October 2, 1997 in Nation/World

Cda Turns Humane Society Loose City Council Refuses To Pay Agency What It Asked For Animal Control

By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Kootenai Humane Society turned in the dog catcher’s truck and ended five years as the city’s animal control agent Wednesday.

A private security firm - Watson Agency - will take over the dog-capturing job within the Coeur d’Alene city limits through the end of the year. This change may mean unclaimed animals are euthanized after two days instead of five days.

That’s only part of the bitterness lingering from the heated argument last month that precipitated the Humane Society’s divorce from Coeur d’Alene.

“They are selling out the animals,” Pete Nikiforuk, executive director of the Humane Society, said of the City Council. “They just want to turn their backs on it and concentrate on what’s important to them - streets, downtown, tourists.”

That’s unfair, Mayor Al Hassell says, noting the City Council gave the Humane Society several chances to rework the animal control contract.

The Humane Society went to the City Council during recent budget hearings and demanded a $13,000 increase in the $46,000 a year contract for picking up and housing strays and enforcing animal control laws.

The group also wanted the city to purchase a new dog catcher’s truck.

Humane Society President Rick Lopes gave the City Council an ultimatum at the Sept. 2 meeting. And the council, chagrined by the blunt challenge, unanimously voted not to renew its contract with the Humane Society.

But the increase was necessary to cover the cost of vaccinating, worming and spaying or neutering animals as well as patrolling the streets and dealing with problem animals, the Society says. In addition, the Humane Society has to euthanize more than 1,000 dogs a year - about 150 of them from the streets of Coeur d’Alene.

“We were doing more than we were getting paid for,” Nikiforuk said. “It’s our fault, but I can’t seen doing it any differently because that’s part of being a Humane Society and not an animal control shelter.”

“It seemed ridiculous not to pay a few thousand more for service seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” he said.

City officials don’t agree with such a harsh assessment.

The Humane Society agreed to work for the same rate for another year during spring budget negotiations, they point out.

But then the Humane Society’s board changed, Nikiforuk was rehired after about an 18-month hiatus from the director’s job, and the group went back asking for more money.

City officials worked hard to reach a compromise, they say.

“We gave them virtually every opportunity to come back with how can we modify it to make it work,” Hassell said.

“We were willing to change the license fees, to make modifications to help them raise more money, but only to pay for things related to the city. We couldn’t subsidize their entire operation.”

The proposed license fee increase wasn’t much help, Nikiforuk said. “We had a hell of a time collecting the fees set in 1984,” he said.

People also were slow to pay fines and often had to be turned over to collection agencies, Nikiforuk said.

For the moment, however, the Humane Society’s role is reduced to temporarily housing the animals Watson picks up and continuing to house strays for Rathdrum and Kootenai County.

The City Council will consider a short-term contract with Watson next Tuesday, Hassell said. It will run through the end of the year and then the council will decide what to do next.

The proposed contract with Watson requires that the agency only hold animals for 48 hours before killing them or giving them away. That’s the same contract that the city had with the Humane Society, city attorney Jeff Jones said.

The Humane Society voluntarily kept the animals longer, he said. “I have just prepared a draft - there could be changes,” Jones said.

Officials at the Watson Agency were out of town and not available for comment. , DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: AT ISSUE Humane Society President Rick Lopes gave the City Council an ultimatum at its Sept. 2 meeting. And the council, chagrined by the blunt challenge, unanimously voted not to renew its contract with the Humane Society.

This sidebar appeared with the story: AT ISSUE Humane Society President Rick Lopes gave the City Council an ultimatum at its Sept. 2 meeting. And the council, chagrined by the blunt challenge, unanimously voted not to renew its contract with the Humane Society.


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