By CLINT FOSTER
The City of Mineral Wells’ new online database of impounded animals at the Mineral Wells Animal Shelter has not even been live a full week and the shelter is already reaping positive benefits.
Thanks to the new database – courtesy of Mineral Wells Police Chief Dean Sullivan – and the tireless work of volunteers and shelter employees, the shelter is receiving unprecedented amounts of attention. Many animals are either finding new homes or being reunited with their families.
The new database, which Sullivan created with the help of the city’s information technology team, provides the public with a comprehensive list of all the shelter’s animals, complete with photos, descriptions and other necessary information. The list is updated daily and provides people with an easy way of claiming pets by filling out an online form. Sullivan said after just two days of the database being online he knew of two animals that were adopted and another that was reunited with it’s family.
Sullivan was reluctant to take credit for the new system, but said he was glad that the public is using it effectively.
“It’s not about me, it’s just another tool,” he said. “I’m pleased that the public has used our online form to be able to reunite with lost pets. The biggest challenge was how we could do it here with our limited resources. Other communities have more funding, web servers and all kinds of fancy tools. We just got lucky working with the IT guys and came up with something that hopefully will be sustainable. We’ll see.”
The shelter has also received a great deal of help from two volunteers recently. One in particular, Brandon Jackson, has taken it upon herself to take photos of dogs in the shelter and post them on the animal shelter’s Facebook page. She posts the photos, adding detailed narratives. The public response has been astounding. After only a week of volunteering at the shelter, Jackson’s posts have attracted attention from potential owners and rescue groups all over the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and as far away as Southlake.
“We’ve had several dogs be reunited with their owners because they saw pictures on Facebook of them,” she said. “People are just sharing like crazy. That’s important, getting that out there, so if people lose a dog, they know what’s on [the database]. That needs to spread or no one will even know it exists. I think it will be useful if people know about it.”
Jackson began volunteering with the Palo Pinto County Humane Society and then with the shelter, after rescuing a dog her parents adopted. She instantly wanted to help and decided to use her old hobby of photography to do so. The way her parents found the dog also contributed to her volunteering idea.
“Once you go in there and pull [a dog], you just kind of are hooked,” she said. “My parents... saw [the dog] on Facebook. Had it not been on Facebook, they would have never seen it and pulled it out. And I would have never gone in there and never gotten involved with it.”
Jackson said it is especially important that dogs get adopted out of the Mineral Wells shelter because the facility has often been at double capacity. But Jackson’s efforts combined with Sullivan’s database have instigated a noticeably positive change. Jackson said on Thursday, at least 10 animals were taken out of the shelter by loving families. She estimated about one dog a day has been reunited with its family in the week she has worked there.
As much attention as Jackson’s Facebook posts have drawn, Sullivan said there have also been some setbacks. He described one scenario in which an animal had already been adopted out of the shelter but was still garnering lots of attention on social media.
“We had an animal that had already been adopted out yesterday and the Facebook postings were still running rampant,” he said. “We received about 75 calls on an animal we had already found a home for. That’s why the city impounded animals list is going to be the most up-to-date information about what animals we do or don’t have. [Social media has] caused some problems, but when it comes to communication, I’d rather have more information than less.”
Jackson said that in addition to her Facebook posts, it is important that people still check the shelter’s online database, especially families looking for a lost pet. She said too many people who loose pets count it as a loss when, in reality, the animal is probably at the shelter.
“As soon as an animal arrives at the shelter, the shelter’s taking a picture of it that day and posting it on the database as soon as they can,” she said. “It’s just a matter of people knowing to get on there and keep searching for their dog. It’s a really good solution if people just use it.”
As great as the results have been from both the online database and the work of shelter volunteers like Jackson, the shelter still needs more help. Mineral Wells Police Lt. Brad Belz who oversees operation of the shelter said they are always in need of more volunteers. He said people often don’t realize how much work is involved in running a shelter and any time people can offer helps. The shelter is also in need of more foster families to alleviate the chronic overcrowding of the facility. Sullivan praised the work of shelter employees and volunteers.
“There’s a lot of work to be done at the shelter,” he said. “You can’t ever say enough about any of our volunteers. Volunteers are great. I wish we had more of them.”
Jackson said there are also other outside problems that the shelter has to deal with, which she hopes the public can remedy. She explained that one of the major problems is owner surrenders and less than half of the animals in the shelter are actual strays.
“People are just bringing in dogs and litters of puppies because they don’t want to mess with them,” she said. “Then they don’t get them spayed or neutered. They just let them keep having puppies and dropping them off. If it wasn’t for that problem, they wouldn’t even be over capacity and have to euthanize like they do. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Still, Jackson said the best way of helping dogs in the shelter is to find them new homes. Thanks to Jackson and the Palo Pinto County Humane Society, the Index will renew its “Pet of the Week” feature each Sunday, highlighting an animal that needs a new home. Jackson said she encourages people to actively check online for adoptable pets for either themselves or loved ones.
“The more people that see them and tell their friends about it, there’s a better chance of getting the word out as to what dogs are in there, reuniting stray dogs with their rightful owners and getting the dogs that don’t have a home out of there before it’s too late,” she said. “I think in the past it’s been a house of doom for animals and people just sweep it under the rug and think, ‘Oh, it’s depressing, I’m not going in there and seeing those dogs. I love animals, so I’m not going to go in there because I’ll be depressed.’ but if they really loved animals, they would go in there and tell people that [the animals] are in there and you’d be surprised how many people would get them out.”
According to Belz, the shelter staff is now back at full capacity with a third employee and as a result, it will be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Belz mentioned that in addition to the Humane Society, four rescue animal groups have recently signed on to foster impounded animals. This, too, has been in response to the new online innovations. He said anyone interested in volunteering at the Mineral Wells Animal Shelter can contact him at 940-328-7882.
Follow Clint on Twitter @Clint_Foster55