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OKC Animal Welfare sets no-kill goal

Jazzy is one of the dogs available for adoption at Oklahoma City Animal Welfare. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

Jazzy is one of the dogs available for adoption at Oklahoma City Animal Welfare. [PHOTO PROVIDED]

It was August 1999 when I first came to Oklahoma City Animal Welfare. More than 30,000 animals entered the shelter that year.

The shelter was an old drafty building that was difficult to keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer. All of the animals were in group caging with as many as 30 animals in each cage. It truly was the “dog pound.”

I remember coming home to my wife after the first day and saying, “I don't think I can do this.”

I was always a dog lover, but I ended up in this career by luck. I didn't know it at the time, but I was very lucky to be getting laid off from the steel fabrication work I was doing. I came to Oklahoma City Animal Welfare in search of a job with the city and to feed and clothe my young family. It was never intended to be a career. It was only after arriving that I understood why life brought me here.

I'm still not sure how I made it in the beginning. Only 10 to 15 percent of the animals entering the shelter were able to be saved. The shelter was using gas chambers to euthanize the animals that weren't. Those sounds still haunt me to this day.

I guess in the beginning I felt obligated to the animals to stay. In some ways, I felt that if I left, there would be no one left who cared. I know differently now. There were many dedicated staff and volunteers who wanted to change things for the animals. We just didn't know how to do it. Frankly, it seemed impossible at the time. Several of those staff members and volunteers are still here today.

A lot has changed in 18 ½ years. In 2017, a little more than 22,000 animals entered the shelter. The animals are now being housed in a climate-controlled building with updated caging. There is a dedicated staff of more than 50 employees who work very hard every day to improve the lives of the animals. That staff is supported by a strong volunteer base with more than 100 active volunteers each month. Many of the programs the shelter offers would not be possible without them. The shelter has partnerships with more than 100 animal organizations and a formal partnership with the Central Oklahoma Humane Society. These partnerships help place thousands of animals into loving homes and create much needed space for animals entering the shelter.

In 2007, partnering with the Central Oklahoma Humane Society, Oklahoma City Animal Welfare set the goal of saving 75 percent of the animals entering the shelter. We've since achieved that goal but recognize the work is not done. We've set a new goal of having a “no-kill” community. Simply stated, we need to save all of the healthy adoptable pets entering the shelter. It is believed that would take saving more than 90 percent of the animals entering the shelter.

This is a big goal, and it is going to take support from the entire community.

We believe through innovative and nationally recognized programs, it's very achievable. It's already being done in many communities across the country. Animal welfare organizations like Oklahoma City Animal Welfare and the Central Oklahoma Humane Society have to become a resource to the community and help educate on responsible pet ownership and keeping pets in the home.

The biggest obstacle to achieving this goal is the volume of animals entering the shelter. This has to be the priority of not only the organizations working in animal welfare, but the entire community. We are asking for your help. We know that with your help, we can create a humane community where animals are valued.

To find out more about Oklahoma City Animal Welfare and what you can do to help, visit the shelter at 2811 SE 29, or go to www.okc.gov/animalwelfare.

Jonathan Gary is Oklahoma City Animal Welfare superintendent. He has worked at Oklahoma City Animal Welfare for 18 years, working in all areas of operation leading up to his promotion to superintendent in August 2016.

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