At least one full row of dog kennels stood vacant, which, according to Animal Control Services supervisor Ben Miller, means many shelter residents recently found homes.
“Usually, we’re right at or near capacity,” Miller said. “We had a good week.”
Good weeks at the shelter happen in spite of the aging facility, according to Miller and others working there. Built more than 30 years ago as a stop-gap, it’s still Tracy’s only shelter.
It’s one of the reasons advocates such as Kim Gray, who volunteers as a rescue coordinator, are adamant about building a new shelter.
“Absolutely,” Gray said. “We need a new shelter desperately.”
Despite her certainty, fair questions remain: Does the city really need a new animal shelter? And, maybe more to the point, can the city afford one?
When it comes to euthanasia rates, the Tracy Animal Shelter is exemplary, at least when it comes to national standards.
While Miller said that the Tracy shelter is only “average” when it comes to saving adult felines — a notoriously difficult population to adopt out — the local shelter puts down only 20 percent of the dogs that stay in its kennels, while the typical shelter euthanizes 60 percent. Of that 20 percent at the Tracy shelter, Miller said, only half are put down because there’s no room at the inn.
So to have statistics tell the story, a new shelter doesn’t seem like a screaming need.
But a lot of the shelter’s success, Miller told me, is because of the rescue groups — especially Tracy Animal Rescue — that partner with the shelter. To keep those euthanasia rates low, Gray works as a shelter-rescue liaison, finding homes for pets as far away as San Francisco and Southern California.
Because of that, Gray said, “Very few adoptable dogs (at the Tracy shelter) get euthanized.”
That outcome could be very different without efforts like Gray’s.
And though it’s well taken care of by staff, the shelter is small, its heating and air conditioning aren’t up to snuff (Miller recently rigged his own mister system for a block of kennels), and it’s generally not up to the standard of modern-built facilities.
Oh, and the location stinks. Literally.
The shelter’s tucked off Arbor Road way north of Tracy near a scrap metal yard and a sewage treatment plant that “perfumes” the air on warm days. The geography discourages folks from visiting and returning with a new family member.
“We’re not near any destination,” Miller said, explaining that there’s nothing close to the shelter — like sports fields or the West Valley Mall — to draw “while we’re here” traffic.
Listen to arguments like these and take a tour of the shelter, and it becomes obvious — a new one is indeed a need.
Of course, that only answers one of our questions. As Miller explained, new digs for Tracy’s impounded dogs and cats is “all going to come down to funding.”
Right now, that funding simply isn’t there.
According to City Manager Leon Churchill, building a new animal shelter is definitely a priority for Tracy’s leadership. Community meetings have been conducted, and a draft has been started. But compared to other city needs, the animal shelter is down the list.
“Compared to public safety and job creation,” Churchill said, “it is not an urgent need from an operational standpoint.”
Not only that, but the shelter competes against other big-ticket items like the aquatics center and the Holly Sugar sports fields for money — not to mention, as Churchill said, anything else that comes up with city’s regular capital improvement planning.
And when it comes to climbing the city-do list, the shelter’s stellar statistics suddenly become a liability.
But all is not lost for shelter advocates. Churchill said he and other city officials know the score.
“The thing that bothers me as a city manager, and I know the advocates, is that it’s a poor location,” he said. “And in absolute terms, it’s a poor facility, because it was built as a temporary facility, and here we are 30 years later.”
In other words, a new Tracy Animal Shelter will someday be a reality. It just might take a while for “someday” to become “today.”
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