By CLINT FOSTER
It was an emotional scene in the Mineral Wells City Council Chambers on the evening of July 16, when those in attendance watched as Micha Saldana struggled to hold back tears, as she recounted the story of her dogs’ deaths.
Her husband, Mark, stood by her side at that meeting, as they appealed to city council for change at the Mineral Wells Animal Shelter, where workers reportedly euthanized the Saldana’s two beloved puppies after the family said they made multiple attempts to claim them.
On that night city council unanimously approved a policy change for the animal shelter, extendimng the time an animal spent in the shelter to 72-hours – not including the date of pickup or the date of euthanization. While the Saldanas saw this as a small victory, more change came Tuesday night, in the wake of their saga.
In the same spot of the City Hall Annex, where the Saldanas stood just over a month ago, Mineral Wells Chief of Police Dean Sullivan unveiled his new online database for animals impounded at the shelter to a captive audience of council members, public officials and citizens. Thanks to Sullivan’s efforts and help from Daniel
Vargas and his information-technology team, among others, the City of Mineral Wells’ website now has a listing of all the impounded animals at the shelter. Each listing comes complete with a photo, breed information, gender and other pertinent information.
Citizens can access the list on mineralwellstx.gov – on the “Animal Shelter” page, under the “Police Department” link, which is under the departments tab on the homepage.
“There were a couple of things that were brought forward [at the July 16 meeting], especially on the issue of communication and our ability to reunite responsible pet owners with their pets,” Sullivan told council Tuesday.
“Now we have the ability for our public to check the impounded animals’ list,” he said. “It’s a first step. It’s not a perfect system. It’s not fancy like some of the big-city stuff, but it is something we’ve evolved, with the tools that we have. It’s a quantum leap forward, from my point of view.”
In the new system, an owner can claim his or her pet by simply clicking a prominent “Click to claim” button under the animal’s picture and, then, filling out a form. Sullivan explained that this is a web-dependent form, so an email address is not necessary to claim a pet.Once the form is completed, the system will notify the shelter and the dog will be held in the system.
Sullivan also informed council he is in the process of perfecting an additional form on the site that allows people to report lost, missing or found pets.
He said he has spent a great deal of time adjusting calculations in the MWPD’s Animal Shelter module in their crimes database. Now, as soon as an animal is impounded, an “available date” appears on its intake form. He added that nothing can be done regarding the disposition of an animal until after three days. The only exception is if the dog must be put to sleep out of veterinary necessity, in which case the shelter will need to supply
Sullivan with an explanation he can audit.
Sullivan also has orchestrated other improvements to the shelter system. At the meeting, he noted a sign is now prominently displayed on the shelter’s front window, alerting the public to the facility’s hours.Currently these are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., seven days a week, unless they hire a third shelter employee.
Also, as recommended in the July 16 meeting, all phone calls to the shelter are now forwarded to police dispatch so the number, time and conversation of a potential pet owner can all be recorded.
“One of the suggestions was, ‘Why don’t we use Facebook?’” Sullivan said at the Tuesday meeting. “I’ll tell you from my experience over there in the big city [Fort Worth], Facebook is very labor-intensive. We’d have to have someone just continuously monitor that thing, keeping it live, and we don’t have the staff for that.”
One question brought forth at Tuesday’s council meeting was how to keep people from claiming pets that are not theirs under this new system. After the set “claim to” date, shelter animals can be put up for adoption; however, the concern remained that rightful owners still may not get their pets.
Sullivan said that if a pet is not collared, microchipped or tattooed, there is no realistic way to keep this from happening.
He said the shelter can only reasonably hold animals for so long. hoping someone will come get them. and he would rather give an animal to someone who wants it under that circumstance – rightful owner or not – than have to euthanize it.
“I mean really, if we have someone that wants it, do we euthanize it? Then we’re back to that philosophical dilemma,” he said. “The charge has been, ‘Whatever you do, don’t kill them. Above all things, do no harm.’ So, I’ll give it to them, until we evolve a means for pet verification. Sometimes dogs shake their collars, but if it’s not collared, microchipped or tattooed and somebody wants it, I’d rather give it to them than kill it. That’s just my opinion.”
Sullivan received a glowing endorsement from the council for his hard work.
“This is 1,000-percent better than what we had three or four weeks ago,” Place 2 Council Member Bill Terry told Sullivan at the meeting. “I appreciate you taking the reins and going with this thing with all the help that you’ve had. Thank you so much.”
Micha Saldana told the Index she heard the news on Wednesday from Terry, a regular at Jimmy’s Cafe where she works. Although she hates that her family had to be the “guinea pigs” in this situation, she was proud of the work she did with Mark and very pleased with the changes.
“Our city has really stepped up and done a tremendous job to take care of the issues that have happened,” she said. “They’ve done ultimately everything we ever wanted out of the situation. They’ve definitely followed through with what they said and I’m very grateful for that.”
“Being able to get online and view everything, that’s fantastic,” she added. “That completely alleviates any issues like we had. That was a great milestone for them to accomplish. I think that’s awesome.”
Although this new system is a large step in the right direction, Sullivan said the work is not finifhed with animal control.
“This is just a way, at least one step, to reunite people with their dogs,” he said. “The next step is really to sit down with the Palo Pinto County Humane Society staff and start looking at our animal ordinance. At some point, if we get the microchipping solution and it’s affordable, that needs to be where our first emphasis is.”
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