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Concerns over rising euthanasia rate at St. Louis County animal shelter

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY, Mo. - After making headlines in early 2018 for drastically reducing the number of euthanasia cases at the St. Louis County Animal Care and Control, there is concern over an increase of dogs being euthanized at the end of the same year.

St. Louis County Animal Care and Control is an open admission shelter which means it does not turn any animal away. It takes in animals for St. Louis County, unincorporated St. Louis County, and municipalities within the county.

In 2018, St. Louis County Animal Care and Control adopted out 854 dogs. More than double the 417 dogs adopted out in 2017.

Spring Schmidt, Acting Director of the St. Louis County Department of Public Health, said they focused their efforts on adoption in 2018, adding the results were a "big accomplishment."

According to Schmidt, the county's live release rate for all animals is higher than the national average for a government shelter. Live release includes animals adopted, released to owners, or transferred to another rescue.

Schmidt said the county's euthanasia rate for all animals is lower than the national average. In early 2018, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger praised the county shelter for dramatically reducing its euthanasia rate.

In 2017, St. Louis County Animal Care and Control euthanized 575 dogs. In 2018, 291 dogs were euthanized. Records show the main reason for euthanasia in 2018 was aggression followed by illness and behavior.

The year started with single digits euthanizations, but the numbers continued to increase as the months wore on. The highest number of euthanasia cases were documented in November and December.

"We do have spikes that go up and down," said Schmidt. "It's completely reflective of the types of animals that we have at that time."

The shelter saw a spike in 2017 as well during the months of June, July, and August when 41, 39 and 38 dogs were euthanized.

The shelter is set up to accommodate 200 animals. On Nov. 1, the shelter was caring for 369 animals.

Several shelter volunteers reached out to Fox 2 concerned the shelter was putting down adoptable dogs to make space for more animals. Schmidt said that is not the case.

As of noon on Monday (Jan. 14), the shelter had 56 cats and 111 dogs in its care.

Volunteers declined an on-camera interview because they say they were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement to become a volunteer, and they fear legal consequences for speaking out. During a St. Louis County Animal Care and Control Advisory Board meeting on Thursday (Jan. 17), volunteers spoke about a "culture of fear" in the shelter and their hesitation to speak up to shelter management about their concerns on a variety of issues.

Some volunteers wonder if the change in leadership may be to blame for the increasing rate of euthanasia cases. After the previous director of the shelter was fired in March, Katrina Utz, a policy advisor from Stenger's office, was named interim director of the St. Louis County Animal Care and Control in October.

Schmidt said Utz has been in involved in shelter operations since 2015. Utz reports to Schmidt.

Schmidt said she does not believe the increasing euthanasia rates are related to Utz taking over leadership.

"Change is difficult," she said. "I am watching through these pieces and will continue to do so. If we need to make adjustments, we absolutely will."

The Missouri Department of Agriculture inspected the animal shelter on Dec. 31 after the St. Louis County Animal Care and Control transferred a nine-year-old female bulldog with signs of respiratory disease to the Metro East Humane Society in Edwardsville. It is a violation to adopt animals with obvious signs of disease or injury.

St. Louis County Animal Care and Control was issued a warning, but no other offenses were noted during the visit.

A third party will be conducting an audit of the shelter beginning in February.

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