By Tricia Stever Blattler, Executive Director of Tulare County Farm Bureau and volunteer with a local dog rescue and interacts with animal shelters all over the Central Valley.
I serve on the Tulare County Animal Services Advisory Committee, and we met in early August to hear updates about the work of the shelter, the statistics are staggering and could be the stats from any animal shelter here in the Central Valley. They are overwhelmed, under-staffed, and crippled by a gigantic increase in dumped animals. Strays are coming in at an alarming rate, and people who adopted pets during the pandemic are now unceremoniously dumping them.
During the County’s Fiscal Year 21/22 (July 1, 2021-June 30, 2022), the county shelter had 6,496 calls for animal control officers to respond that is up 1,300 calls from the previous year. Just in July they had 488 calls for animal control, spread with only three officers for all the unincorporated areas of Tulare County. Animal intakes for the year so far is at 5,036 animals (as of August 1) and that was up 1,400 intakes from prior year. Just in July the TCAS shelter took in 640 animals in June 577 and so far in August 250 in just the first 11 days. This is 150-180 more animals each month than this time last year.
Despite this, the County Animal Services Manager, Cassie Heffington has remained an amazing leader for her facility with a live release rate of 87%. Meaning less than 13% of all animals entering her shelter are being euthanized.
The new county spay/neuter clinic operation at TCAS has been open since October 1, 2021, and has sterilized 1,730 cats, 890 dogs, and 2 goats. The clinic has also given over 2,500 vaccinations to help reduce the incidence of parvo, distemper, and rabies. The clinic is blessed to have a motivated, caring veterinarian, Dr. Alexandra Myhal, who previously was a large animal vet who is doing an amazing job with the surgeries. Dr. Myhal has worked in food animal medicine, with dairies, and a mixed animal practice which brings together her talents well for a busy county shelter that deals with all types of animals. The vet will be on leave for a few months, so surgeries will be suspended.
TCAS currently has 15 staff members for all three Departments (Field Services, Clinic, and Shelter Operations) that run 7 days per week. There are over 110 dogs, 20 cats, and 3 roosters at the shelter with another 115 animals out in foster homes. TCAS has recently added a foster/adoption coordinator named Candace Harrington who is doing a very hard job, the thankless task of trying to find rescue, foster, and adoption for all these critters.
The county facility has 40 regular dog kennels, 10 quarantine kennels, 4 puppy kennels, and a few emergency kennels and pop-up crates in use. They have four banks of stainless-steel kennels for cats and a small cattery. When wildfires threaten homes and ranches, the TCAS also must be equipped to set up a mobile evacuation center and house livestock including horses, cattle, sheep, goats, llamas, alpacas, mini horses, donkeys, poultry and pet dogs and cats. Fire duty also takes critical resources away from other responsibilities and requires finding pens and a facility to use for holding them.
This is a mighty team that does a tremendous amount of work with very little credit, and they take hundreds of phone calls each month from the public dealing with animal neglect, cruelty, abandonment, and nuisance issues day in and day out. They do not get near the thanks they deserve.
Just recently, I also worked with them to help an older woman that had lost her well. She had horses to water, and no water for them or for her house. We worked together to setup water tanks and get them on to her property, and thanks to a kind dairy farmer, her tanks were filled up the same day with water for her horses and home. It is a temporary fix, but TCAS and United Way went above their normal call of duty to help this individual out, and I want to say thank to you them both and to the dairy producer who answered my call for help.
Tulare County Animal Services is one of the unsung heroes in our County Health and Human Services Agency. Everyone wants strays contained, and roadside deceased animals removed, and no one wants nuisance animals roaming loose, causing harm to their livestock or property. I just wanted to acknowledge the challenging work that is done by this small team that has over 4,800 square miles of County roads to cover when animals are in need.
Donations, foster homes, and volunteers are also needed. While TCAS does not have the staff to manage large scale adoption days, they are open to the public, and adoption appointments are welcome. Volunteers and dog walkers and foster homes are needed, always! If you want to learn more, contact the TCAS at 559-636-4050.