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Commissioner: Strays may face earlier euthanization

April 21, 2004|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Stray animals picked up by the Humane Society of Washington County may have to be euthanized sooner in an attempt to cut costs, Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook said Tuesday.

The commissioners met with Humane Society officials to discuss the organization's expenses and its request for a county funding increase of approximately $783,000.

The Humane Society is under contract with the county to provide animal control services, including responding to calls about animals and picking up strays.

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The request for the increased funding was made because of rising costs and an increase in the number of animals handled by the shelter, organization officials have said. The Humane Society anticipates handling 9,216 animals in the current fiscal year, up from 7,804 in the 2003 fiscal year.

Not receiving the money likely would result in a reduction in animal control services, they have said.

"We're going to be asking you to come back and tell us what services you want us to cut," Humane Society board president Dana Moylan told the commissioners Tuesday. "Are you going to be asking us ... to euthanize all strays immediately upon admission?"

Humane Society Executive Director Paul Miller said strays picked up by the organization are held for five days. If they're not claimed in that time, they're evaluated to determine whether people might want to adopt them. If not, they may be put to sleep.

Snook said the number of days the animals are held might have to be reduced to save money.

"We might need to look at changing that some way ... that could be a cost factor," Snook said.

"It means these animals are going to be euthanized," Moylan said.

In fiscal year 2003, the Humane Society found homes for 604 dogs, euthanized 510 and returned 297 to their families, Miller said.

In that same year, 635 cats were adopted, 2,171 were euthanized and 44 were returned to their owners, Miller said.

Miller said it is difficult to find cats' owners because cats generally don't have identification and owners don't start looking for them until they've been missing for three to five days. He said owners typically think their cats have wandered off and will return on their own.

The commissioners haven't decided whether the Humane Society should receive the funding increase, but some took issue with an increase in the amount the organization budgeted for wages and benefits.

In fiscal year 2001, the Humane Society's wages and benefits totaled $278,007. The proposed amount for fiscal year 2005, which begins July 1, is a little more than $1 million.

Miller said that when he became the organization's executive director in September 2003, there were 53 employees on the payroll. After the Humane Society made adjustments to positions, including not filling some when they became vacant, the number of employees dropped to 31.

Despite the decrease in employees, Moylan said the amount budgeted for wages and benefits increased because the Humane Society had to raise salaries to try to stay competitive with surrounding counties.

For example, the Humane Society raised the starting rate for animal control officers from $9 per hour to $11.04 an hour and animal care staff from $7 per hour to $8 per hour.

Even at that, Moylan said, people can find higher paying jobs at convenience stores and won't be working "knee-deep in animal excrement."

"We're not competitive right now," she said.

Snook said the commissioners want more details on the budgets for fiscal years 2003 and 2004, the number of emergencies that animal control officers respond to after hours and want to look at the number of days a stray animal is held.

"We're probably going to make some hard decisions," Snook said.

If approved, about $362,000 of the additional $783,000 requested by the Humane Society would be put toward the current fiscal year's budget. It would be in addition to the $510,620 the county currently pays it to provide animal control services.

The remaining $421,000 would be part of the $1.3 million the Humane Society requested for the coming fiscal year's budget. County staff has proposed giving the organization $769,746, an increase of $259,126 for the coming fiscal year.

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