Oakland CountyOctober 10, 2012
Group asks county board for help finding homes for shelter animals
By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer
OAKLAND COUNTY — On Oct. 18, the Oakland County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold its next meeting at the Courthouse Auditorium in Pontiac. Among those in attendance will likely be a group of nearly 20 animal advocates from around the county. It will be their sixth appearance before the commission.
The group has been attending the meetings since early September in an attempt to change what they say are poor policies being implemented at the Oakland Pet Adoption Center, associated with Oakland County Animal Control. Among the complaints from those in the group, who have been presenting their concerns during the public comment portion of the meetings, are that the shelter, in their opinion, isn’t working hard enough to reunite lost pets with their rightful owners, and has poor adoption rates, unfair policies regarding pit bill euthanasia and general rude service from shelter staff.
According to Wolverine Lake resident Carrie McGowan, a major problem at the shelter is the lack of an online presence that could put more animals into homes, as opposed to keeping them at the shelter. McGowan, who is a volunteer with Shelter to Home animal rescue in Wyandotte, said she recognizes that OPAC does post adoptable animals on networking websites such as PetFinder.com and Facebook, but insists that OPAC isn’t using the no-cost methods of finding homes for animals to their full potential.
“This is strange. They can do this there. They have all the resources — Adopt a Pet, PetFinder — and they’re all free,” said McGowan. “It’s taking up space, it’s taking up resources. It costs money to house a dog. I don’t understand why the people at the shelter have come to me and asked me to do what they can do on their own. I don’t get paid for it, they get paid for it.”
McGowan said that in the past, OPAC staffers have asked her to network animals online that have been at the shelter for an unusually long period of time, sometimes six months or longer. She said that in some cases she’s networked animals that have been there for months and found loving homes for them within two weeks once their photos and profiles were posted online.
While the shelter does post some animals, she said that not all available animals make it onto the websites and end up at the shelter longer than necessary — and in some cases, are euthanized.
But according to Larry Obrecht, manager of the Oakland County Animal Control Division who oversees the pet adoption center, that’s not the case. He said OPAC utilizes the Web to find homes for pets with great success and is continuing to improve its online presence. He said adoptable animals can be found on the shelter’s website, www.OakGov.com/PetAdoption, PetFinder.com and Facebook, with new animals added daily. He said the group is saying animals are not posted online quickly enough, but that there’s a reason for that.
“The law gives me four days to find out what’s going on, and I want at least that,” said Obrecht, explaining that when an animal comes into the shelter, the staff checks to see if the pet has rightful owners, whether those owners have any animal cruelty violations, and whether the animal is fit to be adopted into a new home barring aggression or illness.
He said that while the protesting group may say the shelter’s policies aren’t to their liking, the policies are working. In 2002, the shelter reported a save rate of 58 percent, while in 2012 the shelter reported a 71 percent save rate. In that same period, OPAC increased from doing two or three adoption events a year to seven to 10 events.
Because of the fact that the shelter is bound by law to oblige court orders to put animals down in some cases of biting or other violations, Obrecht said that if the shelter reaches a save rate of 75 percent, he would argue that OPAC should be called a no-kill facility.
“Our policy is we don’t adopt out animals that are sick or aggressive,” said Oakland County Department of Public Services Director Michael Zehnder. “What are we supposed to do? Adopt it out so it can be a problem for other families?”
Zehnder added that many of those complaining about the shelter’s save rate are comparing OPAC to smaller shelters like those in Branch and Lapeer counties and private rescues that don’t take in anywhere near as many animals as the Oakland County facility, and such comparisons aren’t reasonable, he said.
McGowan said she knows that not every animal can be saved. But she said that she knows there is more the shelter can do, and since she believes her group’s requests have been unheard, the group is now petitioning the county Board of Commissioners. On Oct. 3, Commissioner Jim Nash acknowledged the group and agreed that an investigation should take place to see if improvements can be made. He said later during an interview that he intends to speak with members of the Public Services Committee in the coming weeks to encourage them to make a resolution to look into the matter.
Until then, McGowan said, her group will continue to put on the pressure until they’re satisfied.
“I have a lot of respect for Larry. He’s done a lot of good things there and it’s a really good shelter. It just lacks in these areas.”
Check future issues of the paper for more stories about Oakland County Animal Control and the Oakland Pet Adoption Center.