Humane Society considers enforcing mandatory fees

Tuesday, December 16, 2008 | 7:25 p.m. CST; updated 9:04 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 16, 2008

COLUMBIA — The Central Missouri Humane Society may soon close its doors — at least partially.

The Humane Society currently has an open-door admission policy and refuses no animals. But it is considering a change to its intake policy if the current financial situation does not improve, by charging a mandatory fee for all surrendered animals, Executive Director Patty Forister said.

"A strictly enforced intake policy equates to limited admission because animals in the care of people that cannot pay will be turned away," Forister said.

Intake fees were implemented at the Humane Society in October 2007, Forister said. The intake fee for a dog or a cat is $20, regardless of whether it is an owned animal or a stray. Intake fees are higher for litters of animals.

The Humane Society does not currently enforce intake fees, but this could change as early as January.

Humane Society board member Maria Furey said the shelter doesn't refuse animals based on a person's ability to pay an intake fee, just as it wouldn't refuse an animal because of its temperament, age or adoptability.

"By being selective and charging drop-off fees, we become a closed-door shelter," Furey said. "Particularly in Boone County and Columbia, there is no place for animals to go. We are often the last hope for stray or unwanted animals to be taken in and treated humanely."

Although the city has an Animal Control department, there is no municipal shelter. Dogs picked up by Animal Control are cared for and housed at the Humane Society's animal shelter. If not claimed by owners, the animals are given to the Humane Society and placed for adoption, Forister said.

“The big question is what will happen to the animals we cannot take in,” Forister said. "The intake fee may dissuade people from bringing in animals."

Furey said that by imposing fees, the Humane Society runs the risk of people dumping animals rather than bringing them in.

"They may dump animals on our property or elsewhere. Or worse, people may dispose of the animal. We strive to avoid this," Furey said.

Forister said this is a serious step for the Humane Society.

"We need to define the parameters of where the animals are going to go," Forister said. "Surrounding animal control agencies will need to be aware of the change. More animals will need to be brought elsewhere. We will be encouraging those from out of town to work with animal control agencies or humane societies in their own communities."

The Humane Society continues to struggle to make financial ends meet. Although total income has increased 177 percent since 2005, expenses have grown 146 percent, Forister said. The Humane Society has also been to trying to overcome a $127,000 deficit from 2005, she said.

"We've had to float the shelter on our investments while trying to close the financial gap," Forister said.

In addition to overcrowding at the shelter, the Humane Society has struggled with building occupancy expenses, including insurance and utilities, Forister said.

"Food bills are up 30 percent, and we are supporting a spay-and-neuter clinic with two full-time veterinarians, which is a vital but expensive program," Forister said.

The Humane Society faces major decisions regarding its future role in the community and whether it can retain an open-door admission policy or even remain open altogether, Forister said.

Board members attended the Boone County Commission budget hearing Monday morning to make a public plea for the financial future of the shelter.

At a meeting with the city last month, the Humane Society board of directors presented a revised 2009 contract to the city asking for triple the current contract value. The contract increase is based on findings by the Humane Society that more than 50 percent of the animals taken in at the shelter are from Boone County. The Humane Society has asked the city for more money to cover expenses that would normally be incurred by operating a municipal shelter. The city responded by sending out requests to individuals and businesses to bid on services provided by the Humane Society.

A deadline from the city had been extended until Dec. 5 to allow the Humane Society to submit a bid on services, but it did not submit a bid.

On Dec. 11 Forister announced that the Humane Society did not submit a bid proposal because she and the board of directors questioned the parameters of the bid request.

The request sent by Animal Control asked recipients to submit a bid for the cost of shelter services for an estimated 1,100 stray animals.

If the Humane Society changes its mission to become a closed-door shelter, the number of stray animals would far exceed the 1,100 estimated by the city, Forister said. Humane Society statistics indicate 6,613 animals have been brought to the shelter this year. About half of those animals were from Columbia and Boone County, and 546 were brought in directly from Animal Control.

The Humane Society also questioned the disposition and treatment of the animals suggested in the bid request. "The bid does not clarify the disposition of the animal," Forister said. "Does it get adopted? Where? By whom? How much? Is it spayed or neutered and under what type of agreement? Does it just get euthanized?"

Melinda Pope, procurement officer for the city, confirmed that the bid request was sent to "at least 27 recipients," including local veterinarians and kennels. Two responses have been received, which have been sent to the Department of Public Health and Human Services for review, Pope said.

The current contractual agreement between the Humane Society and the city expires Dec. 31.

Although hopes for a contract renewal look bleak, the Humane Society remains positive about a future relationship, Forister said.

"We hope that if our current relationship changes, perhaps we might still be able to work with the city to produce aggressive spay and neuter campaigns to benefit the community and reduce the number of unwanted animals," Forister said. "We've never shut the door on communication."

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