Calling their financial situation "dire, dire, dire," Central Missouri Humane Society executive director Patty Forister today confirmed rumors that have been swirling for weeks: without more money soon, the Big Bear Blvd. facility cannot continue operating.
"We are within weeks of facing some very tough questions about our ability to keep going," Forister told the Columbia Heart Beat. "It's now or never for the communities we serve."
Filling an unusual dual role as both a city-county animal control facility -- aka "dog pound" -- and an adoption-driven animal care center, the Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS) has been facing an inhumane situation for years. Amidst calls for millions of dollars in higher taxes to enlarge city halls and courthouses, CMHS receives a comparatively paltry $100,000.00 annual stipend from the city of Columbia and $10,000 from the Boone County Commission to take on animal control duties.
Taking in nearly 9,000 animals each year, CMHS spends about $100.00 per animal in food, staff, utilities, and facilities, Forister explained. "That puts us at nearly a million dollars annually, most of which we raise from private sources," Forister said.
With no ability to tap taxpayers, CMHS has grown "too fast, with no plans for increased funding," she added. "We only have a guarantee on about 10% of our budget, so each year we don't know how much we will raise."
Anyone who's ever visited the 30-year-old CMHS facility knows conditions are bad. Chronic overcrowding and a decades-old ventilation system can't remove a terrific stench that knocks you over at the door. "The building has cost us tens of thousands of dollars in upkeep over the years," Forister said. But it sits on city-owned land, leased to the organization for $1.00/year, a golden leash that helps keep the society tethered to a deal that stopped working years ago.
Every argument that's been applied to the city hall and county courthouse expansions also applies to the humane society. Fire hazards abound; conditions are unhealthy for animals and humans, some of whom are city animal control staff; and the facility provides a vital public service that if terminated, will leave Columbia and Boone County over-run with stray and abandoned animals.
"We've always approached our situation gracefully, grateful for what we've considered donations from the city and county," Forister said. "Our leadership has never really looked at it as a business negotiation: that we handle the city's and county's animal control needs, but in exchange for fair compensation that keeps pace with growth."
With 200 or more animals on site at any one time, "we long ago outgrew our space," she explained. "There are all kinds of changes in animal care that have occurred over the years that we simply haven't been able to implement. A lot of those changes have to do with disease control, where good ventilation and adequate space are absolutely essential."
Saying that it's "now or never" for CMHS, Forister sees her organization as a group of top-notch animal lovers "torn between our mission and our space. We don't refuse animals," she added. "We just can't."