Animal control striding toward no-kill goal

Oakland Animal Control administrative supervisor Joanie Toole and a purebred Chihuahua.

A dog named Lily who is recovering from cancer camps out in the office of Oakland County Animal Control Manager Larry Obrecht. A rescued cat with only one good eye lives there too. A Chihuahua with an attitude keeps staff in line behind the front desk.

Today’s county animal operation is a different world from the dog pounds of old, where stray and unwanted animals went to die. Though animal control is still an important component, the shelter is aiming to function more like a rescue, working with private groups, social media and other partners to find new homes for dogs and cats. The goal is to become a no-kill shelter.

“We’ve pretty much achieved that with dogs,” said administrative supervisor Joanie Toole. “We’re at about a 75-percent save rate with cats. Cats, we’re still working on that. We just need to get that message out that they need to be spayed or neutered.”

There are two parts to the animal-control operation. The county handles enforcement for many local communities, including dog licensing, bite or cruelty complaints, strays and kennel licensing. The other facet is pet adoption, where the mission statement is “to provide a temporary safe haven for animals until we find them permanent homes.”

“We’re here for public safety,” Toole said. “But the shelter supports that in taking care of the animals that are impounded. Right now it’s pretty packed. Last week I swear we got 100 cats in.”

About three-quarters of those were cats running loose. Without spaying and neutering, “It’s unbelievable how they reproduce,” Toole said. The county received a grant from PetSmart Charities to pay for trapping, neutering and then releasing feral cats. A Warren-based nonprofit called All About Animals provides the traps; the county provides the surgery.

Dogs are “a different kind of problem,” Toole said. Sterilization is more common, but dog bites are too. The number of dogs being sheltered on a recent day was about 100, half the population of cats.

“We not only get the mutts, we get purebreds,” she said. When strays come in, they are held four to seven days, depending on whether they are wearing identification. If they are, “During that seven days we try desperately to find the owners,” Toole said. Then, if they are not claimed, they are evaluated for adoption. “We use the (private) rescues primarily for very hard-to-place dogs. … We help each other because we’re all going towards that one goal.”

Sometimes, animals just become residents. Take Lily, an 8-year-old stray. “She came in with a huge tumor on her back. We decided to do the surgery,” Toole said. The cancer is expected to return. “We know there’s going to be medical expenses, so we decided to keep her. I take her to schools now.”

The one-eyed cat was rescued from a house in Waterford earlier this year. She’s the only one from that batch to remain.  She too is facing surgery.

“A lot of the hard-to-place cats became office cats,” said Alexis Shull, the shelter’s public relations coordinator.

Shull said she’s seen purebred dogs like Labradors, Pomeranians, pugs and beagles at the shelter. To those seeking a purebred, “Have the patience to keep checking your local shelter. And do some research instead of impulse buying,” she said.

Several adoption events are scheduled for this month. On Friday, Sept. 7, animals will be available 11 a.m.-3 p.m. at the grand opening of the new Sam’s Club, located at Grand River and Wixom Road in Novi.

On Sept. 8-9, adoptables will be available at the Kelley-Fisk Farm Festival, 9180 Highland Road in White Lake. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. both days.

On Sept. 22-23, Meet Your Best Friend at the Zoo returns to the Detroit Zoo. Hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m.  both days. More than 25 animal welfare organizations will participate.

Adoption fees include sterilization (if the pet is old enough), vaccination, treatment for parasites and licensing for dogs.

“When we go to these events, we make sure everything is done and they are ready to go out the door,” Toole said.

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