The number of dogs and cats killed at Palm Beach County's animal shelter has plummeted by 19 percent over the last year, marking the first time the facility has seen such a large dip since it opened in the late 1960s, Animal Care and Control Director Dianne Sauve said.
The euthanasia rate among cats was down by 24 percent, while the number of unwanted dogs killed dropped by 3 percent, Sauve said.
Although euthanasia rates fell slightly at the shelter in the 2010 budget year, Sauve said this year's drop marks a turning point for her department.
"Everything has finally clicked into place," Sauve said. "We have turned a corner here."
Animal control officials have spent years pressing several spay and neutering campaigns across the county -- especially among cats and large dogs, which are less likely to be adopted than smaller dogs.
In 2008, Sauve pushed for a series of new regulations that force pet owners who haven't spayed or neutered their animals to pay higher licensing fees. Hobby breeders must also have permits, under the rules.
In recent years, the department has worked with local veterinarians to host a series of marathon surgery events to spay and neuter hundreds of cats.
And the shelter recently received a $25,000 grant to help pay for spay and neuter surgeries for large dogs. At least 20 large dogs are spayed and neutered at the shelter every Monday. The program has been dubbed "Marmaduke Mondays," after the popular comic strip featuring a Great Dane by that name, Sauve said.
Spaying and neutering bigger dogs requires a larger operating space. In order to accommodate the surgeries, the shelter has converted its classroom into a surgical suite, Sauve said.
County Commissioner Shelley Vana, an advocate for animal control issues, said the county's efforts have started to pay off. The drop in euthanasia, she said, helps set the county apart from other areas in the country.
"Everywhere I go, I talk about how we have to not just be a community that is pretty, but a community that is nice," Vana said. "People want to be here because we have values. How we treat our animals, that is really a very prominent message."
Meanwhile, adoption rates at the shelter on Belvedere Road in suburban West Palm Beach are up 5 percent from a year ago. Dog adoptions are up 11.8 percent, while cat adoptions are up 7 percent, Sauve said.
"That is just really quiet amazing," Sauve said. "For the last few years we've have had a difficult time with adoptions staying pretty flat."
Sauve attributes the jump to a series of new marketing efforts, including discounted adoption fees and a weekly electronic newsletter that features pets at the shelter.
Commissioners this month backed away from a budget cutting measure that would have closed the shelter one day a week, a move Sauve said would have limited adoptions and forced her staff to euthanize more pets. The closure would have saved the county $226,000 a year.
At the first of two public hearings on the county's $3.4 billion proposed spending plan, commissioners initially supported the closure. But the seven-member board ultimately decided against the cut after Commissioner Priscialla Taylor said that she would change her vote to close the shelter if Vana agreed not to cut a program that Taylor supported.
"That was a deal breaker in the budget for me," Vana said. "There are just certain things where you have to say that is not what we are about."
Pet adoptions up, euthanasia down
Palm Beach County animal shelter has seen a 19 percent drop in its euthanasia rate over the last year. Pet adoptions are up 5 percent.
Feral cats: 2,410
Horses and livestock: 30
Pocket pets: 142
Source: Palm Beach County Animal Control