Kent County Animal Shelter euthanasia rate among highest in state

Drew Schertzer

The Kent County Animal Shelter (KCAS) euthanized 2,002 animals in 2017. That number constitutes one of the highest euthanasia rates in Michigan. Year after year, KCAS’s euthanasia rate continues to be two to three times higher than the Michigan state average, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development. 

The number of euthanized animals was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request sent to KCAS.

A long debate has existed about whether animal shelters should euthanize animals or not. Some shelters, like the KCAS, believe that adoption and euthanasia are the left and right arms of keeping animal populations in control.

“We have to take in all types of dogs and cats, and the main reason is that the owner has requested the euthanasia of their animal because it was hit by a car or too sick,” said a Kent County Animal Shelter clerk, who asked to remain anonymous. “If an animal is too aggressive, it also has to be euthanized if it is at risk for biting someone.” 

KCAS believes that euthanasia is justifiably for the greater good and for aggressive animals. However, Chris Walter, admissions counselor for the Animal Behavior College, expressed a different opinion. 

“In my training, I’ve seen the psychology of how dogs think, learn and their needs,” Walter said. “When a dog has aggressive behavioral issues, it isn’t usually an issue with the dog—it is an issue of humans understanding the dog.”

Gerald Byrne, deputy managing director of operations for the Kent County Road Commission, explained that animals being hit by cars isn’t extremely common, either.

“Animals occasionally are hit by cars,” Byrne said. “For people’s pets, the number is low enough to where we don’t keep count.” 

While euthanizing animals and the reasons for it are controversial, adoption seems to be a common middle ground. 

KCAS handles predominantly dogs and cats. This is how most shelters and humane societies function, specializing in dogs, cats or both. Some, like the KCAS, have room for a few other small animals, such as birds or ferrets. 

The policy in place for the KCAS is that the shelter must take in every dog that comes there, the KCAS clerk said. She explained that there are laws for dogs but not for cats. Regardless, according to the clerk, the shelter takes in mainly stray cats. 

Carly Luttmann, program supervisor for the KCAS, declined to comment about euthanasia rates. However, in a 2012 interview with The Rapidian, she expressed her opinion of adoption being key to lowering rates.

The adoption process begins with applicants having to fill out paperwork. They then have to provide verification that animals are allowed in their homes. The adoption fee is $130 for any dog. Kittens under four months old are $40, and any cats that are older are $5. Animals are required to be spayed and neutered to help lower population by law as well. 

Austin Fry, a Grand Valley State University student, adopted a pit bull named Bella from the KCAS. He believes the process is simple and easy.

“I went there once, and all the dogs were barking except Bella; she was just sitting there,” Fry said. “She’s a child to me, and I can’t imagine not having my dog.”

The KCAS clerk said the shelter can hold around 350 animals at any given time. Adoption fees are decided by the KCAS to cover the cost of keeping animals in the shelter prior to adoption, transfer, reclamation and euthanasia. 

Despite what Fry calls an easy adoption process, the KCAS had twice as many animals euthanized as animals adopted in 2017. 

Critics of kill shelters, like the No Kill Advocacy Center, believe there are alternative routes that don’t involve euthanasia. They list several factors to end kill shelters, including volunteers, behavioral prevention, public involvement and more.

A program in Michigan, the Michigan Pet Fund Alliance, is working toward ending kill shelters across Michigan. The organization offers ideas similar to those of the No Kill Advocacy Center, as well as rewards for shelters that cut down their euthanasia rates. 

There are still many debates about euthanizing animals in Michigan. Many programs are set in place to decrease the number of animals that are euthanized every year. The Michigan state average for euthanasia rates dropped to 14 percent in 2016, but the KCAS currently has a euthanasia rate three times the state average.