Unregistered stray pets use up resources
If you’re an animal lover you’re not going to like the following number.
That is the number of stray animals (dogs primarily) that were brought in to the Fort Irwin Veterinary Treatment Facility in fiscal year 2012-2013 (Oct. 2012 – Sept. 2013), according to data provided by Capt. Jennifer Schaefer, veterinarian and officer in charge of the facility.
“No dog or cat comes 35 miles from Barstow to come to Fort Irwin, so there is no such thing as a stray on Fort Irwin,” Schaefer said. “They were always somebody’s pet.” Most of those stray pets were picked up by Fort Irwin police and taken to the facility. Once at the facility, 101 animals were never claimed. The good news is that 75 went to new homes, here and off-post.
So, are Soldiers and families really leaving these pets behind when they move to a different installation or leave the Army?
Not necessarily so, said Mike Butolph, deputy director of Emergency Services. Some pets are never reunited, because owners might not want to pay for costs involved with reclaiming the animal. Some owners might not have followed pet policies initially and do not want to start a process that involves a registration process, and costs – with the veterinarian facility and Pinnacle housing on post. Stray animals are scanned for microchip data at the police station, Butolph said. The animal is turned over to the veterinarian facility soon after, with the microchip data – if there was any. If there was data, the facility staff assists by trying to locate the owner, Schaefer said. Even if a current owner is contacted, facility staff – and law enforcement for that matter – has no real authority forcing an owner to reclaim an animal. There even isn’t a ticket that can be issued, Butolph said.
Some of the costs associated with a stray sheltered at the facility include an impound fee of $15 per day; also, vaccines must be up to date before an animal is released (vaccines vary from $10 to $18). Impound fees go up for repeat strays. Schaefer mentioned there have been instances when owners do not claim animals for days, because the impound fee is cheaper than private kennel services.
The veterinary facility is not an animal shelter or a kennel, Schaefer said. There are only eight dog kennels and there is no funding for sheltering and caring of strays. Pet food and litter is provided by donations from the community. The staff, consisting of three Soldiers and five civilian employees, care and clean up after the animals. The selfless service by the staff benefits animals whose owners have followed regulations that require registration of pets. Adhering to those rules makes it easier for a roaming doggy or kitty to be reunited expeditiously with a worried owner.
“It is a post policy that any animal living on the installation has to be micro-chipped and up to date on their core vaccines, as well as registered here,” Schaefer said. “The reason for that is when your dog is loose, we can find it and we can reunite you. So, if we had better compliance on that, then we wouldn’t have so many strays that end up with us having to take care of them – or a rescue [shelter] has to take care of them.” By installation policy, pets must registered at the veterinary facility. Pinnacle housing also requires pets to be registered with its office. The Web page at www.irwin.army.mil/Community/HousingRCI/Pages/PetPolicy has detail information about Fort Irwin’s and Pinnacle’s policy.
Pinnacle’s paperwork can be downloaded and printed. For more information call (888) 419-6499. Police and veterinarian staff perform a noble service by picking up stray animals, caring for them, trying to identify owners, and getting them adopted when no one comes forward. However, these honorable actions come at a cost.
The mission of Fort Irwin law enforcement is to protect the community, Butolph said. The mission of the veterinarian facility is to take care of government-owned animals, such as police working dogs (7), horses (25), and other animals that add realism to the training at the National Training Center, said Schaefer. Schaefer also said that her organization is responsible for food inspection.
Butolph explained that law enforcement assets are utilized when a call is taken by the Fort Irwin dispatch center reporting a stray animal. Fort Irwin, similar to most installations, does not have animal control resources, so police perform the search and capture of pets. From the initial call to dispatch and a successful transition to the veterinarian clinic, the time involved can be as much as three hours – if the animal is captured the same day.
Butolph recommends Soldiers and families submit work orders to repair fencing deficiencies causing pets to escape yards. Residents of on-post housing can call the service request line at (855) 646-6420.