed so they could move freely between two kennels, reducing their stress and giving them more space. We remodeled what used to be our puppy adoption room to make it a versatile space that we could use to house small dogs, puppies or litters of kittens, depending on the time of year and our needs. We hoped to create more functional, warm areas to welcome our adopters and help them choose their new best friends.

Our end goal is to find the best outcome for every animal and citizen that we have an opportunity to meet. For some animals, that means adoption or transfer to another facility. For some people, it may be a bit of assistance to help them feed their pet until they find a new job and get back on their feet. We’re excited for what the future holds for PCAPS, and appreciate the support of the public along the way! iBi

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