Humane Society shelters to close

Published 11:10 am Monday, May 16, 2011

Ramona Thomas, manager of the Atmore office of the Humane Society of Escambia County, receives a warm greeting from one of the rescued dogs at the shelter.|Photo by Chandler Myers

Animals requiring shelter in Escambia County won’t have a place to go as of May 31.

Renee Jones, director of the Humane Society of Escambia County’s two shelters, said funding issues have caused the group to make the decision to close the shelters.

“We just can’t do it anymore,” Jones said. “We have created a standard of care for animals in this county and I just don’t believe this community would stand for anything less. But, with 60 percent of our annual funding gone, we just can’t keep doing it.”

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The lost funding came when the Neal Trust dissolved and money from the group dried up, Jones said.

“We had been hanging on hoping to be a part of the Neal Trust’s final disbursement,” Jones said. “But, we haven’t gotten that. We’ve gotten funding from the Trust for seven years. Now it’s gone.”

The HSEC has provided animal control, which included sheltering, for the City of Brewton, the City of Atmore and for the Escambia County Commission for seven years. The decision to close was based completely on funding availability, Jones said.

“We don’t want the people to think we’ve abandoned them,” Jones said. “We don’t want to be the bad guys, but we just can’t operate without money.”

Jones said work of the HSEC has been one that many people have benefited from over the years.

“We have prided ourselves on being a humane society that balances the needs of the community and the needs of the animals,” Jones said. “Our ultimate goal was to service the contracts with the municipalities and have open admissions. That was so we could have access to the animals and save as many lives as possible and educate as many people as possible. We always wanted to have a long-term impact on the communities we serve.”

News of the closing of the shelters came as a surprise to some officials as the information was released Wednesday.

Atmore Mayor Howard Shell said the future of animal control and care in his community is a mystery.

“I’m not sure what the end result will be as far as the operation of it,” Shell said. “We found out a long time ago that working with the Humane Society itself is best. They are a well-oiled organization. We’d like to try to function through somebody that knows and cares about the treatment of animals.”

County Commission Chairman David Stokes said the announcement by the HSEC Board was disappointing.

“They have had a program established that we can all be proud of,” Stokes said. “The job that Renee and her Board have been doing has been outstanding. They were adopting the pets and transporting pets to other places. They were doing more than just capture, keep and euthanizing these pets.”

Stokes said the future of animal control for Escambia County is not known, but he said, he hopes that a similar program can become feasible.

“It costs more to have the kind of program they have than to just have a dog catching program,” Stokes said. “We are going to have to see how we can maintain a program like the one Renee and her employees were running.”

Through the seven-year history of HSEC, cities and the county have contributed to the operational costs of the organization in addition to the funding from the Neal Trust.

Jones said funding from Atmore amounted to $48,000 per year with Brewton contributing $39,000 annually with the Escambia County Commission adding another $60,000 to cover expenses.

“We were getting $300,000 from Neal Trust and the contract funding from municipalities we served,” Jones said. “With the $147,000 from municipalities we could even keep an operation going that only picked up animals, kept them for five days and then put them down. When you consider the officers, gas, the power bill, food and everything else it takes just to do that small work, that funding just wouldn’t cover it.”

Jones said she is hopeful that officials throughout the service area of the county can get together to try and work out a solution to provide some level of animal care and control.

“I hope everyone can get together to see how we are going to handle this in the county,” Jones said. “It’s killing me to think that I live here and there will be animals suffering.”

Jones said that although sheltering won’t be available in the county, the HSEC will continue to operate as an organization.

“Whether we are sheltering or now, the Humane Society will still be here,” Jones said. “We are still an organization that wants to meet the needs of the community and the animals as best we can. We’ll be here to do as much as we can. We will even continue to try and raise money for spaying and neutering. Those are the things that keep animals from needing to be sheltered in the first place. As the HSEC, it is important to us for our efforts to remain on the big picture and long-term impacts on the county. We’re still here – we just won’t have a home for the pets.”