Port Arthur officials address ongoing animal shelter concerns

Published 12:38 am Thursday, March 16, 2023

The Port Arthur Animal Shelter again became the center of conversation this week after two Southeast Texans approached City Council regarding the care of impounded animals.

Veterinarian Kelly Kays suggested the city adopt a no-kill status, meaning at least 90 percent of animals in the municipal shelter leave alive.

“That happens by owners reclaiming their lost pets,” she said. “It happens through adoption. And it happens through rescues retrieving the animals and extending their adoption ability, some taking them as far away as Canada.”

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Kays said in 2016 she became the veterinarian for the City of Beaumont, and at that time less than 50 percent of animals at the city’s shelter left alive. Within two years, she said, they obtained a no-kill status.

At Tuesday’s regular council meeting, she offered to serve in the same respect for Port Arthur.

“Implementation of the sanitation and preventive medicine could start immediately, which will raise the adaptability of the Port Arthur animals,” she said. “Rescues are the answer, as I’ve said. And then you can develop trap, neuter and release programs for the feral animals.”

In February, a video widely shared on social media appeared to show two kittens in poor health at the city’s animal shelter. In the video, one appeared to be dead but died at a later time. It was sharing a kennel with another kitten.

City leaders said an internal investigation was launched following release of the video, noting an inspection Nov. 8 by the Department of State Health Services reported no negative findings.

“It just happened at an unfortunate time when the staff was out running all over the place,” City Manager Ron Burton said. “It was just unfortunate that someone came by the shelter at that time, and that is not a true reflection of Port Arthur.”

The shelter on 4th Street, which was built in 1978 to house 30 animals, has approximately four employees, Burton said.

“It’s not a pleasant job,” he added. “Staff members often want to be promoted, so we are constantly training staff. The staff that we have there are very committed to what they do.”

Ricky Jason, who spoke after Kays at Tuesday’s meeting, gave similar comments.

“For 10 years I’ve been going to the city pound, and it’s unbelievable how neat it is, how clean it is,” Jason told councilmembers. “The guy that’s running it does an excellent job. A lot of them, he tries to keep them alive. Some dogs have been in there two or three months. Some people have a gift; some people don’t have a gift. And the man that’s running it, he has a gift.”             

Comparison by city
According to Port Arthur’s Code of Ordinances, impounded animals can be kept for five days. If the owner does not claim it within those five days, the animal becomes property of the city.

“Animals shall be humanely destroyed by a substance and procedure approved and recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association,” Ordinance No. 21-83 states.

The Mid County Small Animal Shelter in Groves is used to house animals from Groves and Port Neches.

According to the City of Groves’ Code of Ordinances, “all impounded pets shall be redeemed within three days. Any such pet not redeemed within such time may be adopted or euthanized.”

Monthly statistics posted by Beaumont Animal Care show the city’s municipal shelter took in 254 animals in February. Within that month, 212 were released live, and 45 died or were euthanized. The save rate for February was 87.47 percent.

The Humane Society of Southeast Texas is a no-kill shelter. According to information on the organization’s website, opting not to euthanize shelter animals to make space for others means “the majority of the time we will not be able to assist you immediately” in the event someone needs to surrender an animal.

New shelter

The Port Arthur shelter is riddled with overcrowding.

Burton said animal control staff members handle hundreds of animals each month, which includes livestock. And, he said, they are also dealing with abandoned animals, referencing a recent incident when someone left a liter of 14 puppies near PetSmart on FM 365.

“We cannot confirm it, but people use Port Arthur as a dumping ground for their animals,” he said. “People come from other municipalities and dump their cats and dogs, just like they dump their tires. That’s not fair to the City of Port Arthur, but we are doing our utmost best to make sure we follow the law in a very humane way.”

Part of a $32.9 million capital improvement plan passed by councilmembers has allowed for the construction of a new animal shelter.

In May 2021, councilmembers approved a resolution authorizing PGAL, Inc. to perform a feasibility study at a former wastewater treatment plant located at 1401 19th Street. The location was deemed unstable after the study revealed the burial of four 10-feet-tall concrete walls.

With the stipulation that the shelter must be built on city-owned property, in May 2022 the city entered into an agreement with PGAL to develop a master plan for a new facility on Gates Boulevard where St. Mary Hospital once stood.