Columbia needs to pitch in, save the Humane Society

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 | 12:00 p.m. CST; updated 12:06 p.m. CST, Wednesday, December 10, 2008

It was around this time last year that I came home to find a gray cat, all skin and bones, standing near a tree in the yard in the freezing rain. I called out to it and it came up to me slowly, meowing loudly. I wasn’t about to turn the poor thing away, not when I could see its ribs from where I stood. I opened the garage door and shooed it inside and brought it food and water. I remember she jumped onto my lap and began purring loudly after she had her fill.

I never named the gray cat I found that winter night. I kept her around for eight months or so, claiming that I was fattening her up, getting her used to people before I tried to find her a home. She never bit or scratched me, but she did have a problem with hissing. If you woke her up from a nap, she would hiss. If you startled her, if she ran into another cat — the list goes on. She was a good cat, very timid, but a good cat, and I wanted to find her a good home.

Change in 2009: What do you want to see?

With the new year ahead, change is likely to be on our minds. Some of us think about changes promised by newly elected officials. Some of us ponder how to change ourselves for the better through resolutions. The civic-minded among us are likely to contemplate how to change Columbia and Boone County for the better.

This is an invitation to share your thoughts in the coming weeks with other readers.

Tell us: What kind of change do you want to see in 2009?

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I made the mistake of signing a lease very early in the year, before I got attached to the gray cat. Then came the summer time and I wasn’t having much luck finding a home for her. I didn’t want to take her to the Columbia Humane Society because I was afraid she would not pass any of the psychological tests because of her timid nature and how easily she hissed. I had been to the Humane Society the previous semester looking for a kitten to adopt, but that fell through.

I remember how crowded and loud it was, walking past the dogs to get to the cat room. There were two walls of cages, each full of kittens and older cats. I was there to get a kitten, but I just couldn’t pull myself away from the older cats. I thought that maybe I could save them; maybe I could give them a good home and get them out of that cage forever.

But not all of the animals at the Humane Society will be adopted. It’s impossible to think that they will. So, the Humane Society does what it can to make sure the animals are as comfortable as they can be. They are fed, they have human interaction, and the dogs are taken outside each day for exercise before they go to bed. And because the Humane Society is an open shelter, they also take in strays brought to them by animal control and surrendered pets from locals. They also spay and neuter animals for lower costs.

And now the Humane Society is in trouble. It is underfunded and overcrowded. A new shelter is needed because the current facility will not be functional soon, not when it takes in 9,000 animals each year. Even now there are two, three or more dogs to a kennel. There is no sort of isolation for sick animals. And the shelter itself is falling apart.

The Humane Society is asking for a larger budget from the city of Columbia. For 2009, the Humane Society proposed a $295,821 contract to the city. This number is based on the fact that 53 percent of the animals the group takes in are from the local community, so the request is for the city to pay for 53 percent of the sheltering cost. 

And we all know what the problem is: Where is this money going to come from? Money and the economy are on everyone’s minds right now. It was announced that we are officially in a recession and there are even some who say this will turn into our second Great Depression. Though we’re not there yet, the economic situation is not looking too optimistic for Americans. People are starting to make sacrifices, cutting corners, and a pet happens to be one of those corners.

The Humane Society needs donations. Yet, what if you’re living from paycheck to paycheck, barely making ends meet and you can’t afford your own pet?

What the Humane Society should set up are areas to donate around Columbia where there is a lot of human traffic. Like the Salvation Army bell ringers, only for the cats and dogs. There are almost 100,000 people in Columbia. If half that number gave a couple dollars or even quarters while they walked into the mall, the Humane Society would be that much better off.

If the Humane Society is unable to either raise the funds it needs or gain them from the city, then they may have to become a closed-admission shelter. And if they were to close completely, Columbia Second Chance would have to take much of the Humane Society’s burden. Another consideration would be to create a city animal pound.

I did not want to send the gray cat I took care of to the Humane Society because I was afraid she would not pass the tests and would be eventually be put down. Whenever I think about that cat, I like to imagine that the old lady I gave her to, that she’s living in a nice, quiet home now. But she could very well be at the Humane Society, crowded in a cage with another cat. It can’t be helped because they receive an average of 22 animals a day. And as economic conditions continue to worsen it’s likely that average number of animals per day will continue to increase.

It’s December, the season of giving. If you give a couple dollars to the Salvation Army, stop and think about the Humane Society. Our furry friends need comfort and joy, too.

Lauren Titterington was a reporter for the Columbia Missourian on the Muse beat in the summer of 2008.

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