In spite of their best efforts, the Union County Animal Protection Society is having a very hard time keeping up with the stray animal population in the county, one of the nonprofit's board members told Justices of the Peace last month.
Kim Phillips appeared before the Quorum Court in November to present an annual report on UCAPS operations. She said the nonprofit's future could be in jeopardy without support from the community.
"We're struggling to manage the number of intakes that continue to escalate each year; despite all our efforts and the programs we have in place, the number of unwanted puppies and kittens continues to increase," Phillips told JPs. "With rising labor, vet and food costs, and without a spay and neuter ordinance and enforcement of that ordinance, UCAPS' sustained operations are at risk."
As of November 17, UCAPS had taken in 696 animals this year. In the same time period, only 171 animals had been adopted. There were 246 dogs and 107 cats in UCAPS' care the day the Quorum Court met.
"It seems like this number (of intakes) is increasing every year," Phillips said. "Our intakes every year are just increasing and we are constantly struggling and busting at the seams."
This year, UCAPS' budget was $373,000. Of that, $132,201 – approximately 35% -- went to payroll for the three full-time and two part-time workers who staff the UCAPS shelter, while $129,399 – about 34% -- went to veterinary bills.
"Our vet bill ... is usually $8,000 to $10,000 a month," Phillips said. "A lot of that vet expense is for our health certificates to transport our dogs and cats over the state line... They're required to pass certain tests – giardia tests, heartworm tests – and so that's why those certificates are kind of expensive... And a lot of our dogs that we take in have things wrong with them that we need to take them to the vet to get taken care of."
UCAPS' other main expense this year has been transports, Phillips said. UCAPS partners with several out-of-state animal shelters – including facilities in Illinois, Michigan, Connecticut, Minnesota and Pennsylvania – who take in some of the animals UCAPS cares for and try to adopt them out in their own communities.
By Nov. 17, UCAPS had transported 380 dogs and 106 cats – 486 animals altogether – out of state, and Phillips said the nonprofit was on track to move 600 animals out of Arkansas before the year ends.
"We leave on a Friday and come back on a Sunday. We drive for 17 hours – drive all night --, get there about noon and unload and then come back," Phillips said. "We don't get any money in return. We have to rent a van for that trip, we have to have gas for that trip – and we all know gas has went up – so, just know that it's one of our more expensive programs... Not to mention the health certificate to transport these animals is between $75 and $125 per animal."
The nonprofit has taken extensive efforts to stem the county's animal population's growth, but it's not enough, Phillips said.
Between UCAPS' trap-neuter-release (TNR) program, a monthly trip to Little Rock for low-cost spay/neuters for cats and low-cost spay/neuter vouchers distributed to pet owners in the community, the nonprofit had helped get more than 600 animals "fixed" by Nov. 17.
The TNR program, which was introduced in 2019, involves catching feral cats in the community, having them spayed or neutered and then releasing them back to the areas they were caught in. UCAPS volunteers typically hold monthly TNR events.
Phillips explained that UCAPS also takes about 30 cats to Little Rock to be spayed or neutered at Operation Save, a low cost spay/neuter clinic. Those trips cost about $2,000 each month, she said. Three hundred seventy-eight animals were spayed or neutered through the trips and TNR this year.
The nonprofit received funding from three different sources this year to help provide low cost spay/neuter vouchers to local pet owners: United Way, the Animal Adoption and Rescue Foundation and Union County taxpayers who elected to donate as a voluntary tax earlier this year.
An employee in the county tax collector's office said this year, $7,339.47 was raised from the tax, less than last year. The low-cost vouchers helped pay for 242 spay/neuter procedures this year.
"But we haven't seen any relief. We are still constantly taking in unwanted litters of puppies and kittens," Phillips said. "It's a struggle to keep up with the number of intakes that we're constantly getting every day. There's not a day that goes by that there's not somebody calling us about a stray."
On Thursday, UCAPS Board President Terra Walker said the nonprofit's situation hadn't improved in the two weeks since the Quorum Court met. Walker said a source who provided dog food for UCAPS animals for the last year and a half would no longer be able to do so, meaning a new bill for the nonprofit in the midst of record-high inflation.
"Before prices went up, (dog food) was $1,600 a month, so if we go back to purchasing it entirely, it's going to be at least $1,900 a month, and that's just dog food; that doesn't count cat food, litter and other supplies," she said.
Looking ahead to 2023, Walker said one of UCAPS' major focuses will be lobbying for local ordinances requiring pets be spayed or neutered.
"The elephant in the room is people taking accountability and spaying and neutering their pets. That's the only way we can slow this down," she said. "There's not a day that goes by that we don't have a conversation with people who say 'I just want my dog to have a litter of puppies' right after we get through explaining that there's 300 dogs here waiting for a home."
Neither Union County nor the City of El Dorado has an spay/neuter ordinance, Walker said, and the ever-growing animal population is unsustainable. She said UCAPS has already started having to utilize a waiting list for new intakes at its facilities.
"When we turn people away, what happens is more animals are dumped, there's more animals running around town and more animals are euthanized, because the dog pound – they can't keep them like we do, they're not a no-kill facility," Walker said. "When we're full, we say we need you to contact the Animal Control Officer, and that's kind of the end of the road."
Yesterday, UCAPS volunteers loaded up to head north to transport 25 dogs to two different shelters. The nonprofit's efforts to protect and care for stray animals in the community are extensive and seemingly never-ending, but without the community's support, they don't go far, Walker said.
"There's a disconnect in this community about what UCAPS can do, what UCAPS will do and what we're financially capable of doing. Each year we're seeking different ways to combat these issues," she said.