West Valley takes 'monumental' step toward goal of no-kill animal shelter

Published: Tuesday, June 5 2012 9:42 p.m. MDT

The gas chamber at the West Valley City/Taylorsville Animal Shelter, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2012.

Ravell Call, Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

WEST VALLEY CITY — City leaders in West Valley City and Taylorsville have enlisted the help of Best Friends Animal Society to achieve their shared goal of having a no-kill animal shelter.

The West Valley City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved a $90,000, two-year contract with the nonprofit group to provide expertise and implement programs to increase adoptions and reduce euthanasia at the shelter.

"It's a monumental step forward," Mayor Mike Winder said.

City manager Wayne Pyle said a big part of the agreement with Best Friends Animal Society will be working to reduce the city's feral cat population through spay/neuter programs.

"We know we can make a difference with (Best Friends) and our partners in the community in trying to reduce, eliminate or at least minimize the intake of that feral cat population," Pyle said.

The action comes roughly six months after animal-rescue groups and residents asked West Valley and Taylorsville city leaders to investigate euthanasia practices at the animal shelter at 4522 W. 3500 South.

Janita Coombs, director of the nonprofit Community Animal Welfare Society, stood up during a West Valley City Council meeting in January to share with city leaders her concerns about what appeared to be regular problems with the shelter's carbon monoxide gas chamber.

Through a public records request, Coombs was able to obtain emails and written notes that indicated problems with the gas chamber or its operation on at least eight occasions, including an incident in October 2011 in which a cat survived two gassings.

City and shelter officials investigated the claims and determined the problems were caused by employee error, not equipment malfunction, and have been addressed by shelter management through additional training.

Despite the findings, residents challenged West Valley and Taylorsville leaders to review policies in place at the shelter.

In February, Taylorsville Mayor Russ Wall used his State of the City address as an opportunity to challenge both cities to "seriously consider alternate solutions to animal euthanasia of any type, except when it is absolutely unavoidable."

"To that end, I would propose that we commit to certification as a no-kill animal shelter by the year 2015," Wall said at the time.

Later that month, the West Valley City Council issued a proclamation of its intent to help the shelter achieve no-kill status, though it did not include a target date.

"We're pleased that both cities together are trying to take this step," Winder said Tuesday.

Under terms of the contract with Best Friends, West Valley will make annual $45,000 payments, and Taylorsville will reimburse the neighbor city $15,000 per year.

Best Friends, formerly known as No More Homeless Pets in Utah, has been working since 2000 to increase adoptions of shelter cats and dogs and improve access to free and low-cost spay/neuter services by partnering with shelters, rescue groups, veterinarians and local governments.

Those efforts have reduced the number of animals killed in Utah shelters since 2000 by 35 percent, according to Best Friends.

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