Opinion

Change shelter rules

The York County Animal Shelter shouldn't be expected to offer the same services as a high-tech animal hospital. Nonetheless, it should adopt procedures that help ensure that injured or sick animals get decent, humane care as soon as possible.

A recent incident in which a picture of an injured dog was posted on the county's Web site enraged animal lovers. Pictures of animals brought to the shelter routinely are posted on the site so that owners can identify them, but in this case, the dog, a Pekingese, had a bloody gash down its side.

Posting the gory picture of the injured dog was a mistake, county officials said. And the dog received good care when it arrived at the shelter.

It was stitched up as soon as it arrived and then was taken to a veterinarian for further care before returning to the shelter. Unfortunately, the dog suffers from a serious case of heart worms, a condition that is both difficult and expensive to treat, and sometimes fatal.

But the picture of the bloody Pekingese fired up animal lovers who saw it and motivated them to lobby the county again to change its rules. Much the same thing happened in December after a dog that had been hit by a car and severely injured was brought to the shelter. That dog suffered from hypothermia, had road burns, a punctured tongue and perhaps a broken pelvis.

Members of Yorkie Haven Rescue in Charlotte, an animal rescue group, had offered to take responsibility for the dog, saying it could survive with more intensive veterinary care. But the county requires unidentified animals to stay at the shelter for five days before they are eligible for adoption.

After officials refused to bend the rules, the dog died.

That may have been the result anyway. And the five-day rule is designed to ensure that owners have a chance to retrieve their pets before they are adopted by someone else.

But shelter officials' adherence to the rules struck us as inflexible at the time. Common sense should have trumped the rules so that rescuers could have given the dog better medical care.

One problem is that the shelter has only a part-time veterinarian who works 20 to 24 hours a week. County officials are thinking about adding a full-time vet to the budget, which we think is a good idea.

Animal rescue groups and activists have criticized the county for failing to install equipment such as X-ray machines and blood analyzers. The county, we think, should consult local veterinarians to determine what equipment is needed to provide basic emergency care for injured animals. Again, though, the shelter should not strive to be a fully equipped animal hospital.

If animal rescue groups are willing to take custody of injured animals the county is not capable of caring for, that exception should be written into the rules. If the proper records are kept, owners can trace the whereabouts of their pets later.

The shelter provides a much needed service, handling hundreds of animals a year, including many that are abandoned and unwanted. Employees do their best to find decent homes for as many animals as possible and to provide medical care where necessary. Those officials should be given the flexibility to do what is best for animals under their care.

On a final note, we should remind people that fewer injured animals would be in this predicament if owners properly restrained their pets and if more pets were spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted offspring.

IN SUMMARY

County officials can tweak procedures at the animal shelter to ensure adequate medical care.

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