GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Six months ago a state report revealed that the Kent County Animal Shelter was euthanizing dogs at one of the highest rates in the state. A short time after the report was released, the shelter's supervisor resigned. 

In the time since, the dedicated staff and volunteers have taken a number of steps to better serve both animals and owners. The shelter's acting director says the rate at which animals are euthanized has decreased since last summer. 

In October, Michigan Pet Fund Alliance and Best Friends Society were brought in to asses the shelter and ways it could improve. The report set the pace for the shelter's ongoing transformation.  

“I think, historically, we haven’t had the euthanasia rate that Kent County taxpayers, our residents, expect," said Sara Simmonds, the environmental health director for Kent County's Health Department.

Simmonds, who is acting as the shelter's supervisor as the search continues for a new one, said decisions to euthanize now require at least three signatures. She said as an open admission shelter, their transformation is slow going, but that it is going to be done right. Simmonds said the number of animals euthanized by the shelter, excluding owner requested euthanasia, has decreased since July. 

“How do we really reach out and be a resource to the community as oppose to the way many people perceive us, as a punitive fee-driven organization that prematurely ends animals lives," Simmonds said Wednesday, Jan. 20. 

The shelter's adoption hours have shifted to cater to potential adopters, and Simmonds said they are preparing to open on Saturdays, as well. The shelter has also stopped requiring photo ID's of potential adopters. 

All dogs found by the county's animal control officers are now posted onto their Facebook page, which staff says has allowed for quicker pet and owner reunification. 

Simmonds said she is working with staff to determine a better way of reunifying pets with owners who may not be able to afford the fees involved if their lost pet is not licensed, up to date on shots, spayed or neutered. One of the possibilities in the works, Simmonds says, would allow for first time offenders to pay for their pet to receive surgery instead of the fees. 

Shelter staff are also working more closely with community animal welfare groups to transfer animals who may be shutting down in the shelter setting, or who require extra medical or behavioral care. 

“I've got to lay it out there. I am proud of where the animal shelter is going. I am proud of the people who work here," Simmonds said. "Like I said, I can't speak to the past because I wasn’t part of it. But, I can tell you the team that we have now is committed and they are really amazing people. With amazing people you can do amazing things for the animals."

Simmonds clarified that the shelter does utilize a small group of longtime volunteers, but she said they are working on hiring a volunteer coordinator to open up their volunteer program again.

The report by Michigan Pet Fund Alliance and Best Friend Society listed the following recommendations for KCAS:

• Unlock the doors and allow the public to view all dogs unless quarantined for the purpose of finding lost pets and adoptions. 

• Schedule behavioral training and canine handling for staff and volunteers as soon as possible for developing skill sets and protocols for moving dogs through the shelter to rescue or the adoption floor. 

• Create a collaborative euthanasia decision protocol. 

• Transition the adoption process to remove barriers and evolve the intake process to a pet resource center where intake is one of several options.

 • Keep animal identification cards updated with important pertinent information 

• Implement routine enrichment plans for all pets. 

• Expands hours to weekends and when the general public is available to visit the shelter. 

• Create a foster program as soon as possible.

► Emma Nicolas is a multimedia journalist. Have a news tip or question for Emma? Get in touch by email, Facebook or Twitter.

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