If you were a public official and were faced with the prospect of spending $2 million or $3 million to expand an animal shelter, would you consider using the money to sterilize just about every animal in the county instead?

That’s the kind of question that occurs to Tim Holifield, a retired constable who runs animal shelters for Montgomery County and the city of Conroe.

He’s good with numbers and measurements — and he’s fond of an old country saying: It’s better to fix the leak rather than buy a bigger bucket to catch the drip. What he means is that it’s better to reduce the number of animals coming into a shelter rather than building bigger shelters and adding more staff.

One of the best ideas floating around these days is a proposal to ask Holifield to come to take a look at the Galveston County Animal Resource Center. That’s an excellent suggestion.

Public officials across much of Galveston County have been discussing the center’s proposed budget. The shelter in Texas City is funded by the county and several cities within the county. Some cities — such as Galveston and League City — operate their own shelters. The Galveston County Health District has oversight of the Animal Resource Center.

The budget discussions have not been promising. The organization of the county’s shelter is such that one of the cities can effectively block any budget increase. The county’s population is growing. More animals are coming into the shelter. Some shelter officials are concerned that they won’t be able to keep employees without a raise. Doing things as they’ve always been done just isn’t going to work.

That’s why it would be good to get a fresh perspective.

When he was constable, Holifield was asked to take over Montgomery County’s animal shelter twice. When he retired in 2012, he formed a private company and was awarded the contract for operating the shelter. This year, the city of Conroe contracted with his company to operate its shelter.

When Holifield took over Montgomery County’s shelter, the euthanization rate was 86 percent. Today, about two-thirds of the animals leave the shelter alive.

The cost per animal is $56 at the Montgomery County shelter. Many other shelters report numbers between $100 and $150.

What those figures suggest is that Holifield and his company have figured out how to do a lot with relatively little.

Rather than competing with local veterinarians, Holifield worked out contracts with them for low-cost sterilizations. The shelter in Montgomery County puts out daily reports on the animals it takes in. As a result, rescue groups work with the shelter to claim suitable animals, to take temporary custody of injured animals and to help find the owners of lost pets.

Galveston County ought to take advantage of his advice. It almost certainly would save lives.

Heber Taylor is editor of The Daily News.

(3) comments

Ron Shelby

Stanford university had a major problem with feral cats in the late80s to early 90s. They went to a capture/sterilize/release program. It became a very successful operation.

Miceal O'Laochdha

Stanford. Some of the smartest people in America. Maybe we could learn something from this story? Thanks Ron.

Richard Gilreath

The expert to consult for a second opinion is Nathan Winograd, the director of the No Kill Advocacy Center, who, incidentally, is a graduate of Stanford Law School. (He documents the Stanford Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) program for feral cats in his book "Redemption".) He provides a blueprint for a successful No Kill shelter in his "No Kill Equation," a set of programs, which, when implemented comprehensively, can save over 90% of all animals admitted, including all healthy and treatable animals. It has been successfully implemented in communities across the country, including Austin and Williamson County (Georgetown area). (Go to www.nokilladvocacycenter.org for more info.)

Montgomery County is not a No Kill community with a 60% Live Release Rate (per the October 2013 statistics, the most recent monthly stats available on their website). While this is better than the Kill Rate of 60% in May at the GCARC, Montgomery County still has some work to do to in some program areas.

Nathan Winograd is currently conducting a tour of his documentary and is scheduled to be in Houston on October 7. Perhaps the GCHD and the Animal Services Advisory Committee should seize this opportunity and invite him for a tour. At the very least everyone involved in managing and advising the GCARC should plan on attending (go to www.nokill.org).

Bottom line -- the answer to the opening question is: Spend the money on implementing the No Kill Equation. This would include high-volume, low-cost spaying/neutering as one component of a comprehensive solution, and treating sick and injured animals per the No Kill Life-Saving Matrix criteria (rather than killing them) to ready them for adoption.

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