Amid reforms at Odessa Animal Control and an oil bust, officials in charge of stray and unwanted animals touted a hard-won success by the beginning of 2017: The pound had not euthanized an animal fit for adoption for more than two years.
But that’s no longer the case, as OAC struggles to avoid crowding as the amount of dogs and cats it takes in rises — a problem that becomes worse during summer months, OAC Manager Maribel Vasquez said.
Overall, OAC reported euthanizing 4,003 animals in 2017, a more than 63 percent increase from the year prior.
That figure includes animals euthanized deemed too vicious or ill to put up for adoption, along with animals put down in the field because they are gravely injured.
The total animals euthanized last year was also fewer than half what it was in 2011, before a series of reforms that included improvements in the way animals are cared for. But the recent increase, dovetailing with another oil boom, troubles Vasquez.
“We try not to euthanize any animal that can be adoptable but right now we are getting so many animals in on a daily basis it’s just hard to keep up,” Vasquez said.
Now, dogs and cats surrendered by their owners face the threat of being put down on the same day to avoid overcrowding. The amount of adoptions does not relieve the daily intake, which can be about 30 dogs a day. On Monday, Vasquez said two dozen cats were brought to the pound at once, and 20 were euthanized.
She said some of the increase in euthanized animals can be explained by better screening practices that led to greater detection of animals brought in suffering from serious illnesses such as parvo.
But Vasquez attributed the spike in animals brought to OAC from the city limits and Ector County to several factors. Others include more people moving to the area because of the oil boom and a tightening housing market. She cited irresponsible pet ownership, including backyard breeding and poor decisions not to spay and neuter pets.
“It’s a community issue that we really need to start working on,” Vasquez said. “We need to change people’s mentality out here in Odessa that animals are not a source of income they are living beings.”
OAC also struggles with a staffing shortage, she said, that limited the amount of adoption events they could put on in the city.
Animal control once had such events about twice a month. Now they strive for once a month, she said, with an upcoming event at PetSmart on June 16.
Statistics kept by OAC also show fewer animals taken in by rescue groups — 744 animals in 2017, compared to more than 1,200 animals in each of the two years prior.
So far in 2018, OAC has euthanized 1,356 animals.
The city needs a new or expanded animal control facility, said Veterinarian Dr. Henry Lide, the vice chair of the city’s Animal Control Advisory Committee and a member for about five years. He also said city policies are needed to ensure more pets are spayed and neutered and greater accountability for neglect or abandonment.
“They just really don’t have enough room to handle the number of animals that are coming in on a daily basis and that’s not really going to change until you have spay and neuter laws or people wise up and say we don’t need to breed dogs,” Lide said.
Greater spaying and neutering, Vasquez said, “would save us a lot of heartache.”
In 2016, the Odessa City Council passed an animal control ordinance that created stiffer penalties for stray and neglected pets.
But the City Council nixed provisions for mandatory spaying and neutering, along with a requirement for Odessans to get their animals microchipped. A majority of city leaders described those provisions, which advocates said would reduce the stray population and create tools for greater enforcement, as overly burdensome.
More than a year later, OAC is regularly hitting its capacity for dogs of 150 established to prevent overcrowding. On Wednesday, there were 145 dogs at the facility.
“This year we are still telling people that if you owner surrender your animal, we are not guaranteeing that the animal will make it through the end of the day,” Vasquez said. “And people are still leaving them behind. It is very sad that these poor animals have to die because their owners didn’t care enough.”