CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Owner-surrendered animals at Cleveland's city animal shelter now will get at least 72 hours to live, just like the strays.
The change in policy was approved by the Cleveland City Council on Monday in reaction to what Councilman Richard Banks called "bad press," especially on Facebook.
Advocacy groups such as Dixie Pet Underground Railroad was posting animals turned in to the local shelter on their Facebook pages.
"An example would be last week when we posted a nursing momma cat and five kittens," said Beth Foster, a city Animal Shelter Advisory Board member and also a member of Dixie Pet, on Tuesday. "The next morning we had to post they were killed before we had time to arrange an adoption."
There will still be exceptions to the 72-hour policy for vicious, injured or diseased animals, when owners request euthanasia for a sick pet or when the director deems the facility is overcrowded.
But council members repeated the hopes expressed previously by local animal rescue groups that Cleveland moves as close as possible to being a no-kill city over the next few years.
"We are thrilled,'' Foster said. "It's not our ultimate goal, but it's a step in the right direction.''
When owners surrender adoptable animals because they just don't want them anymore, the shelter staff tries to point out the options, including rescue groups and newspaper advertising, shelter Director Gene Smith said.
"We ask them to use us only as a last resort," he said. "No one likes to kill an animal."
The shelter averages 320 or more owner surrenders each month, compared with about 150 strays that are picked up, he said.
The goal is to become a no-kill city, Foster said, and cities can be certified as no-kill with a 90 percent adoption rate.
City Manager Janice Casteel said she has talked with someone who may volunteer to photograph many of the animals and post them on the city shelter's website, creating more chances for adoption and helping out understaffed shelter employees.
Rescue groups already are doing that on their own websites, but on Monday, the city site had a photo of only one cat.
The shelter is part of the Cleveland Police Department and is operated as the department's Animal Control Division, serving the entire county. Bradley County contributes to the shelter budget, based on the proportion of county animals involved each year.
"To do what you want to accomplish, you would have to expand the facility," Police Chief Wes Snyder told the council Monday.
The shelter's total fiscal year 2012 operating budget is $563,000, up slightly from $548,332 in 2011. That money is used is for operating expenses, and money from the estate of a local couple is used for a special spay and neuter fund.
The city and county contribute to the animal shelter budget based on the number of animals picked up the previous year.
Casteel said the public is encouraged to donate to a special fund that would be used when poor and elderly people want to adopt a pet but can't afford the spay and neuter fee. More adoptions, she said, would relieve overcrowding.
Contact staff writer Randall Higgins at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-314-1029.