COLUMBIA — Even the office supplies were running low Thursday morning at the Central Missouri Humane Society. Before the news conference in which the shelter announced its pressing financial situation, staff spent about 10 minutes fixing the shelter sign, which was torn at the top and hung askew from the makeshift podium, a picnic table covered in mismatched plastic tablecloths.
The Central Missouri Humane Society is facing matters more urgent than office supplies and torn signs. Financial problems are affecting operations, and the shelter announced Thursday morning that changes must take effect by Oct. 5 to help make ends meet.
Beginning Oct. 5, the Humane Society full services hours will change. It will be open the following hours:
Monday:Noon to 5 p.m., Monday
Closed, Tuesday and Wednesday: Closed
Thursday: Noon to 5 p.m., Thursday
Friday:Noon to 5 p.m., Friday
Saturday:Noon to 5 p.m., Saturday
The Humane Society will continue to offer full services during the its new hours.
To make a donation or check on needed supplies, go to www.cmhspets.org to make a one-time donation, set up a recurring monthly donation or check on needed supplies, including bleach and cat litter.
"The Central Missouri Humane Society has operated in a deficit for the past several years, and our board feels that we can no longer continue in that mode," Chris Koukola, a shelter board member, said.
The shelter is reducing operating hours, making changes to employee policies, investigating potential partnerships and promoting public awareness of the situation .
The number of animals being brought to the shelter has been increasing, adding to the total expenses.
"We had 58 dogs, puppies, cats and kittens brought in on Monday," Koukola said. That same day, six of the 58 animals found new homes. Lexie, a large gentle brown-and-white dog brought to the news conference, is one of the animals that shelter staff hope to place in an adoptive home.
According to the shelter, more than 8,800 animals were brought in last year. To date this year, the shelter has seen more than 5,400 animals.
Patty Forister, executive director of the shelter, estimates that every animal that comes through the door costs the shelter about $100 for food, staff and facilities.
The Central Missouri Humane Society is a private, nonprofit organization funded through public donations and member support. It is located on city-owned land, which is leased to the shelter for $1 a year.
Animal control is a function of the Columbia-Boone County Health Department, and the shelter operates under a contractual agreement with it. The city chips in about $100,000 a year, and the Boone County Commission provides $10,000 a year for the Humane Society.
Animal control has brought in an average of 11.5 animals a day to the shelter during the past four years, said Stephanie Browning, director of Pubic Health and Human Services. The Humane Society estimates it takes in more than 22 animals per day on average .
Cost-saving measures announced Thursday include curtailed hours. The shelter will be closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and will be open from noon to 5 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays.
The reduced hours will decrease operating costs and allow the shelter to continue to offer a full array of services, including adoption and low-cost spaying and neutering programs. Veterinarians and staff will continue to perform services and support on days the shelter is closed.
Personnel changes include a reduction in employer-paid health insurance, which means that shelter employees will be asked to pay a greater percentage of their health insurance costs.
"Our staff is committed to making this work," Koukola said.
Also, rather than hire a new staff member to fill a vacant position, the shelter will delegate duties to current staff members.
The Humane Society is also looking into relationships or partnerships as a way to offset costs.
"The Humane Society has begun a dialogue with the city, and we are going to be talking with other potential partners within the communities we serve," Koukola said. Rather than ask the city for monetary donations, the shelter submitted a request to the city for charitable donation of services including lawn care, printing services, vehicle and building maintenance and improved drainage.
The shelter is also investigating potential partners for corporate sponsorships or capital projects with naming rights.
The shelter is also in need of a new facility.
"We need a new shelter," Forister said. "This one does not work anymore."
For example, she has said, the shelter does not have an isolation area which helps prevent the spread of disease among animals.
In about 12 weeks, the shelter will begin to re-evaluate finances and consider the next steps for the future. If goals have not been reached by Jan. 25, the shelter may decide to take more drastic steps.
Forister was vague about what those would be. "We haven't explored all those options because we don't want to make those decisions," Forister said. "In phase two, the choices get a lot harder. It can mean changing our mission to be a closed-admission shelter. That's what we're hoping to avoid."
The Columbia shelter is currently an open-admission shelter and takes in all animals, regardless of adoptability or shelter capacity. Changing to a closed-admission shelter would mean that not all animals are admitted. Often, in cities with both a Humane Society and an municipal animal shelter, non-admitted animals are then sent to the municipal shelter, which is often forced to euthanize the animals.
The Humane Society is conducting a benchmark study in conjunction with MU students to examine the shelter image and look at the operational models in comparable cities.
"In some cities the humane society does everything and the city pays them to do it all. That's what we need to decide for Columbia. What is right?" Forister said.
The Humane Society is committed to raising awareness of its plight, Forister said.
"We will get the message out," Forister said.