animal shelter file

Larry Blackburn of Cheyenne uses one of the cat pens to bond with a friendly feline during the Tour for Life event, hosted by Cheyenne Animal Shelter and put on by the North Shore Animal League, on Saturday, March 31, 2018, in Cheyenne. Jacob Byk/Wyoming Tribune Eagle

CHEYENNE – The Cheyenne Animal Shelter should change how it adopts out pets, provide better housing and enrichment for its animals, and offer more advanced training to caretakers, according to a third-party audit.

A North Carolina behaviorist offered more than two dozen recommendations after visiting the facility that saw itself engulfed in controversy last fall following the pepper spraying of a young dog the day after it bit an employee. Former shelter CEO Bob Fecht, who ordered the spraying, resigned a month later, and city officials required the shelter to commission the audit to keep its $505,000 contract for animal care and control services.

In her review, Trish McMillan of Loehr Animal Behavior suggested ways to improve general operations and addressed areas of concern in the wake of last year’s controversy, including employee and volunteer training and animal care standards.

She wrote that she and staff members also arrived at seven overarching goals:

  • Increase the live release rates of animals, especially cats
  • Reduce animal length of stay to remain within the shelter’s capacity for care
  • Increase enrichment and improve animal housing
  • Continue writing and streamlining standard operating procedures for training and humane handling
  • Increase volunteer engagement, training and retention
  • Expand foster care options
  • Keep the public more engaged

To accomplish the first one, McMillan suggested reducing or waiving adoption fees for cats. Research cited in the audit suggested waivers had boosted adoption numbers at a Canada shelter without attracting irresponsible owners or making people think the shelter didn’t value cats. She also said the shelter could change the way it handles healthy “stray cats” by returning them to where they were found, instead of attempting to adopt them out or euthanizing them.

In Fiscal Year 2017, the most recent time period for which data was immediately available, roughly 68 percent of cats taken into the shelter were released alive, compared to 93 percent of dogs.

For reducing the length of stay, McMillan said the shelter could implement a “fast track” adoption process for particularly desirable animals, such as puppies and kittens, and expand its foster program.

To improve animal welfare, McMillan said the shelter should do away with its “drop box,” where people leave stray or injured animals if shelter staff isn’t around. McMillan said shelters across the country have closed such programs because they make it hard to get information about animal health or behavior, and can cause undue suffering for animals trapped in the boxes together.

She also encouraged the shelter to cease “cat tests,” where handlers walk dogs through cat kennels to see how they interact.

“This is unfair and frightening to the cats, and it doesn’t give you reliable information,” McMillan wrote. “Instead, you could give adopters information on introducing pets slowly, and steer cat owners toward dogs who you know have already lived successfully with cats.”

In the long term, McMillan encouraged more “enrichment” for animals, both in their cages and out. She recommended having toys, scratching posts and portals between cages, and giving shelter pets time outside to socialize with people or other animals. She added animals staying at the shelter the longest should have the biggest, quietest and most “enriched” kennels and cages.

McMillan also made several recommendations about staff and employee training.

In the aftermath of the pepper-spraying incident, local and regional animal advocates and trainers repeatedly emphasized the need for better training at the shelter. In interviews with the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, former employees said they felt underprepared to deal with difficult situations or potentially dangerous animals.

The audit suggested the shelter continue to offer handling and behavioral training for people working with the animals, and offer more advanced training opportunities on behavioral topics that employees are interested in or need to understand.

McMillan also said shelter staff and officials should continue to keep up with the latest research on sheltering.

“We’re in a time of amazing changes in the industry, and there’s wonderful research being done,” McMillan wrote. “Keep an eye on the research, and flex and change as new knowledge emerges.”

She also encouraged having multiple staff members post about the shelter and animals in need of medical care or adoption.

“Tell the public about the wonderful things you’re doing every day, and let them know when you need help,” she wrote.

In a statement, Shelter Manager Brooke Byelich wrote that shelter staff is working on better standard operating procedures and updating employees on “new systems.”

“We will be sharing information via social media and our website to notify the public of the changes that are being made to improve animal placement and quality of life for animals,” she wrote.

Katie Kull is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s criminal justice reporter. She can be reached at kkull@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3122. Follow her on Twitter at @katiekull1.

Austin Huguelet is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. He can be reached at ahuguelet@wyomingnews.com or 307-633-3182. Follow him on Twitter at @ahuguelet.

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