Sunday, January 31, 2010

PATTY FORISTER: Advice for local candidates and pet-loving voters

Final part of our 4-part interview with the former humane society director
As a role model for how to do animal welfare right, former Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS) director Patty Forister says look no farther than Columbia Second Chance, the humane society's low-profile, privately-funded pet-rescuing cousin.  With no contracts from under-paying government agencies to worry about, and a decentralized administrative structure that has "every board member actually doing the day-to-day work," Columbia Second Chance "deserves kudos for going forward with a unified, workable vision," Forister told the Heart Beat.
With hindsight and reflection since she left the post last November, Forister has spoken candidly with the Columbia Heart Beat about the humane society's past, present, and future.  We first interviewed Forister in August 2008, for a story called Dog Days: Humane Society Faces Closure.  This installment concludes four parts. 

Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):  What is it about Columbia Second Chance that makes their business model work so well? 
Forister:   Passion is certainly part of it.  You won't find people more dedicated to animal rescue and welfare.  Everyone works.  They have working board members, for instance, actively engaged in daily activities.  They've also put together an impressive group of shelters, like their Dog Ranch and Catty Shack.  Just as importantly, though, they don't have that quasi-public function, like CMHS does.   They can control which animals they take and the quality and quantity of those animals.  That's a lot harder for CMHS because it has contracts with local government.  Columbia Second Chance functions more like a private humane society, while CMHS functions more like a public animal control facility. 

Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):  But CMHS also has plenty of passionate, committed people. 
Forister:   Absolutely!  And several working board members.  Maria Furey was the president and worked with animals a lot.  Tiffany McBee, another board member, was very active in animal care.  CMHS had board members work as animal receivers and animal rescuers in the shelter, patting us on the back when we needed it.  But they also weren't there all the time because they do play a management role.  There's a fine line between engaging and micro-managing, and I think our board was always conscious of that.

Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):  We have local elections coming up in Columbia and Boone County.  What would you advise candidates who want to win the support of Columbia's many animal lovers and pet owners? 
Forister:  First, add meaningful engagement with CMHS and other animal care groups to your platform.  That's been one of the biggest issues with trying to get local elected officials to understand what CMHS is all about.  When I was there, we offered two board seats to both the county and city, but I never once saw any representatives attend.  And those seats were never filled. 
[Boone County Commissioner] Skip Elkin seemed very interested and engaged at first, then -- nothing.  We never heard from him again.   [Columbia City Councilman] Jason Thornhill also seemed interested.  He wanted an audit of CMHS.  But he didn't join the board to my knowledge and I don't recall that he had any interaction with CMHS, but I don't know if that's changed since I left. 
Second, candidates should suggest adding a "cat ordinance" to city law.
Columbia Heart Beat (CHB): What's a "cat ordinance?"
Forister:  A cat ordinance guides what the city does with its largest population of stray animals: cats.  Remember all the cat controversy, about people feeding feral cats and taking care of strays?  That kind of problem will continue until Columbia gets serious about a cat ordinance.  Most cities have them.  The city I live in right now, which is smaller than Columbia, has a cat ordinance.  Right now, no one is serving Columbia's cat population. 
Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):  Why are cats such a big problem?  Why not dogs? 
Forister:  There's a big misconception that cats are independent, that they don't need vet care, food, and shelter.  But that's simply not true.  If you think about what "independent" means for an animal, it really means "wild."  So cats end up being treated like squirrels, raccoons or other wild animals.  Cities don't consider them in the same light as dogs.  I mean, think about a big feral dog population roaming the city.  There would definitely be action. 
Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):   Wow!  I never thought about it that way before.  But if other cities have these cat ordinances, why not progressive Columbia?
Forister:  I think it all comes back to the funding issue.  The not wanting to recognize a problem.  Underfunding breeds dysfunctional relationships and hampers education.  If animal control in Columbia were properly funded, things would move ahead.  The lack of a cat ordinance is merely a symptom of a larger problem. 
Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):  Given all this, do you have any final thoughts for this election year?
Forister:  Yes -- I have a message for all the candidates.  Animal care in Columbia and Boone County needs and deserves a full, fair, and equitable partnership with the government agencies that use animal care services.  For too long, that simply hasn't been the case. 
Columbia Heart Beat (CHB):  Thank you so much for spending time with our readers.
Forister:  It's been my pleasure.  Columbia and Boone County are filled with loving, caring people.  I've tried to articulate what I think they want and need. 

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