Mat-Su Borough now requires all ‘found’ animals get turned over to shelter

PALMER — Mat-Su animal control officials have started enforcing a policy requiring anyone who finds an animal to turn it over to the borough shelter instead of local rescue organizations.

Matanuska-Susitna Borough shelter officials said this week that they decided to enforce the longstanding law so they can more easily reunite lost animals with their owners as well as prosecute those who may be guilty of animal care crimes.

The borough didn’t previously enforce the “found” animal rule because the shelter lacked the space for found animals, officials said. More recently, they said, they’ve added capacity by partnering with rescue groups to reduce the time each animal is in their care.

But now some rescue officials worry that animals entering the shelter sick or injured won’t receive immediate care and may instead be euthanized.

Officials with Clear Creek Cat Rescue said rather than euthanizing very sick or injured cats and kittens, they annually spend about $100,000 on veterinarian care, saving animals that the shelter may not be able to care for due to cost, staffing or space.

Last month, the group was barred from working with the shelter after Judy Price — who runs the nonprofit cat rescue group from her home near Homer — criticized the Mat-Su shelter policy on Facebook, violating a shelter “mutual respect” agreement, borough officials say.

“We may be extreme among rescue groups, but we don’t stop,” Price said. “I want to treat them like they’re our animals, our own personal animals that we care about.”


The Mat-Su Animal Shelter hosts dogs, cats and an array of other small animals at a facility located next to the borough landfill near Palmer. The shelter took in 3,486 animals last year and euthanized just over 21%, officials said.

Animals turned in to the Mat-Su shelter are held for three to five days, depending on whether an owner is identified, according to borough code. Unclaimed animals become borough property and are put up for adoption, sent to a foster home or given to a rescue organization after receiving a health check, vaccinations, and spaying or neutering if needed.

By comparison, Anchorage animal control rules allow anyone who finds an animal to keep it “while continuing to search for the owner” though they are also encouraged to contact the shelter if the owner can’t be located right away. Animals can also be brought to the shelter during business hours, or placed in an after-hours drop area.

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Officials with local rescues worry the Mat-Su shelter may be unable to provide timely emergency care to animals that enter the facility with unidentified injuries. Animals assessed as aggressive or feral may not be handled immediately, which can delay medical attention, they said.

Price said shelter officials were unable to give an injured cat life-saving medical care in early March because it was turned in under the new rule. The cat was ultimately euthanized because shelter staff said its behavior indicated it was feral, making needed care after surgery impossible, borough records show.

The Mat-Su shelter euthanizes animals ruled too ill to treat or considered dangerous, according to shelter director Chris Loscar. Last year, the shelter euthanized 758 animals, reunited 584 with their owners and adopted out 1,316, he said. The remaining animals were placed with long-term foster homes or sent to rescues.

The shelter currently works with 16 rescue groups to place dogs and cats in the community. Adoption fees charged by rescues are set by each organization and can vary widely, with prices ranging into the hundreds. The borough does not charge a fee to rescues who take animals.

Borough shelter officials said working with rescue groups has enabled them to reduce the average amount of time animals stay in their care from 21 days in 2019 to nine days today.

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Amy Bushatz

Amy Bushatz is a veteran journalist based in the Mat-Su covering Valley news for the ADN.