McCOOK, Nebraska -- Red Willow County commissioners agreed Monday to support the work of the McCook Humane Society with a monthly check, but Commissioner Leigh Hoyt wants shelter representatives to approach other towns and counties about paying their share of shelter expenses.
Humane Society treasurer Marilyn Cuellar told commissioners Monday that Indianola and Oberlin make monthly payments to the shelter, helping to pay for the care of stray dogs and cats brought to the shelter from those two communities. Hoyt and fellow commissioners Earl McNutt and Steve Downer want all the 73 towns (in Neberaska, Kansas and Colorado) and 26 counties (in the same three-state area) that use the shelter to help bring the shelter out of its current financial crisis and then keep it fiscally viable perpetually.
Sharleen Riemenschneider of McCook, a financial advisor to the humane society board of directors, told commissioners it costs an average of $5.16 per day to care for a single animal at the shelter. Shelter director Lorie Prestes said the shelter does not charge people to surrender an animal, although they do ask for a donation for the animal's food and care. "We don't charge to surrender an animal," Prestes said, because many wouldn't or couldn't pay it, and the poor animal could end up getting dumped out somewhere to fend for itself.
Towns and counties are asked to pay a $25 surrender fee for each animal their police and/or sheriff's officers bring in, and, Cuellar said, several officers are known to come with a check for $25 with them.
Like clockwork every month, she said, Indianola pays $25 and Oberlin pays $60 to the shelter whether they bring in an animal that month or not. In 2007, 2008 and 2009, Indianola had 141 animals brought to the shelter, three of which were animals held for legal cases. During the same time frame, Oberlin had 270 animals brought to the shelter, 39 of which were police holds.
While approximately 65 percent of the entire shelter budget is paid by the City of McCook, the shelter is an independent non-profit organization and is not owned or operated by the city. The shelter's paid staff -- two full-timers and five part-timers -- are paid by the shelter, not the city.
In 2007, shelter expenses and income were about $80,000 each. In 2008, income of about $90,000 was just slightly more than expenses. In 2009, expenses were greater than income, both somewhere between $120,000 and $130,000.
McCook police officers rely on the shelter to take care of animals held in limbo in legal cases. Besides what the city pays annually to support the shelter, ($31,281 in 2009, plus $8,180 for utilities) in many, many cases, the shelter receives no additional funds to care for the dogs or cats they call "police holds." In two cases this summer, the shelter housed dogs who attacked people. The dog owners were fined in court, but their sentences did not include restitution to reimburse the shelter. One of the dogs was held for 94 days.
In another police hold case, an abused/neglected dog was held 101 days and doctored for mange, water on the heart and lungs, anemia, sores and malnourishment. In court, the owner was fined $60. The shelter received no funds.
In 2007 and 2008, 16 animals were held 608 days pending court cases. In 2009, seven animals were held for 332 days. So far in 2010, 10 animals have been held for 223 days.
Humane society president Anne Dowd said McCook veterinarians are wonderful about helping with shelter animals, but medicine and vet bills still run $400 to $600 a month.
For many years, the shelter ran on donations and relied on volunteers to walk dogs and clean cages and litter boxes, Dowd said, "but we can't continue to operate that way." She continued, delicately, "Not everyone likes to shovel doggy poop or clean litter boxes. So, those who come, we like to pay them."
The shelter no longer has volunteers/trustees from the Nebraska Department of Corrections Work Ethics Camp in McCook, Dowd said. And Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and 4-H'ers come sporadically.
Commission chairman Earl McNutt agreed, saying, "It's tough to get volunteers for anything anymore."
Riemenschneider said the board, Prestes and shelter employees have done a "phenomenal job" being frugal on a very restricted budget, and that Prestes is constantly searching for deals and for grants to help the shelter. Grants are "few-and-far-between," Prestes said.
While things are financially dire at the shelter, the McCook Humane Society "has a reputation of having healthy, happy animals," Dowd said, "and that reputation spreads."
The McCook shelter has very good adoption and return-to-owner records. The shelter was founded in 1983, and during the past 27 years, the shelter has housed approximately 30,000 animals. About 15,000 have been adopted; 3,500 were returned to their owners; and 8,500 had to be euthanized.
Prestes has no set deadline by which strays and surrendered animals are euthanized. That's where the McCook facility and many others differ -- many, including the shelter in North Platte, will keep an animal only three days before it's euthanized.
The McCook shelter charges $50 to adopt a dog/puppy and $25 to adopt a cat/kitten. Of each adoption fee, $5 is funneled into the society's spay and neuter program, from which new pet owners are partially reimbursed for spaying and/or neutering their new pet.
Prestes said her ultimate goal is that no animal leaves the McCook shelter without being spayed and neutered.
Riemenschneider said the humane society is requesting $5,000 from Red Willow County to help pay general budget needs and daily operating expenses, but Commissioner Leigh Hoyt suggested paying half that amount until shelter officials approach communities (besides McCook, Indianola and Oberlin) and counties that utilize the shelter about helping foot the shelter bill.
"Other cities and counties should be helping you out as well," Hoyt said. "We keep paying for others."
Riemenschneider said shelter officials are starting their appeal with the greatest users and working their way "down the pipeline. We're not requesting more than their usage has been."
Riemenschneider assured commissioners, "We're not building a war chest here," but they do want to address the current financial crisis and then, by creating perpetual partnerships with the communities and counties that utilize the shelter, try to create and operate with a budget that is more predictable than -- but supplemented by -- donations and fund-raiser proceeds.
Hoyt said he's impressed with the shelter's "top-notch program," and McNutt said that the Humane Society provides a service that is not duplicated anywhere in Southwest Nebraska or Northwest Kansas.
Fellow commissioner Steve Downer's motion to pay the shelter $250 a month, October through June 2011, passed unanimously. "It's something to get them through this year," Downer said.
The timing of the shelter's request wasn't the best, as commissioners had to have the county's approved 2010-2011 budget in to the state Monday. The county operates on a July-June fiscal year; the shelter operates on a January-December budget.
Commissioners expect an update and yearly budget request then in June or July 2011.