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BRISTOL -- The Humane Society of Elkhart County's nine nightly deposit boxes, typically full of dogs and cats, soon may be empty for good.
According to a statement from Executive Director Anne Reel, the humane society is completing plans to close the boxes, which allowed people to drop off stray animals after-hours at the shelter.
Reel referenced recent incidents of abuse related to the deposit boxes that contributed to their closing, including a suffocated kitten and an abandoned group of dogs and cats that had been without food and care for at least a month.
"It has gotten to the point where people were dumping off animals at night like garbage or abandoning them with no concern for their well-being," Stephanie Krol, humane society board president, said in a press release. "This is not humane."
Along with dumping mistreated animals, an HSEC drop box study found that people were abusing the system in other ways. The report stated that people were violating many HSEC policies, such as dumping pets to avoid paying the $20 intake and care fee, using the deposit boxes for pets instead of strays and dropping off animals from outside Elkhart County.
"It's like a magnet that attracts people to do what is not right," Reel said. "It's inhumane."
She said cases like these continue "to affirm that we are making the right and humane decision."
People living near the humane society shelter face the effects of unsupervised animal drop-offs; many strays wander over to neighboring yards.
Stephanie Kabay lives across the street from the HSEC and thinks closing the deposit boxes may make the abandoned pet problem worse. She believes some people will continue to drop off their animals near the shelter, even if the boxes are boarded up.
"Most people don't want to pay the fee," she said. "They just open the door and let them out. It happens all the time."
Kabay, who owns a dog and a kitten, said she cannot afford to harbor the cats and dogs that trickle over into her yard.
Theresa Tirotta, a self-described animal lover, took in a flea-ridden kitten that wandered to her doorstep. She thinks people eventually will begin to drop animals off elsewhere, "down a county road, in town, wherever."
Gladys Kauffman, who lives down the street from the humane society, is unfazed by the deposit box closings. She said she does not see many strays around her house.
"If people need a place to go, they'll just have to go when (the shelter) is open," Kauffman said.
In conjunction with the drop box closings, the HSEC will increase its hours of operation an hour and a half Mondays through Thursdays, starting Oct. 1. Reel hopes the extended hours will provide improved access for adoptions and returning lost or stray animals.
"When we closed at 5 p.m., the night drop boxes were already filled by 6 p.m.," she said.
The HSEC will install surveillance equipment and work with area police to patrol the shelter at night and prosecute those found abandoning animals on the premises, a Class A misdemeanor.
Reel said the humane society may decide at some point to make the former drop boxes available to police in emergencies, but they will need construction and will not be immediately available.
Reel will hold a press conference this afternoon to address questions about the nightly deposit box closings.