A year and a half ago it was labeled a “disaster,” a “disgrace,” a
“deplorable situation,” and an “absolute atrocity.”
And those remarks came from the County officials who oversee the place.
However, when you compare 2011 to 2012 at the Porter County Animal Shelter,
the contrast is black and white, or pretty close to it.
Instead of the previous conditions which were said to be squalor, the floors
and cages are now mopped and disinfected thoroughly each morning, improving
the lives of the animals by preventing the spread of diseases such as
parvovirus. The dogs are let out of their kennels two or three times a day
for exercise, putting them in a happy mood so they have a better chance of
being adopted to a good home.
The Board of County Commissioners believes taking a chance on hiring Jon
Thomas as Shelter interim director in November 2011 and later as permanent
director has led to a successful turnaround after a series of missteps from
“It’s such a difference from what it was a year ago,” said County
Commissioner Nancy Adams, R-Center. “Where other directors had this ‘I don’t
care’ kind of attitude, Jon has been very involved. He’s a really hard
worker and gets a lot out of his staff.”
Getting the shelter back to a state of adequacy were a surge of volunteers,
donations from local veterinarians and the public, and a reinstated Animal
Shelter advisory board.
The board helped promote adoption events, explored ways to implement
spay/neuter programs, set up a donation fund with Porter County Community
Foundation and assisted in a feasibility study done by Shelter Planners of
The Commissioners later dissolved the board in July and announced their
intention to take a new direction, partnering with the non-profit Lakeshore
PAWS for building a larger shelter facility.
With Thomas’ efforts, adoptions are up significantly over last year. The
Shelter reported that as of the end of last month, 1,380 animals had been
adopted throughout the year, 198 had been returned to their owners and 214
have been transferred to other rescue agencies.
The Shelter has taken in 2,202 animals since January and 179 either died or
have been humanely euthanized due to serious illness or other afflictions.
The industry standards suggest a no-kill shelter needs to have a threshold
of 90 percent of animals not euthanized. The County Animal Shelter fits the
definition with an additional two percent.
The results have created a sense of pride and enthusiasm among the staff.
“We were amazed when we saw those numbers,” said Ashley Dec, veterinary care
technician for the Shelter.
According to a report by Shelter Planners of America, a “no-kill” shelter
means that no healthy, adoptable animal is euthanized. It advised that a
no-kill shelter simply cannot take in more animals than it adopts out.
Through various promotions and an adoption campaign on Facebook, Thomas and
his staff of three full-time and fourteen part-time employees continues to
whittle down the number of cats and dogs at the shelter. He said the number
of cats peaked at 120 in the summer months due to a prolonged breeding
season. As of last week, only 36 cats remained at the Shelter and roughly
the same number of dogs.
Coupled with the influx of cats, Thomas also has spent much of the year
treating the dogs from a hoarding situation in Westchester Twp. where 107
canines were taken to the Shelter by County Animal Control. More than 40 of
those have been adopted and six of them still remain at the Shelter waiting
to be adopted.
Listing all the different kinds of animals coming to the Shelter, one might
mistake it for a small zoo. Other than dogs and cats, Thomas said the
Shelter has housed a boa constrictor, a donkey, several horses, a white cow,
guinea pigs, alligators, chickens and roosters, and a potbellied pig, all of
which he has been able to find homes for.
Out of all the successes, Thomas said his greatest accomplishment this year
was working with different people and organizations to change the public’s
perception of the Shelter.
He would like to see more events going on at the Shelter like the Kids Power
Funfest in September, which saw over 100 attendees and educated children on
the importance of caring for animals mixing in fun activities and a bounce
house. Six cats and three dogs also found permanent homes that day.
Thomas said he hopes to host events three times a year, in the spring,
summer and fall. He will also make more efficient use of volunteers by
having them promote the Shelter at various community events on the weekends
while the employees attend to business at the Shelter, since weekends are
typically the busiest days.
Another initiative will be educating the public on the many benefits that
spaying or neutering bring to the animal world. Besides keeping population
numbers to a minimum, cats and dogs that are spayed and neutered live longer
lives because they are less likely to develop cancers, Thomas said. He noted
that Kibble Kitchen pet food pantry in Portage is in the process of
implementing a spay/neuter program for pet owners on low incomes.
The Shelter staff will also be busier screening people who apply for
adoptions and following up to ensure the animal is being treated with good
care. Applicants must answer questions on how they will care for their new
“friend” and if they have any current pets. The Shelter will assess if the
animals will get along.
Fundraising efforts will continue next year. Donations rained this year
totalled about $45,000.
With the funds collected, the Shelter was able to pay over $25,000 in
outstanding vet bills from 2008 to 2011.
Thomas said the Shelter’s biggest need is more space to house and care for
the animals. According to the needs study by Shelter Planners, a new
facility for Porter County should be about 14,000 square-feet, three times
the size of the current building.
South County Commissioner-elect Laura Blaney said once she takes office in
January she wants to advance negotiations with the non-profit Lakeshore PAWS
about the building and operations.
As the letter of intent stated, the County would donate the land to PAWS
which will use their own funds to build the facility. The parcel being
considered is near the intersection of Ind. 130 and Ind. 149.
Lakeshore PAWS co-founder Jeanne Sommer has said the site is more centrally
located to service residents of Portage and Duneland as opposed to the
current site on Ind. 2, south of Valparaiso.
Sommer also said the Humane Society of Calumet will help her organization
with care and adoption services.
The Animal Control will still be operated entirely under the auspices of the
County Sheriff’s Department.
Thomas said he would like to thank all his staff for their efforts including
his assistant director Stacy Price who was also hired this year. He sees the
group as a “family” whose members share a deep compassion for the animals.
“It’s a lot of
hard work but we enjoy it because we care tremendously about the animals,”