So many happy-ending stories come to mind when I look through the images I've taken of stray and relinquished pets.

So many happy-ending stories come to mind when I look through the images I've taken of stray and relinquished pets.

Molly, an adorable basset hound mix, was brought into the post veterinary clinic to be put down. Her owners said she was old and achy, but the delightful dog still had a lot of life left in her. Staff suggested she be relinquished so that another family could adopt her. Molly, who seemed to have a perpetual smile on her face and appeared to be quite healthy, immediately became a favorite of stray facility volunteers, and she soon found a new home.

Haley, a sweet American bulldog mix, was picked up as a stray with injuries to her face and mouth. At first it was thought she had been in a fight, but further inspection of her injuries revealed she had probably chewed her way through a fence. I witnessed Haley's overjoyed reaction when she was reunited with her owner.

Mimi, a skinny, "googly-eyed" black cat, raised her four kittens as well as an orphan in the shelter and watched them quickly get adopted. One day a family came into the stray facility thinking they would adopt a kitten, but they wanted to help an animal that really needed them. Easy-going, previously overlooked Mimi found her new home with them.

The future of the Fort Leavenworth Stray Facility is uncertain. The stray facility currently operates out of the Veterinary Treatment Facility, under Public Health Command, but in 2013 the VTF will undergo a remodel and will not continue stray facility operations. The future of the stray facility will become clearer after guidance is received from Installation Management Command. The uncertainty of whether Fort Leavenworth will have a stray facility and in what capacity re-emphasizes to me how important a well-run animal shelter is to a community and how unfortunate — for families and pets — it would be to not have this service.

The Fort Leavenworth Stray Facility is helping lost dogs and cats get home and helping others find new homes. In 2011, 76 dogs were reunited with their families, and 67 other dogs — those strays that were not reunited or were relinquished — were adopted by new families. Almost every stray and relinquished cat that came into the facility was adopted or reunited in 2011, with only four being euthanized for disease. So far this year, 98 percent of the animals that have come into the facility have been adopted or reunited, with only 2 percent euthanized for disease or aggression; none were euthanized for space. Few animal shelters can boast such positive statistics.
The post stray facility, with dedicated volunteers and a knowledgeable staff, has essentially been operating as a no-kill shelter for the past several years, adhering to the widely accepted No-Kill definition by finding homes for all healthy animals and only euthanizing sick or vicious animals. The Fort Leavenworth community has been fortunate to have an animal shelter and command that favor the no-kill philosophy. Families are sometimes out of town when their pets go missing, and it takes them more than three days to return home and locate them in the shelter. Unclaimed animals — even the most adoptable, issue-free, cute and cuddly ones — can take several weeks, even months, to find homes.

Every community needs a refuge for lost pets and a known location for pet owners to look for them. People who find lost pets need a place to take them or someone to call for assistance with free-roaming pets in their neighborhoods.

"Pet lives are not without value. Pets are not disposable," said Crystal Blackdeer, president of the Leavenworth County Humane Society board of directors. "They depend on us, and we're responsible for providing them adequate care.

"I think there's also an expectation of pet owners in the community that if they do everything they're asked to do (microchip, vaccinate, register, etc.), there will be someone who can help get their pet home again if it goes missing."

A stray facility may also help prevent malevolent activity.
"Having a place for stray/abandoned pets to be sheltered prevents mischief by unkind people," Blackdeer said. "Where pets are regarded as disposable, they can easily become targets for those who would harm them."

Leaving strays to roam and fend for themselves is not an option. This poses several potential hazards, and surrounding communities have their own burdens and cannot deal with post's strays.
"Comprehensive animal control is part of the fabric of a decent community," Blackdeer said. "Beyond the animal welfare concerns, it keeps pets from endangering people. It's a public health and safety issue."

In addition to providing safe refuge for strays, the Fort Leavenworth Stray Facility accepts relinquished pets from owners with VTF privileges. The relinquishment option offers a good solution for PCSing, divorcing or other stressed families who have been unsuccessful in finding new homes for their pets.

Often relinquished animals are highly desirable pets and are quickly placed in new homes. Without the relinquishment option, these pets might be put down, needlessly ending the life of a quality pet, or they might be dumped, adding to the animal-at-large issue for surrounding communities, causing the animal undue stress and possibly death, and perpetuating the reputation of the military for being irresponsible pet owners.

For the past several years, Blackdeer has argued against the stereotype, noting that service members are not to blame for abandoning pets in the county because those who live in the Leavenworth, Lansing and Fort Leavenworth areas have access to facilities that accept owner-relinquished animals.

"If the stray facility closes, that means every person on Fort Leavenworth has no place to relinquish pets," Blackdeer said. "It won't take long for the cities and the county to decide that the military really is to blame for every 'ownerless' cat or dog that shows up at someone's home looking for help, or causes a vehicle accident, or bites someone, or harms an owned pet, or harasses or kills livestock, or has an unwanted litter under someone's porch. If Fort Leavenworth wants to avoid being blamed for every unclaimed pet in Leavenworth County, there needs to be an operational stray facility on the fort."
Being a good neighbor, providing refuge for lost pets that many consider family members, and finding homes for adoptable pets are a few of the benefits of a community's stray facility.

A well-run stray facility can even be said to complement Army-endorsed programs. Reuniting pets with their owners and providing a safe community supports the Army Family Covenant. Pets are obviously very important to service members and their families.
I've seen several families bring their dogs to redeployment ceremonies to welcome home their troops. And what better way to achieve Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness and improve resiliency than with a running buddy — one can almost always be found waiting in a kennel at the post stray facility.