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Sarah Garrecht Gassen: Changes for the better are being made at Pima Animal Care Center

2014-05-22T00:00:00Z 2014-06-05T18:24:09Z Sarah Garrecht Gassen: Changes for the better are being made at Pima Animal Care CenterSarah Garrecht Gassen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

One small, cramped, beige concrete block room at the Pima Animal Care Center is where, if all goes well, the journey from goodbye to hello begins for thousands of unwanted, lost, neglected or abused animals.

This is where, after waiting outside under a makeshift shade and on a couple of old chairs, people bring in a stray, or a box of kittens found in a trash can, or a dog that chews on shoes or doesn’t fit into a planned move. PACC took in 24,000 animals last year and the year-to-date adoption rate is about 75 percent.

The words painted in colorful fancy curlicue letters on the wall — empathy, love, compassion, smile — don’t fit with the physical surroundings. But they fit the spirit.

The Pima Animal Care Center lives in what was built to be the county animal control, an unwanted pet’s last stop before being dispatched to dog or cat heaven to make room in the kennel for the next unloved and unfortunate soul. It was the county pound.

PACC has changed, and it continues to evolve. PACC’s adoption rate has increased steadily over the past several years. The average stay is two weeks.

PACC has a big goal for the summer: to adopt out 5,000 animals between June 1 and Aug. 31. The motivation is the ASPCA Rachael Ray $100K Challenge — money that is desperately needed.

They’re also asking voters for bonds in the November election. There’s ample need.

A new full-time staff vet cares for animals that need it, and 75 percent of animals are on treatment. Every animal is vaccinated for kennel cough, a change from when even the briefest symptom was a death sentence.

One goal is to spay or neuter every animal before it’s adopted, because removing inconveniences to adoption — having to bring the pet back for the surgery — means more animals find homes.

The veterinarian performs surgery on tables that double as desks in a room that’s about the size of large walk-in closet. Like every place at PACC, it’s crammed with supplies, blankets, whatever won’t fit in the limited cabinet space.

PACC has started a help program to connect people with breed-specific and other local rescue groups so the dog or cat stays out of PACC altogether. Another goal is to help folks fix the problem that’s prompting them to give up their pet — fix the broken fence so the dog stops digging out, instead of giving up on the dog.

Almost 800 volunteers help keep the animals exercised and socialized and do whatever else needs doing.

Every dog kennel has a bed in it and a blanket. Cat cages have a toy and a blanket. The accommodations are sparse — concrete floors or metal kennels — and most don’t have any access to the outside.

So these touches make a big difference in the animal’s stress level — and a more calm animal is more likely to make a good impression, and more likely to be adopted.

PACC exists mostly because humans have failed — neglected to spay and neuter a pet, acquired a dog they couldn’t keep, just didn’t bother to do what’s right. There are exceptions, of course — the family that loses its home and can’t keep the dog, an owner who goes into a nursing home and can’t keep the cat — but they’re the exception.

The place is loud and, yeah, in one sense it is depressing. Looking into all those searching eyes that are asking, “Could you be my new person?” and not loading everyone into the Nissan was hard. (I went equipped to take home a guinea pig or rat, but there wasn’t one.)

But it’s also a hopeful place. Each animal is given individual attention. Each is cared for and looked after. Each is given the best chance possible of finding a good home.

The rest is up to us.

Sarah Garrecht Gassen writes opinion for the Arizona Daily Star. Her column appears Thursdays. Email her at sgassen@azstarnet.com and follow her on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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