Davin Eldridge – Staff Writer

Macon County Animal Control released its annual report to the Board of Health at its last regular meeting. The results of the meeting weren’t entirely promising. Comparing the first 11 months of the last fiscal year with those of this year, Dr. Jimmy Villiard, veterinarian, who heads up Animal Control, said the county’s animal shelter has not only taken in more animals across the board than last year, but it has also found fewer homes for those animals. He stressed the shelter is indiscriminate in the kinds of animals it takes in, no questions asked. As part of that deal, the county has taken in 915 animals so far this year, compared to last year’s 865. “We’re up a little bit, but we average over a thousand animals a year,” he said. “That is animals that actually live and are taken into the shelter… I think a lot of people don’t realize that’s how many animals come through.” Villiard then indicated the county’s also seen a slight drop in overall pet adoption. “During that period last year we adopted 264 animals,” he said. “This year that figure is at 229. We actually adopt out more cats than we do dogs.” By and large, Dr. Villiard said the county gets more cats than it does dogs on an annual basis and there are always an overage of animals that the county can’t find a home for. Therefore, he said Animal Control opts to transfer those animals to as many no-kill shelters as it can. While they aren’t being shipped to their deaths, Dr. Villiard said they are nonetheless being shipped to another shelter, rather than a home— 330 no-kill shelter transfers this year as opposed to 292 transfers last year. “Predominantly, those are all dogs,” he stressed. “It’s hard to find transports for a cat.” Dr. Villiard speculated that this is due to Macon County having a higher population of stray felines this year. He added that the cat population figures are down slightly in 2018 due to the shelter’s recent work with a local volunteer from Buncombe County, who has organized many of its local transports and also works with Appalachian Animal Rescue, a network of other organizations throughout the region, as well as in Georgia. “Most of these animals end up in East Coast animal shelters,” he said. Dr. Villiard shared an even more unfortunate statistic—that of the shelter’s “Return-to-Owners” report. These figures indicate a small mercy in current trends, as Animal Control reported a plateau in such numbers between this year and last. The steady increase in shelter figures notwithstanding, Dr. Villiard provided some added perspective, pointing out that it isn’t for a lack of trying or care on the part of the community. He said the shelter enjoys regular engagement and use by the county at large, which often receives “wanted” and “lost pet” posts on any given week. Moreover, he lauded the local enthusiasm he feels is evident on the shelter’s Facebook page, which has more than 2,000 followers. “It’s not unusual to see, you know, 2,500 contacts that people share,” he said. “So we’ve had a lot of success on getting animals back.” Finally, Dr. Villiard gave this year’s figures for euthanasia. He prefaced it by saying Macon County strives to keep the number of shelter kills at no more than15 percent. Last year, Dr. Villiard said the shelter kept that figure right at 10 percent. “We try to limit our euthanasia to sick animals, depressive animals, or animals that are just un-adoptable,” he said. He attributed this year’s higher than normal numbers to two feral cat populations located in two area housing complexes. The majority of euthanasia is accounted for by cats, largely because of feral cats. “I think the numbers are pretty good. We do everything we can not to euthanize for space requirements. I think we’ve had to do it once because it was absolutely necessary.” Animal Control’s report on complaints consist of a total of 33 abandoned animals reported this year. The county has tallied less than 20 welfare checks so far this year. “We look at all of them and we go out to all of them because you know the one that you don’t respond to is the one that’s going to be the horror story.” Livestock complaints consist mostly of cows or horses in the road in the middle of the night. “So our guys are going out and rounding up, tying them up and holding them until the next day.” “We do a lot of bites,” he said. “So far, this year, it’s been crazy.” Approximately 121 animal bites were reported during the first 11 months of last year, which is almost 20 more than the previous year. “I don’t see any downward trend in the number of animals coming through that door,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a way to get those populations under control.” He remarked that keeping up with standards set by the Humane Society, such as spaying and neutering, is vital to any success, however even after doing all that can be done, the numbers still aren’t dropping at the shelter. Dr. Jeff Todd reflected on some of his work transporting animals out-of-county in earlier years. “That became an untenable situation for us, long term, for a number of reasons,” he said. “That’s what our main problem is, it’s just un-neutered animals, abandoned and having litters.” Average dog spay/neuter, he conservatively estimated around $60—a figure he described as not only conservative, but contingent upon the time consuming yet necessary process of attaining grant funding. “That money has gotten even harder to get,” he said, recalling a time when the shelter had a full-time grant-writer. “Without grant funding… It’s basically a public service. Public awareness is, I think, the big challenge.”