New contract an example of local animal shelters’ commitment to pets and people who love them

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category icon Columns, Opinion

Typically, in large cities and small communities across America, humane societies provide a “safety net” for animals … providing food, shelter and veterinary care to lost animals, and serving as a resource to residents who need assistance with their pets.  

It’s no different in Southwest Washington, where West Columbia Gorge Humane Society (WCGHS), Humane Society for Southwest Washington (HSSW), and Humane Society of Cowlitz County (HSCC) are often the first point of contact for all things pet-related in their communities.  

Realizing that county lines and city boundaries are meaningless to pets that are lost or abandoned and in need of help, in 2018, the three humane societies joined forces to form the Humane Southwest Network (HSN). In an attempt to raise the standards of care for animals in our region and reduce the duplication of efforts, time and money spent, we agreed to share knowledge, expertise, and services such as training and education, veterinary care, accounting, animal transfers and more. 

Earlier this year, applying the principles of the HSN partnership, WCGHS and HSSW worked together to develop a joint contract to provide enhanced stray animal sheltering services to the cities of Camas and Washougal. For more than a decade, WCGHS has solely provided the cities with sheltering services at their facility in Washougal.  

Under the new joint contract, WCGHS will continue to provide those same services and more, with HSSW acting as a back-up facility for overflow and program administrator.      

Our animal sheltering services contract will not only provide food, shelter and basic care for lost, abandoned and hurt animals, but also enhanced veterinary care; lost and found redemption services; licensing, and administrative and fee collection services to the cities. 

These services cost the shelters an average of $350 per animal, one of the lowest costs in the Portland-SouthWest Washington metro area. Prior to the joint contract, the cities were paying a $120 fee per animal for sheltering services, and donors were subsidizing the remaining $230 of the shelters’ costs. 

Under this new joint contract with the cities, when a stray animal is brought to either WCGHS or HSSW, the basic care provided includes: vaccinations; treatment for fleas and other parasites; grooming, as needed for comfort; and veterinary care for acute injuries, pain relief and common illnesses. During their stray-holding period, dogs are given daily food, water, shelter and exercise – as well as a warm, safe space to wait while attempts are made to find their family and return them to their homes. All stray dogs are scanned for a microchip and posted on our website. In addition, our staff and volunteers regularly compare lost and found reports, search licensing lists, Facebook lost pet pages, Craigslist postings and more. Dogs that are not reclaimed are evaluated and prepared for adoption.  

Providing this level of service to the cities takes time, effort, and more resources than most people realize. As nonprofits, our primary source of revenue comes from community donations, and we feel strongly that donors should not be asked to subsidize the cost of sheltering stray animals, which is a municipal responsibility. As such, we are working toward the goal of full cost-recovery over time.      

Due to the increased cost to provide these services, we have seen citizen concerns raised on Facebook and various online news outlets. We appreciate the opportunity to clarify some misunderstandings about the background and cost of the new contract structure.  

Our joint contract proposal was recently approved, and we began providing enhanced services to Camas and Washougal on March 1. The contract is in effect for three years, and includes annual fee increases that raise the average fee per animal to $150, $170 and $190, respectively. This amount is still far less than the actual cost of care, and still requires donors to subsidize a significant portion of the costs.   

The contract is billed as a flat-fee, and is split between Camas and Washougal, based on the number of animals received from each jurisdiction. The combined total annual fees for both Cities is $28,875 in 2020; $34,000 in 2021; and $38,000 in 2022. All impound fees collected when an animal is reclaimed are credited back to the Cities. 

Realizing that no municipality takes pleasure in a fee increase, we are also working with the cities to develop revenue opportunities that can help to offset the cost of care. By reviewing the impact of the current lifetime licensing fee program (and even grandfathering in those already purchased), the cities can generate revenue that grows over time as the population increases.  Additionally, redemption fees (paid to reclaim a dog when it has been impounded), have not been reviewed in several years, despite the cost of inflation and the increasing cost to provide animal sheltering services. In both cases, a greater portion of the program costs will fall on the pet owners who require and utilize these services.  

We feel that it is important for pet owners and the community to understand that while we asked the cities to pay more for animal sheltering services, we are also working to help the Cities generate the revenue needed to adequately support animal care and control services in our community. 

We believe that our new contract is an excellent example of a successful public-private partnership, and we are committed to maintaining a high quality of service to the community – both to the pets, and to the people who love them.   

About the authors: Megan Dennis is the executive director of the WCGHS; Lisa Feder is HSSW’s vice president and director of shelter operations; Stacey Graham is the president of HSSW; and Michelle “Micki” Simeone, is the president of the WCGHS Board of Directors.