Rockwall celebrates five years of happy pets

The new Rockwall animal shelter attracted quite a crowd during its grand opening on June 28, 2008.

(ROCKWALL, TX – June 28, 2016) Before you read this, go to the refrigerator or an ice chest and grab your favorite beverage. It’s time to toast our accomplishments in Rockwall County, especially if you’re a “pet person” like me. Thanks to the Rockwall City Council, our animal shelter has been saving the lives of over 94% of its homeless pets for five years.

The council voted in August 2011 – County Judge David Sweet was mayor at the time – to set a minimum lifesaving goal of 90% at the shelter. It’s obviously been a huge success.

And in Royse City, thanks to City Manager Carl Alsabrook and Police Chief Jeff Stapleton, its animal shelter has been equally adept at finding new families for its homeless pets since the summer of 2012.

It’s an impressive accomplishment, but it didn’t happen overnight. Just 10 years ago, the Rockwall shelter was little more than a glorified barn. The dilapidated building was covered in rust, and it was swelteringly hot during the summer and often frigid during the winter.

Homeless pets at the old Rockwall animal shelter shared space with rust and debris.

The shelter was so ramshackle that few people went there to adopt a pet. As a result, only a small percentage of dogs and cats got out of that building alive.

That changed when voters in the 2005 bond election approved a transfer of leftover funds totaling $1.3 million to build a new animal shelter. (Voters also approved road improvements, the construction of John King Boulevard, the renovation of four parks and the building of two new fire stations. A proposition to build a $2.7 million animal shelter failed during that election.)

Here’s where the nostalgia kicks in. At about this same time, I began writing a pet column for Dawn Redig, the publisher of this fine publication, when she was an editor at the Dallas Morning News. We both thought a regular column would help to promote Rockwall’s homeless pets, helping them find new families.

The new animal shelter opened in June 2008. Coupled with the new media promotions we were doing at the time, more animals found homes than ever before. A little more than half of all the pets entering the shelter found new homes during 2009, the first full year of the new facility. But as the newness began to wear off and people stopped coming to the shelter, more animals began to die.

Manny Salazar surveys the play yard under construction at the new Rockwall animal shelter in March 2008.

Enter the proverbial unsung hero. Jeffrey Widmer, currently a building official with the City of Rockwall, saw the need for innovation at the struggling shelter. He patiently listened to every wild idea we threw at him, and eventually implemented an array of programs that were considered cutting-edge at the time. From regular promotions to adoption events held away from the shelter, these programs later became mainstream nationally.

More importantly, it worked. The Rockwall shelter went from finding homes for less than 50% of its homeless pets in June 2010 to placing over 86% of its pets just 10 months later. After the city council vote in August 2011, the shelter’s success rate shot up to 97% and they never looked back.

Five years later, Rockwall still finds homes for around 96% of its shelter pets, and it continues to be an inspiration for other shelters across the country. So hoist that beverage high as we propose an anniversary toast to the Rockwall City Council and its animal shelter. Here’s to five years of success, and here’s to thousand of happy pets and happy families.

If you’ll permit a personal note, this is my last column for Blue Ribbon News. Pam and I are moving to Portland, Oregon this summer, another proud No Kill community that saves the lives of over 94% of the shelter pets in the entire metro area (but Rockwall did it first!). I’m forever grateful to Dawn Redig for inviting me to share my love of pets in these pages and online. Thanks for reading!


Story and photos by Blue Ribbon News guest columnist Michael Kitkoski, co-founder of Rockwall Pets and No Kill Solutions. 

See the annual statistics for the Rockwall animal shelter at 

Read about the Rockwall City Council’s August 2011 vote at

Read more about the 2005 Rockwall bond election on the RockwallYES! blog (yes, it still exists) at

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