Fights are relatively common inside the overcrowded kennels at the Pima Animal Care Center. Dogs growl, gnash their teeth and bits of flesh are torn as they fight in cramped quarters for limited resources.
Outside the cages, a new fight has erupted over the exact same issues, but with humans fighting with each other.
A group of volunteers — the backbone of the organization — is questioning the decisions made by the small paid staff responsible for animal care throughout the approximately 9,200-square-mile Pima County.
Questions rage over the protocols for when to prescribe drugs to sick dogs, the reasons why some healthy dogs are put on veterinarian holds and who is responsible for the decision to euthanize adoptable dogs.
At the center of the controversy is the director of the shelter, Kim Janes.
The number of animals dying inside the shelter has been decreasing over the last few years.
Two years ago, the live release rate was 55 percent. Last year, the number ticked up to 64 percent. Since July, the start of the county’s fiscal year, it’s 73 percent.
Janes said there is more room for improvement. This isn’t just on blind optimism, he said, noting the Pima County Board of Supervisors is backing some major changes inside the 40-year-old facility.
An injection of revenue — about $400,000 — will allow Janes to hire six additional staffers, build an outdoor tent city to house animals in individual kennels and launch a program to treat more sick animals at an off-site location.
The tent area is expected to go up this week, and a job fair to hire additional staffers and fill several open positions, including a staff vet, will be held later this week.
Janes said the veterinarian position has been hard to fill, and he said he believes most would prefer to work in a private clinic setting.
However, PACC recently contracted with an outside veterinary clinic that will soon treat and house some sick animals rather than put them in cramped kennels in what is known as the sick ward.
That’s a vast improvement, Janes said, to the current practice of solely treating dogs with kennel cough in small cages. Necessity often required two dogs to be put in the same cage, he said.
A few years ago, PACC would put down dogs for the mere sign they had kennel cough.
Resources, he said, are to blame.
For example, the cost to treat one 40-pound dog with tick fever for one day is $152.
“That is just for the medicine,” Janes explained.
The county has contracted with a vet to treat the dogs in off-site kennels, but will need grants or private donations to keep the program going in the long run, as the new program is not part of the center’s $5.9 million budget.
Volunteers also are asking for changes in terms of euthanasia, but Janes has a process that allows input from various staff members on each decision.
He said each decision is painful, but the shelter simply isn’t at a point where it has the room or the resources to house every animal coming through its doors.
At some point, Janes worries the county could be labeled a hoarder, given how many animals are currently inside the walls of PACC.
“We are on the edge of become hoarders,” he said.
The county may not live up to some recommended standards in terms of sheltering animals, but it is a better alternative to the only other option, he said.
“It is an alternative we are willing to accept as an alternative to euthanasia,” he said. “Our efforts need to be on getting them out of here faster, reducing the number coming in and expanding our efforts when they are in here.”
Janes said that while a new, modern, multimillion-dollar facility is on the county’s wish list, more community buy-in is the only solution to help save dogs and cats under his care.
He said the county needs more volunteers to help inside the shelter and more foster families willing to temporarily take animals. Donations also would help fund cash-strapped programs, including the one to treat more sick animals.
Jack Neuman, PACC Advisory Board chairman and a volunteer at the shelter, said the county has begun the groundwork for substantial changes at the shelter.
A retiree with a background in government service, Neuman said he sees the county reacting quickly to concerns brought forward by volunteers.
One change Neuman to which is looking forward is a new commitment related to dogs being put on vet holds, which can lead to a seemingly healthy dog being unavailable for adoption for prolonged periods.
The policy change will allow volunteers, for the first time, to know why the dog is being held and for how long, Neuman said.
But many volunteers remain unhappy with the policies and pace of changes, and some plan a candlelight vigil this week for the animals put down. It will at 5 p.m. Thursday at the shelter, 4000 N. Silverbell Road.