LANCASTER — A new policy at Lancaster County Animal Control is keeping some animal rescue organizations from taking dogs and cats out of the facility, where most of them are euthanized.
Rescue groups must have Internal Revenue Service nonprofit status – 501(c)3 – to take animals from the shelter, said Director Joel Hinson.
Previously, Hinson has allowed rescue groups to take animals from the shelter without the nonprofit status. But recently, he said, it has been difficult to distinguish between legitimate nonprofit rescue groups and “people looking for a cheap animal to sell and make money off of.”
Some well-meaning rescuers weren’t caring for animals properly after taking them from the shelter, he said.
He said he hopes to weed those groups out with the more stringent requirements.
“When you apply for these credentials they have to have a mission statement. They’re saying they’re going to get them sterilized, get them their shots and get them to a good home,” Hinson said. “We think if you take your time to spend the money, and do the paperwork through a lawyer, to get your 501, they’ve taken the time and commitment to make this all happen.”
According to the Lancaster County Animal Control website, between 4,500 and 5,500 animals are surrendered by owners or picked up by officers each year. Eighty percent of dogs and 90 percent of cats die on their own or are euthanized.
Sarah Lewis of Halfway There Rescue is one of the rescuers affected. Lewis has been rescuing animals from Lancaster County for two years. She also rescues animals from Gaston, Mecklenburg, Union, York and Chester counties, she said.
Halfway There is registered as a nonprofit with the state but does not have the IRS nonprofit status.
She is in the process of preparing the paperwork, she said, but the high cost of the process – as much as $1,000 – has given her pause.
“I have a hard time spending that money when I know it can be used to save three lives,” Lewis said.
Bonnie Palella is a New York resident who works frequently with rescue groups in this area to remove dogs from shelters and transport them to New York, where she finds them permanent homes. She understands animal control’s concern about a few negligent rescuers but said the new policies are too stringent.
She said she would like to see animal control let responsible rescuers pull animals from the shelter, regardless of whether they have IRS nonprofit status.
“They should stop some people, but not all of us. They are trying, I guess, to protect themselves, but they’re hurting the animals in the long run,” she said.
Hinson said he doesn’t believe the new policies will cause a decrease in the number of dogs rescued.
“It shouldn’t. If people really care about the animals, the same people can still pull the animals as long as they are affiliated with a 501(c)3,” he said.
Photos not allowed
Animal control has also stopped letting rescue groups take photos of the animals in the shelter because, Hinson said, some groups would post the photos with inaccurate information about when the dog or cat would be euthanized. The photos would create uproar on Facebook and prompt dozens of calls to animal control begging them not to kill the dog or cat, Hinson said.
Now, animal control is taking photos and posting them on the website and Facebook page, where rescue groups are able to view and share them.
“It should be much simpler. Instead of them all coming and taking pictures, now they can go hit one button, ‘share,’” Hinson said.
On Thursday, Lewis was struggling to rescue a litter of puppies from animal control. She wasn’t allowed to pick them up herself because she doesn’t have IRS nonprofit status, even though she was rescuing animals regularly from the shelter just a few months ago. She had to work through a Charlotte-based rescue group in order to get back into the shelter to rescue the puppies.
Fears of sickness
Even after the puppies were rescued, Lewis still had to worry about parvovirus, a disease she said frequently affects dogs in shelters.
Puppies with parvovirus can be treated successfully, Lewis said, but it is expensive and, even with treatment, often fatal. She estimates she has spent $10,000 treating puppies from Lancaster County with parvovirus.
Hinson said that parvovirus and other diseases are common in shelters. The dog runs are treated daily, he said, as are the food and water dishes.
“Everything is disinfected, inside and outside,” Hinson said.
The biggest help preventing the spread of diseases, he added, would be a larger shelter that allowed officials to separate puppies from dogs and keep the animals away from people during the quarantine period.
Animal control has asked the county council for funds for expanding the shelter, with no success.