INDIANAPOLIS — Dogs and cats are being euthanized at the city’s animal shelter because they don’t have the staff to care for them.
Indianapolis Animal Care Services says its live release rate is now 84 percent, which means only 84 percent of the animals are leaving the shelter alive through adoptions, rescues or returning to owner.
That is the worst live release rate since 2015. Just two years ago, it was 91%.
The city says lack of staff is a big reason why dogs and cats are dying.
Indianapolis Animal Care Services wants to save lives and they’re taking a new approach to finding workers.
They’re partnering with the staffing nonprofit Keys2Work, which helps people who are returning home from incarceration, at risk youth and those experiencing homelessness with employment assistance, mentoring and job placement.
Keys2Work has already partnered with the city to help with solid waste, parks, forestry, wastewater and litter cleanup.
John Smyre is experiencing homelessness.
He’s also one of the newest workers at Indianapolis Animal Care Services.
At $15/hour his job is to clean kennels, replenish food and clean up waste.
“You can buy something instead of having to ask somebody for something,” said Smyre. “I like to buy my own stuff, so I need a job."
Smyre’s position is part of the new partnership between IACS and Keys2Work.
"I've been down that road where I didn't have much,” said Smyre.
Some Keys2Work staffers include people who have spent time in jail or prison, and some could be still serving parole, probation or home detention.
“The term ex-offender is a derogatory term to those individuals,” said Glenn Johnson, Executive Director of Contract Accounts at Keys2Work. “We try to change that and say returning citizens, because that's who they are. They pay taxes. They pay bills; they take their kids to school. It's just they made a mistake and they paid the price."
Currently, the city shelter is using four Keys2Work staffers as part of a new push to boost staffing.
“It's a win-win situation," said IACS Deputy Director Katie Trennepohl. “We are at a crisis level. Keys2Work is one way to think outside the box to solve the problem."
Trennepohl said the city’s staffing situation is so dire, they’re often staffed at only 30% of where they should be.
As of now, people working the Keys2Work positions are not interacting with the public.
“We are working with Keys2Work to screen the individuals to make sure this is the right fit and this is the place for them to be,” said Trennepohl. “When they're here, they're being supervised. We believe that everybody deserves a second chance."
For many of the dogs and cats at the city shelter, they do not get a second chance.
The city shelter has euthanized more than 1,022 animals so far this year, records show.
“We are euthanizing savable animals,” said Trennepohl. “Animals that we would have been able to save two years ago because we don't have the staff to care for them or rehabilitate their behavior needs. It's heartbreaking for all of us."
The city shelter has been on emergency intake status since February 2022, which means you have to have an appointment to surrender an animal unless it’s an emergency.
That means more of the dogs and cats coming into the shelter are sick, injured and aggressive—and fewer are making it out alive.
"We are also seeing a huge decrease in the number of animals pulled by our rescue partners,” said Trennepohl. “We believe that's due to a shortage of veterinary services to get them spayed and neutered."
In April, the city announced pay raises for many shelter staff to more than $15/hour.
But it’s hard to recruit and keep staff in an environment where animals die regularly.
IACS hopes its new partnership will save dogs and cats while helping others get a job.
Both IACS and Keys2Work are open to expanding the program in the future.
Here’s how you can help: