Saturday, January 9, 2010

EXIT INTERVIEW: Former Humane Society director Patty Forister, Pt. 1

What's the biggest issue facing the much-discussed, often controversial, but vitally-necessary Central Missouri Humane Society (CMHS)? 

Is it ZooToo?  Richard Thompson?  Adoption policy or private donors?  A new board of directors? 

No.  The biggest issue facing the beleaguered animal care agency is "the pressing need for a fair and equitable partnership with the City of Columbia and the County of Boone," says former director Patty Forister (above, right) who spoke extensively with the Columbia Heart Beat about her nearly four years at the helm of what she calls "a wonderful organization.

With the benefit of hindsight and reflection since she left the post in November, Forister says it took the last two years of her tenure to crystallize the issue of city and county as "full and fair partners" in animal care and control.   That issue took flight in August 2008, shortly after the Columbia Heart Beat first interviewed Forister for a story called Dog Days: Humane Society Faces Closure.

Blasted by some city councilpersons and county commissioners for proposing a significant annual increase in the funding city and county governments provide CMHS, Forister says that while she now believes CMHS is "fairly compensated" for services to city/county animal control officials,  "CMHS is still around $100,000 away from what I'd call a fair and equitable partnership with the county commission and city council."

Forister attributes the gap to the Humane Society's role as "the only place people -- not just animal control officers, but everyday citizens -- can drop off stray animals -- any stray animals."  

At an immediate cost of $86.00 per animal, 7,000 animals came to CMHS in 2008, 3,067 from the City of Columbia, nearly half of which were strays. 

But where entirely-private organizations such as Columbia Second Chance can turn away strays they don't consider easily adoptable, "because of its public mission, CMHS cannot do the same thing," Forister explained. 

As both privately-funded animal adoption agency and publicly-funded animal control shelter, CMHS is clinging to am outdated public-private mission "more and more agencies are leaving behind," Forister explained.  "One of our comparable humane societies, in College Station, Texas, is clearly moving away from this model.  Plenty of other shelters are reaching out for advice and support as they do the same thing."  

It's simply too expensive if the public partner -- usually a city or county -- can't or won't pull their financial weight. 

We sat down with Forister, now "hibernating with her grandbaby" after moving away from Columbia last month, for a candid exchange about the humane society's past, present, and future.   

NEXT TIME:  Forister discusses the fundraising conundrum


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