Humane Society feeling pinch

Published 9:35 am Monday, December 27, 2010

Renee Jones remembers what it was like before the humane society she runs began to take over animal control in Escambia County.

When the humane society began, the stray dog problem was “horrendous,” Jones said.

“That first year, we knew that if we did our jobs and responded to the calls that the euthanasia rate was going to be horrendous,” she said.

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Jones said the humane society has been helping change the statistics for the better in Escambia County.

“”We took this job on to benefit the animals,” Jones said. “Our intake numbers have significantly decreased. That was the goal.”

But now, as everyone — government, businesses and households — continue to tighten their belts, the Escambia County Humane Society finds itself in a tight spot as well.

Earlier this fall, the City of Flomaton ceased its funding to the humane society, following the City of East Brewton’s move more than a year ago. And with the end of the Neal Trust, the Humane Society finds itself with severe funding cuts.

Jones said she understands the cities’ need to cut back, but she hopes the lack of funding won’t send the county back to the days of the stray dog problem.

“It’s a really tough time,” Jones said. “I don’t think any of the council members don’t want to have animal control. But I think that everyone has forgotten what it was like prior to having (the humane society do animal control). It’s like out of sight, out of mind.”

Among the complaints in Flomaton, city officials said, was the response time from animal control officers. But Jones said the Humane Society lacks the money to have someone on duty at all times.

“We have never had enough funding to have someone in a truck all day,” Jones said. “We don’t have someone after hours. It’s also the police department’s responsibility.”

Jones said she hopes that residents will use some common sense when seeking a response to a dog problem.

“If a dog in your yard belongs to your neighbor, go next door and tell them before you call us,” Jones said. “In the county, there is no leash law. That’s where the bulk of complaint calls come from.”

The Escambia County Commission contributes the largest government portion of the Humane Society’s funding, and the cities of Brewton and Atmore also continue to contribute.

Atmore Mayor Howard Shell said the city is happy with the Humane Society’s efforts.

“We are pleased with the work that the Humane Society has done over the years,” Shell said. “We have a contract with them. We pay them $50,000 a year. They maintain our animal shelter, they pick up animals that need to be collected; they do an excellent job for us.”

Atmore pays the Humane Society $4,000 per month and awards them an additional $2,000 for shelter upgrades and maintenance per year for a total of $50,000 per year.

“Funding is a challenge for all municipalities right now and I’m sure the Humane Society is having its challenges,” Shell said. “I’m not sure where all of their funding came from in the past.”

Brewton City Clerk John Angel said the city funds the Humane Society, but also receives rent from the organization for the use of a city-owned building. He said city officials are pleased with the response times from the agency.

“If you make a call and the (animal control) officer is in another part of the county, they aren’t going to be able to get there right away,” Angel said.

Jones said she hopes funding problems do not erase the progress the Humane Society has made over the past few years.

In 2008, the humane society took in 3,386 animals, with 1,045 adoptions and transports, and responded to 2,803 calls. In 2009, the HSEC took in 2,524 animals, with 788 adoptions or transports, and responded to 1,821 calls.

Through September, the organization had taken in 1,524 animals, with 719 adoptions or transports, and responded to 1,108 calls.

“The years of 2005-2007, our intake numbers increased each year due to adding a city contract each year,” Jones said. “We have stayed at a fairly steady rate of 30 percent live release rate (adoptions, return to owners, and transports) until this year. Our live release rate thus far in 2010 is 47 percent. We are on track to have the first year where more animals left our shelters alive than were euthanized. Also, since January 2008, we have spayed or neutered 189 dogs and cats belonging to folks living in the county as well as only adopting out spayed/neutered animals. We are just now seeing the results of our efforts.”

Publisher Adam Prestridge contributed to this story.