Put your paws together for Patty Forister.
With her board's backing, the Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS) executive director is forcing city and county governments to confront a public health need that’s been poorly met for far too long: animal control.
Unlike many communities that have a taxpayer-funded municipal “dog pound,” Columbia and Boone County have settled on the cheap for a humane society/dog pound “hybrid” that houses a yearly population of some 9,000 mostly dogs and cats. For about $97,000.00 from the City of Columbia and $10,000.00 from the Boone County Commission, privately funded CMHS provides offices for dogcatchers and a kennel for roughly 4,500 stray and abandoned animals they help corral each year.
With another $800,000.00 in annual contributions from private donors, the society provides temporary housing for another 4,500 or so animals as well as low-cost spay and neuter services; pet ownership education; and community outreach like bringing kittens to visit retirement and nursing home residents.
Proposing a 2009 service contract that nearly triples the amount CMHS annually receives from the Columbia-Boone County Health Department for animal control services, Forister wants to ease the onerous arrangement. “Although our leadership has never really looked at it as a business negotiation, it is,” she said. “We handle the city's and county's animal control needs, in exchange for fair compensation that keeps pace with growth.”
Anyone who's ever visited the 30-year-old CMHS facility on Big Bear Blvd. knows conditions are bad at the front door, where a decades-old ventilation system can't remove a terrific stench from 200 or so animals Forister says are nearly “piled on top of each other” on any given day or night. “Changes in animal care have occurred over the years that we simply haven't been able to implement,” she told me. “A lot of those changes have to do with disease control, where good ventilation and adequate space are essential.”
Given all the recent ballyhoo they ginned up about their own “space crunch” emergencies, public officials ought to sympathize.
Instead, they’re crying poverty over the humane society’s $296,000 request, a frugality compared to nearly $40 million in recent city and county office space expansions – from the courthouse to the Worley Street health department to a super-sized city hall framed by a $115,000 sculpted keyhole.
But Forister is undeterred. “We are facing some tough questions about our ability to keep going,” she told me. “It's now or never for the communities we serve.”
U.S. efforts to protect and control domesticated animals began in the early 19th century. In 1863, the City of Los Angeles established a public animal pound, following with municipal leash laws and related measures.
Closer to home, the Springfield-Greene County Health Department provides a taxpayer funded animal control facility “to protect public health,” according to their official website. Handling about 4,500 animals annually, Springfield’s animal control officers also enforce laws governing leashes, pit bulls, rabies vaccinations, animal bites and animal cruelty.
Unaffiliated with the Humane Society for the United States or the ASPCA, the Central Missouri Humane Society was founded in Columbia about 60 years ago. For forty of those years, it has served as both a humane society and dog pound.
Today, as Boone County commissioner Skip Elkin acknowledged on a recent KFRU Morning Meeting, CMHS faces “a crisis stage.” “It’s up to the city and county to come together on this with adequate funding,” Elkin told listeners. “It's basically an issue of public health.”
Though “one of the options we are studying is to build our own 'pound',” Columbia City Manager Bill Watkins stopped short of making any commitments. “There is a case to be made that a new facility is needed, but I'm skeptical that the city should pay for it." Noting that residents from 21 nearby counties use CMHS but pay nothing toward its upkeep, Watkins added that by inviting more free riders, “a new, bigger facility may just make operational issues worse.”
But if over 13,000 hits and 210 individual posts on the Columbia Daily Tribune’s news forum are any guide, a new, bigger facility is a long-overdue public necessity.
“It is beyond question that central Missouri needs access to a quality, spacious, well-staffed animal shelter,” wrote Dave Muscato, a local real estate agent and former humane society volunteer. “If CMHS closes its doors, a lot of people will simply dump their unwanted animals.”
ANIMAL CONTROL: A Public Health Necessity
Local blogs have had some of the best information about the need for taxpayer funded animal control.
"Animal control is about controlling vicious, sometimes rabid animals that have no homes; diseased animals that can spread fatal livestock illnesses, animal distempers, parasites, and other infectious micro-organisms; homeless, feral cats that breed rapidly; animals abandoned from other counties; sick animals that need help; human disease control and prevention; leash law enforcement; animal abuse; keeping injured animals off roadways to prevent accidents; and the like."
"Animal Control is a city utility and funded by tax dollars. Animal Control does not maintain a shelter; they have a few kennels where they house vicious animals and dogs caught running loose. Animal Control is the one with the trucks that pick up critters. They share a building with the Central Missouri Humane Society, and after a specified period of time, if the animals are not claimed by their owners, they are turned over to CMHS for adoption/euthanasia, as the case may be."
By Mike Martin for the Columbia Business Times