ASAP demonstrates WCAS policy

In an effort to make the public more aware of the plight of unadopted animals at Winnebago County Animal Services (WCAS), the group Adopt Shelter Animals Please (ASAP) held four demonstrations around Rockford on Saturday, Feb. 4.

The group held signs saying things such as, “WCAS kills too many dogs and cats.” The group has often clashed with WCAS Director Gary Longanecker, who disputes the credibility of their allegations.

Sheila Vayenas, speaking for ASAP, said: “Mr. Longanecker and his staff are unwilling to take death row dogs out of Winnebago County Animal Services to the pet stores in the area that very much want to help adopt them. Mr. Longanecker is unwilling to work with rescue groups that will take any purebred or non-specific breed dog to safety.”

Bob Lee, manager at Petsmart in Machesney Park, said: “They do (bring dogs in) when they have volunteers to do that. Unfortunately, when they bring the dogs out to the stores, we don’t have the facilities to keep them here. In our stores, we have a small adoption center where we keep cats, but dogs have to have runs. There is no way to keep the dogs here, so they have to have volunteers who are willing to bring them out.”

“The recent killings of 50 seized dogs was totally unwarranted,” said Vayenas, referring to the Terri Slothower case. “Mr. Longanecker’s statement that ‘these dogs had worms and mange and are unadoptable’ is ridiculous.” Vayenas says she works with “rescue groups coast to coast that rescue dogs and cats that are blind, paralyzed, have missing limbs and are epileptic, etc. Mr. Longanecker also stated that these dogs were ‘inbred.’ I was not aware that he was able to do DNA testing at his facility.”

One of the better known rescue groups in the U.S. is Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab, Utah, which runs a sanctuary that has taken in dogs, cats, horses, and many other animals, some of them sick or injured. This is the nation’s largest sanctuary for abused and abandoned animals. Another smaller group is Rocket Dogs in San Francisco, headed by a woman named Paley, which was featured recently on Animal Planet TV. This one specializes in rescuing dogs scheduled to be euthanized in shelters and finding homes for them.

Vayenas added, “I have personally sent Mr. Longanecker over a dozen e-mails from all over the country that detail the rescues of severely injured or disabled dogs who were rescued via Internet crossposting. I engage in this crossposting many hours a day. If I would have been allowed to post these seized dogs, I have no doubt that many of them, which included puppies, would have been saved.”

The demonstration was covered by all three Rockford TV stations. Longanecker told the TV stations that euthanasia rates at WCAS were comparable to others in other facilities around the state, and that funds received were designated for spay/neuter programs. The Rock River Times asked him for comments, but he did not respond.

Vayenas continued, “The lack of spay/neuter clinics, the lack of follow-up on them and the absence of a pet counselor (which was asked for by the donors of $240,000) are the real culprits in overpopulation. How many times is Winnebago County Animal Services going to blame the community for overpopulation and high euthanasia rates when we have no spay/neuter clinics or education in this area, and we are paying Mr. Longanecker over $51,000 a year to do something about it?”

The group concluded their demonstrations with a visit to Longanecker’s home. There, Vayenas said, they were “approached by an angry neighbor who told us that Winnebago County Animal Services does two spay/neuter clinics every year!” But Vayenas said there has been only one spay/neuter clinic in the last three years, “and I personally believe it would not have happened if it were not for the pressure that ASAP has put on Winnebago County Animal Services… We have given Mr. Longanecker many options to reduce the euthanasia rate. The county has given WCAS in excess of $280,000 as of last September. A private donor has donated nearly a quarter of a million dollars to be used for the reduction of euthanasia rates. Where is the money going? How long do we have to wait?

“Two years ago, we were told that the money and the manpower was not available for off-site adoptions. Now a half-million dollars and 19 volunteers have been added to their staff, but the fate of homeless dogs and cats has not changed.”

From the Feb. 8-14, 2006, issue

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