Delaware County will usher in the new year with a new animal-control policy.
The change could make finding a lost pet more complicated, especially for residents in the seven of the county's 49 municipalities that have chosen to chart their own courses.
As of Sunday, the Delaware County SPCA will no longer take in stray animals. The privately run shelter announced in 2010 that it would become a no-kill facility by 2012 and focus on adoptions and educational programs. The shelter will still accept pets turned over by owners.
The shelter's decision left municipalities scrambling to find a solution to accommodate stray animals.
The nine-member Animal Protection Board, a nonprofit corporation the county set up to run the shelter, signed an agreement Thursday with the Chester County SPCA to take in stray cats and dogs until Delaware County's new shelter is built.
"We can breathe a temporary sign of relief," said Thomas J. Judge Jr., head of the board and chief administrative officer of Upper Darby Township. Finding a short-term home for strays "is step one in a multistep process" until the new facility is up and running, he said.
The Municipal Animal Shelter in Darby Township is expected to open in May and cost an estimated $1.2 million. The search for a shelter director is under way.
In the meantime, to report a lost or found animal, county officials advise residents to call 911. County dispatchers will maintain a log of recently reported strays.
Getting an animal home will mean a trip to the West Chester SPCA at 1212 Phoenixville Pike to claim the lost pet. The cost to the owner will be $25 for the first day the pet is held and $10 for each day after, said Kathryn Sippel, Chester County SPCA operations manager.
But if the animal lives or was found in one of the seven municipalities that chose not to join the program, the game changes.
Chadds Ford Township, Chester Township, Colwyn Borough, Lower Chichester Township, Milbourne Borough, Radnor Township, and Rutledge Borough as yet have not agreed to participate in the Municipal Animal Shelter.
Those municipalities will need to find a safe place to house animals for the first 48 hours. After that, the dogs and cats must be kept in a state-certified kennel.
Not all kennels are state-approved to take in strays, said Samantha Krepps, spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture. The state will investigate if municipalities are found using unapproved facilities.
Radnor Police Superintendent William Colarulo said township officials had a tentative agreement to house strays with the Radnor Veterinary Hospital and the Francisvale Home for Smaller Animals. The township found 16 strays in 2011; 14 were returned to their owners within two days.
A wrinkle for Radnor, however, is that those facilities are not state-approved, according to Krepps.
Calls to the other six municipalities were not returned.
Using the Chester County SPCA as a temporary solution comes at a price for the Delaware County board.
There is a $30,000 monthly fee, which Judge said the county had agreed to lend the board.
Municipalities will be charged $1,250 to cover the first five animals and $250 for each thereafter. Exotic pets are not part of the plan. It will be up to local officials to enforce any fines to recoup their costs, Judge said.