Outdated facilities, climate to blame for pet overpopulation in Arizona

Manuel Ortiz, left, and his daughter Anais Orantez, walk Luna, a 2-year-old Rottweiler, shortly after adopting her from the Pima Animal Care Center on Sept. 22.
Manuel Ortiz, left, and his daughter Anais Orantez, walk Luna, a 2-year-old Rottweiler, shortly after adopting her from the Pima Animal Care Center on Sept. 22. (Photo by Justin Sayers/Arizona Sonora News Service)

Anais Orantez holds out a blue toy for Luna, a 2-year-old brown-and-white Rottweiler mix, in the outdoor area of the Pima Animal Care Center.

Locked eye-to-eye, Anais throws the ball, but 85-pound Luna doesn’t flinch. Instead, she runs up to 10-year-old girl and begins licking her face.

Luna is one of the lucky ones. Just one month after arriving as a stray at the center, she exits through green, swinging double doors with Anais and her dad, Manuel Ortiz, and hops into the family’s silver Chevy Malibu. She has a home.

The rising number of stray animals is a state and national problem, officials said. With an estimated 8 million animals in shelters in the United States, Arizona ranks second to Los Angeles County in terms of areas with the highest pet overpopulation rates, according to the Arizona Humane Society.

A mixture of a push to move toward no-kill practices, a lack of financial and physical resources and a warm climate create the perfect storm for Arizona animal shelters.

Pima Animal Care Center, or PACC, 4000 N. Silverbell Road, is the largest pet adoption agency in Southern Arizona. The facility was built in 1968 and needs renovations to accommodate the rising number of dogs and cats, according to the center.

Challenges include too many animals per kennel, too much noise, not enough quarantine space, limited space for cats, a lack of natural lighting and inadequate medical facilities, center officials say.

The center, which doesn’t turn away any pet in need of care, took in 24,332 animals in the last fiscal year.

Pima County residents will vote Nov. 4 on Proposition 415, a nearly $23 million bond proposal to pay for a renovated shelter. If it passes, bonds would be issued in January and construction would begin around July 2016. The bond would cost the average homeowner $3 a year.

Kim Janes, the center’s chief of external affairs, said PACC was originally designed to warehouse pets, which gets in the way of the current goal of saving as many animals as possible.

Vince Rabago, co-chairman of Pets Are Worth Saving (PAWS), a campaign to help pass Prop 415, notes that the original center was built at a time when the population in the area was approximately 300,000 people. As of the last census in 2010, that number hovers around 1 million, he said.

“The center does not meet current needs in any way, shape, or form,” he said. “Having a new animal care center we believe will provide a more humane center that is fit for today’s modern needs and population and that will also reduce euthanasia.”

Deputy Pima County Administrator Jan Lesher said the center is now treating about two-and-a-half times the number of animals treated when the care center opened. Renovations would be the first significant updates to the shelter.

Kennels at the Pima Animal Care Center sometimes hold as many as four dogs to one space. (Photo by Justin Sayers/Arizona Sonora News Service)
Kennels at the Pima Animal Care Center sometimes hold as many as four dogs to one space. (Photo by Justin Sayers/Arizona Sonora News Service)

If the proposition passes, the updated facility would have a medical center to isolate sick animals and prevent diseases from spreading, Janes said. Updates would also provide additional kennel capacity.

District 1 Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller opposes the bond project. She said she doesn’t think that county residents, who saw their county property taxes jump 17 percent last year, should have to pay another tax.

She also noted the county’s ballooning debt ranked highest among Arizona counties. At $1.4 billion in debt, Pima County carries twice as much debt as Arizona’s other 14 counties combined, according to the Stop Prop 415 Committee. Property taxes have increased by roughly 24 percent over the past two years.

While Miller acknowledges that the animal care center is in need of renovations, she said she thinks the Pima County Board of Supervisors could have taken other measures to find money for the project.

Miller noted that the total cost to taxpayers is $22.8 million, even though the project costs only $18.5 million. Lesher said the extra money accounts for the cost of inflation and contingency since construction is not slated to begin for another year or more.

“The $22 million is the cap, not the floor,” Lesher said. “Yes we believe that the project will cost $18 million, but it’s always wise to look at what contingency or inflation might do.”

Janes said he believes Prop 415 is another way of attacking pet overpopulation in the county because a renovated shelter would provide the resources and space necessary for veterinary efforts. The Board of Supervisors also recently increased funding to conduct significant spay and neuter services for pet owners in the community.

“We need to do what we can to eliminate our overpopulation problem in our community,” Janes said.

Maricopa County Animal Care and Control spent $17 million when it opened one of its two locations in Phoenix, at 2500 S. 27th Ave., in 2007, according to public information officer Melissa Gable.

Gable said that the aesthetics of the shelter environment are important to prospective pet owners and typical “pound-like” conditions can be intimidating. She said Maricopa County gets complaints from the public about its other location in Mesa, at 2630 W. Rio Salado Parkway, because it’s very old.

Maricopa County is looking at ways to update the Mesa shelter and make the conditions better for the animals, but there is no timetable for renovations, Gable said.

Overpopulation rates are just as high in the Phoenix area, as the city is usually grouped with Los Angeles and New York City as the cities with the highest number of stray animals, Gable said.

She said she believes the problem stems from the fact that Arizona has a hot climate, which makes it so animals breed in the state almost year round. As a result, the shelters become crowded during the spring and summer months, she said.

Maricopa County shelters usually operate with 1,000 animals between the two locations and take in approximately 100 animals a day, Gable said.

Gable said that a recent decrease in the number of animals is a result of measures to limit breeding amongst stray animals.

The number of animals euthanized in Maricopa County has decreased 62 percent since 2005, according to the center.

[learn_more caption=”Puppy Mill Bans” state=”open”]

Another method being taken by the state is a push to ban puppy mills.

  • Phoenix City Council passed an ordinance with a 5-3 vote in December that bans pet stores from selling dogs or cats unless the animals come from the pound or a non-profit shelter or rescue group.
  • However, the law was put on hold when the owners of a pet store in Phoenix sued the city, arguing that the ban will put them out of business. The owners contend they get their pets from regulated breeders.
  • The Tucson City Council voted to draft a similar ordinance last March but put it on hold while the Phoenix case makes it way through the courts, said Ward 6 Tucson Councilman Steve Kozachik. Kozachik expects that to be finalized around the end of the year.
  • Yuma and Flagstaff city councils have not discussed a similar ordinance, according to city documents. However, Yuma does ban the sale of animals along public roads.[/learn_more]

Justin Sayers is a public affairs reporter for the Arizona Sonora News Service and graduate student at the University of Arizona. You can reach him via email at jsayers@email.arizona.edu and follow him on Twitter at @JSayersNews.

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