By Hugh Walker, Eric Zaragoza, and Julianne Burkhalter
In 1980, Bryan, College Station, and Brazos County, Texas, formed the Brazos Animal Shelter, Inc. (BAS), as a nonprofit to provide animal sheltering services to the three local governments. A year later, a strong grass-roots effort led to the construction of a new animal shelter on Bryan property. For a number of years, the BAS board of directors included the mayor from each city along with the county judge. An executive director managed day-to-day operations.
In 1990, in an effort to address a growing concern about animal care, the cities of Bryan and College Station contracted with BAS to provide animal control services within its city limits. The Bryan Police Department assumed animal control responsibilities in January 2005 for areas within Bryan’s city limits.
The change came about as the city wanted more animal control responsibility and accountability. By the end of the year, the three local governments were providing animal control services within their respective jurisdictions, and BAS continued to provide animal sheltering services.
Soaring Care Costs
As animal control services changed over the next several years, so did the structure of the BAS board, which went from three members (two mayors and county judge) to a group of 12 community members with the three governments still having representation through an appointed member. Throughout this time, the three governmental entities continued to provide funding to BAS for animal sheltering services.
The cost for shelter service was approximately $48 per animal in the city’s fiscal year 2009–2010, which runs October 1 to September 30. Within one year, BAS increased the rate for service to the three governments, with Bryan’s cost rising from $48 per animal to nearly $96 for fiscal year 2010–2011.
Then, as Bryan prepared for the 2011–2012 budget process, it requested BAS’s new rate for animal services and learned the price was to increase to $121 per animal. According to BAS board members, the continually increasing rates were necessary to cover the cost of animal sheltering services.
The board suggested the city should expect this rate to continue to increase and projected the next year’s rate at $131 per animal. Also, as part of contract negotiations, BAS asked Bryan to construct a new shelter facility adjacent to a building that BAS was constructing in the county.
BAS purchased land in the county with the expectation the site would be home to their new operations. They did not plan to operate facilities at two separate locations.
As discussions continued with BAS, Bryan’s staff reviewed options and presented information on animal services to an advisory committee and to the city council. Based on a review of other operations within the state and the continued increased costs, councilmembers directed staff to prepare to operate its own animal shelter.
The council expressed concern about the continued increase in cost and wanted to be better assured that public funds were sufficiently controlled. While staff was apprehensive about taking on animal sheltering services, councilmembers believed the city could provide a quality animal sheltering service at a lesser cost. During summer 2011, with approximately five weeks before the contract with BAS would expire, staff began expediting plans for city operations.
Earlier site visits to shelters across the state ultimately proved more valuable than anticipated, as much of the newly gained knowledge was soon to be put into operation mode. The site visits provided networking opportunities, and during the days leading up to going operational, the new contacts proved invaluable.
Making the Transition
In August 2011, Bryan staff prepared to take control of the shelter constructed in the early 1980s, and BAS operations transitioned to its new facility located in the county. City staff created a comprehensive check-off list, which sometimes appeared to increase in length as the transition date approached.
Upon vacating the existing city shelter, BAS removed the animal cages since they were BAS property. This left the city preparing to operate an animal shelter with little more than four walls and a roof. The roughly 5,000-square-foot facility included an area of nearly 2,400 square feet for kennels (cages), an isolation room, office space, conference room, laundry area, and other space that would require furnishing for operations.
As staff prepared the facility for operations, BAS provided historical figures to determine the estimated number of animals the center should prepare to house, which numbered some 3,000 animals annually. Job postings were immediately drafted and posted with initial staffing requiring three care technicians and a manager. Portable cages were purchased and permanent cages were ordered, but would not be delivered for several months.
Vaccines, medications, office supplies and equipment, animal software programs, dog and cat food, and other necessary items were bought. Relationships with the veterinarian community were initiated and the state, including the regional Zoonosis Control Program veterinarian, was relied upon for critical input. Staff also reached out to the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
On September 1, 2011, Bryan assumed responsibility of the animal shelter called the Bryan Animal Center (BAC). Initially, the facility was to serve as an impoundment facility for the city’s animal control operations. Within days—literally—BAC went from an impoundment facility to a fully operational animal shelter.
It opened with one full-time care technician and much support from other city departments, in particular the Public Works Department, including an administrative assistant who provided part-time accounting and employees who were on light-duty.
On that first September day, city staff arrived to find an empty building except for two dogs that had been part of the transition. Imagine the attention these two animals were provided during the initial days of operation, while city staff prepared the facility for full operation.
The many necessary and required supplies began arriving and within a month, BAC began to resemble an animal shelter—minus permanent cages. After a few days, two more care technicians joined the staff, bringing the total BAC staff to three. Later in the month, the new BAC manager arrived, which completed the initial hiring process since staff needed time to evaluate operational needs.
Within a few weeks, however, the BAC manager resigned by e-mail. The manager, who was expected to direct staffing needs, had not provided indications of resignation or concern, but the e-mail resignation stated that “The staffing pattern at the center is not adequate for an effective and efficient operation.”
