The past 12 months have been busy for Leigh Nacy.
Nacy has been in charge at the revived Tuscola County Animal Shelter for just about a year. Her hiring came just a few months after the Tuscola County Board of Commissioners had resurrected the animal control department, which was scrapped in 2002 due to financial restraints and replaced with a contract with Sanilac County Animal Control. She replaced Michael Forster, who was hired as animal control director but left the position shortly after.
“A year ago we had nothing,” District 1 commissioner Tom Young said to Nacy at a recent commission meeting. “So when you started the building wasn’t ready to go, you had no truck, no employees.”
Now, in addition to Nacy, animal control employs one full-time officer and a kennel attendant and operates on a budget of about $170,000 a year.
Nacy gave an accounting at the meeting of her first year in charge.
From July to December of last year, the shelter took in 225 animals. Thirty-five percent were adopted, 20 percent were returned to their owners – “Five of those were cats returned to their owners,” Nacy said, “which is unheard of around here” – 35 percent were transferred to rescue organizations and 4.5 percent were euthanized. Some of those were court-ordered, the others were animals that were not or could not be adopted. The remaining 5.5 percent were animals still being housed at the shelter.
One reason for those numbers, Nacy said, is networking. The shelter has connected with pet rescue organizations from across the state that have helped facilitate adoptions. The staff also developed a Facebook page that has earned 4,100 “likes.”
“It is one of our biggest networking resources,” Nacy said. “Our adoption rates went up this year thanks to our Facebook page.”
She said it also speeds up the return of animals to their owners because animal shelter workers try to post photos of the animals right away.
Despite all of that, she said, space at the shelter remains an issue. “It seems we are always full,” she said.
To raise awareness of the shelter and its mission, she’s gotten the staff and animals on WNEM-TV 5’s morning show, connected with the Vassar Theater for an animal-related event, been part of Paws in the Park at the Bay County Fairgrounds, had a Valentine’s Day event in February and had floats in various festival parades. The Vassar Theater hosts events that also raise funds for the shelter.
The shelter also features an animal monthly on a Saginaw radio station and offers emotional support animals for Hope for Warriors, an organization that helps combat-wounded military veterans. “We don’t train them, obviously,” Nacy said, “but Hope for Warriors covers the adoption fee.”
She and the staff also raised awareness, and funds, through the sales of animal-related merchandise created by shelter volunteers. Their work also has been buoyed by people who’ve donated pallets of cat litter or purchased special cots for dogs to use. Caro Middle School students and staff raised money for the shelter.
Another group brings troubled children in to the shelter and they read to the pets.
“It is good for the animals,” Nacy said, “and it is good for them.
“Just being around people is better for the animals, especially the cats. Cats will play more if a human is in the room.”
Lighthouse Rehabilitation Center in Caro brings clients in three to five times a week now to socialize with the puppies and make it easier for the animals to transition to a home. “It does help with their social skills,” Nacy said, “which is pretty amazing.”
Some of this is reflected in the shelter’s budget. She estimated getting $4,500 in donations for the year and they’d already reached that level in July. She had estimated getting $3,500 in adoption fees and the shelter already is at almost $8,000 – “We have had a lot of adoptions this year,” she said, “which is fantastic.”
She estimated court-ordered restitution would bring in $200 and they’ve already been told to expect more than $1,000.
“I would never count on that,” said county clerk Jody Fetting. That’s because while restitution may be assessed, it can be a complicated effort to collect it, sometimes requiring a collections officer to garnish wages, or take other steps. Even then, it may never be paid.
She said the shelter is a little over its budget in overtime costs because of calls that come in all hours of the day and night, including weekends. “We’ve had a lot more emergencies this year than we had last year,” Nacy said. She said the on-call demand for services has been a struggle, especially since summer hit. Weekends have been very busy.
The shelter also is over its budget on medical expenses due to the number of animals needing care.
She said it has been a challenge to redo the shelter while still working in it. For instance, they are working to create a good quarantine area.
“We really didn’t have a quarantine area at first so we kind of made one,” she said, noting it is not the easiest to work in “so we probably will work on that this year.”
Manpower at the shelter can make call intake – when people want to surrender their animal – a challenge, she said, because staff is cleaning kennels or feeding the animals, doing other tasks, or they may be on the phone when people come in. They have had 700-plus calls for that so far this year and they have about 27 pending, she said.
She said they also have one staff member dedicated to doing an animal census, door to door.
In addition, someone has to come in for half a day each on Saturdays and Sundays to feed the animals and clean their pens. Then someone comes in for an hour or so each night to make sure everything is okay.
She said the shelter’s staff has ruffled some feathers because breeders have animals that supposedly have been given rabies vaccinations, but not by a licensed veterinarian. Such places aren’t passing their annual inspections by Nacy and her staff because of that.
“I don’t know how they get them,” she said, “but they say they’ve been giving it themselves.”
Animal control staff has been requiring the animals get new vaccinations from licensed vets before the county will recheck the kennel.
“I want to commend you,” Young said. “You’ve come a long way. You have done more than I thought possibly could get done.”
“It has been quite a journey,” said District 2 commissioner Thomas Bardwell.
“And I have a whole list of things to do,” she said.
Among them is a neuter-and-release program for cats, to cut down on the feral feline population. She said she’s working with local vets to try to set that up. She also is working to get another shed and developing a “cattery” – a space where all of the cats can be let loose and learn to get along.
“The more free-roaming there is,” she said, “the less stress there is on them.”
Mark Haney is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.