Animal shelters are so full that Schenectady police have been forced to occasionally house stray dogs in the locked entrance to police headquarters.
But in two weeks, the temporary cages will be gone; the city is nearly finished building its own animal shelter.
Workers refurbished an unused building at the wastewater treatment plant on Anthony Street. They also built kennels for 14 dogs, adding drains for each run and fencing above cinder block walls.
The goal is to open June 1. It can’t come soon enough for the police.
“We were hoping to get this thing done by the end of January,” said Assistant Chief Michael Seber.
The city picks up dozens of strays each year, and most are never claimed by an owner. About 85 percent of the dogs are found without a microchip or collar tag.
Animal control officers bring the dogs to local shelters, where the city pays to house them for the required five days. After that, the dogs can be euthanized or adopted.
But finding a shelter isn’t easy.
“We started housing the dogs because the shelters were filling up,” Seber said.
In desperation last October, officers put dogs in cages in the police sallyport for a day or two, until space opened at a shelter. The sallyport is a locked entranceway accessed from the back of the building.
Officers took care of the dogs, although they didn’t have a lot of room. They would walk the dogs on police property, citing the liability if a dog got loose or attacked a resident on city streets.
As the problem continued through the winter, officers began to push for their own shelter. There were two main problems: the costs of building a new shelter and operating it.
Police put together a plan to refurbish the wastewater treatment plant building for about $20,000, using money set aside for shelter fees.
The City Council recently agreed to hire two additional part-time animal control officers, who would run the shelter whenever the full-time animal control officers were off-duty.
They capped that expense at a maximum of $450 a week. The part-timers will be paid $15 an hour and won’t work set shifts, only being called in when needed.
Seber said the overall price will be less than the city was spending on other shelters.
“It’ll be a good savings for the city,” he said.
Last year, the city spent $56,000 on shelter fees. There also were substantial costs in transporting the dogs to Amsterdam, where they were usually housed at the Montgomery County SPCA.
“And that was one of the lowest years,” he said, adding that the city also avoided fees for the last three months of the year by housing dogs in the sallyport.
After the five-day waiting period — and a slightly longer wait for dogs whose owners have been found and notified — the city won’t keep the dogs. Some will be transferred to shelters for adoption. Others will be euthanized by local veterinarians.
Seber said police will try to get each dog to a shelter for adoption. But, he said, the dogs must pass a screening for adoptability. Vicious and dangerous dogs will end up euthanized instead. And some breed, like pit bulls, are rarely adopted. Those dogs are more likely to be euthanized, he said.
“We’ll still try to get them adopted out to various shelters,” he said.
Michael Daugherty, executive director of the Animal Protective Foundation in Glenville, said he would welcome adoptable dogs.
“We want to do whatever we can to try to prevent euthanasia,” he said. “We’ll take any dog that’s adoptable that otherwise was going to be euthanized, as long as we have room.”
He added that it’s not easy to tell whether a dog is adoptable. A dog that has never been in a cage could show aggressive and anxious behavior after just 24 hours in a shelter, he said.
“Determining whether it’s adoptable or not can be a daunting task. That’s one of the things every shelter struggles with,” he said.
The city won’t screen families to adopt dogs directly from its shelter.
“We don’t want to get into that business right now,” Seber said. “Maybe sometime. … We want to walk before we run. It’s a big step for the city.”