Upon the manager’s resignation, staff paused to further evaluate staffing needs and operational hours. As with animal shelters, BAC operated seven days a week and public hours were Monday through Friday from noon to 6 p.m. BAC staff typically arrived by 8 a.m. to begin cleaning, walking, and caring for animals to be prepared for public hours.
While volunteers were helpful during the early days of operation, they were few in number. Those individuals who did volunteer were dedicated individuals who spent countless hours assisting staff.
As the BAC facility began to fill, staffing needs were adjusted to meet animal-care needs. First and foremost, leadership was needed and a public works supervisor graciously stepped up to the challenge. For four months, this supervisor essentially kept BAC operational and continued to make improvements. A permanent BAC supervisor was hired in January 2012.
During summer 2012, Bryan’s animal control operations transitioned from the Bryan Police Department to BAC; subsequently, BAC and animal control joined to become Bryan’s “animal services.” The combining of the two different function areas has resulted in an operation that has similar goals, with the most important goal being that of returning lost pets to owners and adopting animals to forever homes.
Today, the animal services staff includes a supervisor, an administrative assistant, a programs coordinator, three animal-care technicians, two part-time animal-care technicians, a lead animal-control officer/foreman, three animal-control officers, and four Texas A&M work-study students. They are assisted by volunteers who are the lifeblood of the operation.
The city reached out to volunteer and service groups that might be interested in providing volunteers. That initiative increased to an even greater extent with the filling of the programs coordinator position.
In February 2012, the new BAC supervisor began a process of reviewing current practices, including cleaning procedures and immunizations. This review resulted in the creation of cleaning procedures considered the most modern practices as suggested by the shelter industry.
The modified procedures assured a sanitary facility would be maintained by staff working in the most efficient and cost-effective manner. In conjunction with the cleaning procedures, revised animal handling processes were implemented to manage the population’s interaction and better monitor animals’ health.
This close attention to detail helped to better ensure the health of the overall animal population. Immunization practices were also updated. Adoptions currently include various wellness tests, vaccinations, deworming, and microchipping, plus a basic spay or neuter voucher at one of a dozen local veterinary hospitals.
A Vision Realized
Great strides were taken to build the volunteer, fostering, and partnership programs with other rescue groups. These efforts were aided greatly in August 2014 with the addition of a programs coordinator position.
This position allows one person to focus solely on building such programs so animals may be given even more attention by volunteers, time in a foster home, and opportunities to find a forever home through networking with other groups.
BAC regularly holds adoption specials, participates in more than 40 off-site opportunities a year, and hosted its first Pawpaloosa Pet Health Fair and Adoption Reunion in May 2014 with assistance from the Parks and Recreation Department. With guidance and assistance from Bryan’s Communications and Marketing Department, BAC continues to grow its marketing capability through social media and special projects.
And recently, BAC partnered with both Texas A&M College of Veterinarian Medicine & Biomedical Sciences and Blinn College’s Veterinary Technician Program to pursue mutually beneficial services and programs.
Staff continuously reviews and updates policies and procedures, researching the latest practices and equipment so BAC can provide the best possible care to animals. Caring and dedicated staff, who welcome the public to their facility, work tirelessly to help find the most positive outcome for every animal entering BAC. The result is a steady increase in lives saved and a decline in euthanized animals.
While the city did not have official euthanasia rates from BAS, reports suggest the euthanasia rate was in the 50 percent range; today the BAC’s euthanasia rate is less than 25 percent with the intent of continuing the decline.
During the past 43 months, the city assumed the responsibility of a vacant animal shelter and turned it into a full-service animal sheltering facility. Throughout that process, city staff continuously evaluated needs and retooled operations to better serve the community. For example, as staff becomes familiar with such new techniques as cleaning and sanitizing, those processes are implemented at the BAC.
Partnerships have been nurtured, resulting in growing adoption rates, an increased number of foster homes, and a declining euthanasia rate. The success of the BAC complements the success of the Brazos Animal Shelter, Inc.—now known as the Aggieland Humane Society—as the two entities partner to increase community awareness, especially animal adoption efforts. A committee of citizen volunteers and the local veterinarian community provide invaluable guidance and suggestions.
The Bryan City Council had the vision to know the city could operate a shelter for a lesser cost; that is, a projected rate of at least $131 per animal if contracting services versus $92 per animal with the city providing animal services, which results in a projected savings of more than $96,000 annually.
More importantly, that vision has resulted in better care for animals through multiple partnerships and community awareness efforts.
Since September 2011, BAC has reunited 1,326 animals with their owners, adopted out 3,208 animals, sent 628 to rescue, and fostered hundreds of animals. Animal Control Officers (ACOs) are also much more aggressive in returning animals while in the field versus bringing them to BAC. Since October 2012, ACO’s have returned nearly 1,000 animals in the field.