Seized dogs in court case take up Cedar Rapids shelter space

Critter Crusaders member Chuck Mincks plays with Gemini, a three-year-old, German Shepard at the Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter Thursday, April 21, 2011 in Cedar Rapids.  (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)
Critter Crusaders member Chuck Mincks plays with Gemini, a three-year-old, German Shepard at the Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter Thursday, April 21, 2011 in Cedar Rapids. (Brian Ray/ SourceMedia Group News)

Authorities raided a southeast Cedar Rapids home on Feb. 17 and seized 32 dogs, two cats and a parrot that authorities say were being kept in unacceptably unsanitary and unhealthy conditions.

It’s been no quick and easy victory for animal care, though.

Thanks goodness for the animals that the volunteer cadre, Critter Crusaders of Cedar Rapids, is around, says Diane Webber, manager of the city’s Animal Care and Control operation and shelter.

Two months after the animal seizure, the city’s animal shelter continues to be responsible for the seized animals as the case of the animals’ owner, Jennifer Wood, of 308 30th St. Dr. SE, works its way through Linn County court system.

Under normal circumstances, the need to house and care for the seized animals would challenge any shelter’s limited space. But the seizure is particularly challenging now for the Cedar Rapids’ shelter because it continues to operate in small, temporary quarters awaiting the construction of a new shelter to replace the city’s larger one ruined in the June 2008 flood.

However, plans for the new shelter, which the city wants to build at Kirkwood Community College, are languishing amid discussions between City Hall and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The new shelter may not be in place now until 2014.

Seized dogs at a temporary shelter with its own regular stream of incoming strays and dogs and cats surrendered by their owners seems the perfect reason to resort to putting dogs down more frequently.

But the truth has been anything but that.

Critter Crusaders members Chuck Mincks, board chairman, Jan Erceg and Doug Fuller say the shelter crunch has only made them work harder than ever with their in-house rescue operation to move dogs out into adoptions and into a network of responsible dog rescue operations locally and throughout the Midwest.

“We’re in overdrive,” explains Erceg.

In one recent week, Fuller, a retired Cedar Rapids police detective, says Critter Crusaders moved 10 dogs from the shelter to the care of responsible rescue operations, one going as far as New York State.

Even so, Fuller says, “We really do have a crisis situation here with all these seized dogs. It’s been going on for more than two months now, and nobody knows how much longer it will continue.”

Fuller, Mincks, a recently retired Cedar Rapids police lieutenant, and Erceg, an Area Ambulance Service paramedic, say they would like nothing more than to get court case with the seized dogs settled, hopefully so they can work to get the animals placed in new homes.

“They’re wonderful dogs,” says Mincks.

Shelter manager Webber reports that 24 of the seized dogs — in an assortment of sizes — and the two seized cats and the seized parrot are now at the shelter, with nine other dogs being boarded at two local veterinarian clinics, with two receiving critical care, she says. To date, defendant Wood owes the shelter $41,000 for shelter and care provided to the seized animals, Webber adds.

Creature Crusaders ’ Erceg notes that the volunteer group at the shelter formed as a non-profit group in 2008 before the flood in June 2008 under the name Friends of the Cedar Rapids Animal Shelter. In the spring of 2010, the group changed its name to Critter Crusaders, and since February of 2010, the group has successfully placed 160 dogs and 66 cats from Cedar Rapids to reputable rescue operations throughout the United States.

Erceg says it can take two to three weeks to move a dog that has not been adopted at the Cedar Rapids shelter out to a rescue operation. She says the operations — which are organizations with their own group of volunteers willing to provide foster care for animals until they are adopted — are vetted by Critter Crusaders, which then follows up to see that the animals find a permanent home.

Creature Crusaders spends no little time holding public events to show off dogs and cats in need of a new home and to raise money and recruit volunteers for their effort. The group uses its funds to pay for non-routine medical care of animals it places, to transport the animals to their placements and to reimburse the Cedar Rapids shelter for what it has spent for medical care.

Creature Crusaders ’ work has contributed to what Mincks and Fuller say is a little-known and remarkable fact — that the city’s animal shelter is forced to euthanize only a third of the dogs as similar animal shelters across the country. They credit the shelter’s Webber with setting the standard.

Webber took over the management of the city’s shelter in the fall of 2009 after working for The Humane Society of the United States as a regional director and as director of disaster preparedness and shelter management. Before her hiring by the city, she managed an emergency shelter at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids for six weeks after the June 2008 flood displaced about 1,300 animals.

Webber says Critter Crusaders ’ work has helped make a difference. No dogs are euthanized today at the city’s shelter because of a lack of space, she says. She adds that she seeks the advice of Critter Crusaders ’ members before dogs are put down because of medical problems or bad temperaments.

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