The Franklin County Humane Society, a semi-private organization with a public purpose, took a laudable step last week toward more accountability to local taxpayers, who contribute $100,000 a year to animal shelter operations. It now promises to release monthly reports on the euthanasia rate, revealing how many of the animals entrusted to its care end up being put to sleep. That’s an important statistic to people who want the society to live up to its name and control animal overpopulation in a humane manner.
Heather Bialy, director of shelter services for the Humane Society of the United States, told The State Journal’s Lauren Hallow the local group’s policy is unique. Most shelters make no such commitment, so it’s hard for the public to know how humane they really are. The HSUS estimates the euthanasia rate averages 50 percent nationwide. Last month, 52 of the 278 dogs and cats brought to the local shelter were euthanized. The current 20 percent rate is up from 12 percent reported for June and July of 2011 but significantly lower than the estimated 80 percent in 2010.
The humane society has endured a tumultous two years since a former manager made news misidentifying a pet dog as a coyote and having it released into the woods. Subsequent board elections produced new members who were passionately devoted to animal welfare but unable to agree among themselves on the best ways of acting on their passions. One board member and a volunteer got in trouble for an overzealous animal-rescue mission that turned into a dognapping. The theft charges were resolved in a plea deal. Meanwhile, board meetings devolved into chaos, with scant respect for rules of order.
After five members and two volunteer aides resigned last year, the board got another makeover. Current members face pressure to demonstrate they can meet the humane society’s animal-welfare obligation without shirking their responsibility to operate in a business-like manner. If they fail to do so, city and county government should seriously consider other options.
The humane society starts out at a disadvantage because its rules limit board membership to be dues-paying affiliates of the organization. This can impart a clubby atmosphere rather than one conducive to serving the public interest. Ideally, city and county government should appoint members from the general public, just as they do for other boards, and insist they adhere to accepted rules of procedure.
The present arrangement does have some advantages. By contracting with a separate entity, local government avoids direct involvement in the politics of animal rescue and limits its own financial role. The $100,000 annual allocation is insufficient to cover all the expenses, so public support beyond the taxpayer subsidies is necessary.
The society’s newfound transparency on euthanasia is a good way to give prospective supporters timely feedback on how well the shelter administration is performing. If animal lovers see hard evidence that more dogs and cats are finding homes and fewer are being put down, perhaps they’ll be more receptive to pleas for financial support. These numbers bear watching.