PHOENIX — Arizona’s most populous county has shipped more than 4,000 cats and dogs to shelters in other states over the past 19 months, angering local rescues who say the transport program has severely depleted the pet supply in Phoenix.
About two-thirds of the animals shipped out of state between January 2018 and July 2019 were never given an opportunity to be adopted locally before they were placed on transport hold, according to the Arizona Republic.
County leaders said they were animals Arizona families didn’t want: pit bulls, chihuahuas and pets with medical or behavioral issues.
But a Republic investigation found the county also sent 308 cairn terriers, 159 poodles, 126 Labrador retrievers, 91 German shepherds and a thousand other mostly small dogs that local animal rescue groups say Phoenix families are looking for and can’t find.
Currently, the vast majority of the dogs listed on the Maricopa County shelter website for adoption are adult pit bull mixes.
Major organizations such as HALO Animal Rescue and Arizona Animal Welfare League say the county’s transport program has depleted the pet supply in Phoenix to the point that they’ve started shipping animals in from rural Arizona, other states and Mexico to meet the demand of local adopters.
The seemingly unnecessary shuffling of animals across state lines has left the animal welfare community at odds.
Mary Martin, the director of Maricopa County Animal Care and Control since October 2016, said the transport program is essential to saving animal lives and is the reason the county shelter’s euthanasia rate has fallen over the past two years to just 5%.
Before that, the county shelter occasionally sent animals to out-of-state shelters when its own facilities reached capacity. At the time, the euthanasia rate was near 30% and county leadership said they had to put animals down to make space in the shelter.
It wasn’t until Martin’s arrival that the county ramped up the transport program, with shipments of animals leaving the state on planes and in vans almost weekly. They go to shelters in New Mexico, Utah, Idaho and Washington state.
“If you’re interested in the welfare of all of the animals in the shelter, then it’s very difficult to argue with the success of the transport programs,” Martin said.
Heather Allen, president and CEO of HALO Animal Rescue, said the transport program is not the option that’s best for pets, potential owners or taxpayers.
She said the number of homeless animals in Maricopa County is down because of robust spay and neuter programs, which had more of an impact on the declining euthanasia rate than the transport program.