It has been more than two years since a dog was euthanized because of space issues at the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley but new policies approved this week have at least one board member concerned that it could lead to more dogs being killed there.
At issue is how the shelter is currently doing business with animal rescue groups. The groups, located across the eastern U.S., are often willing to take dogs from shelters to relieve overcrowding and prevent euthanization.
This week, the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley board voted 3-to-1 to start charging rescue groups a $20 fee. Previously there was no charge for an animal going to a rescue group.
Celeste Ridgway, board member and rescue and transport coordinator for the Humane Society of the Ohio Valley, said she was the dissenting vote.
"The animals can't speak for themselves, so I have to," she said. "I know there are financial concerns but this $20 fee isn't going to pull us out of this tailspin. The money is going to have to be found somewhere else."
Since 2006, more than 2,400 dogs that were initially taken to the local shelter have been shuffled to animal rescue groups. At the same time, local euthanization rates have dropped from 35 percent to as low as three percent. Ridgway took over the process of working with rescue groups in 2008.
"Those are excellent numbers - numbers that few shelters ever achieve and that most would die for," Ridgway said. "But those numbers all go away if we start charging this fee. We compete with every other shelter in the area and none of them charge a fee. Why are these rescue groups going to continue to help if they have to pay a fee?"
Providing the dogs to no-kill shelters in other areas of the country broadens the scope of possible adoptive families, she said. In many of the areas where local dogs often go, there are strict spay and neuter laws that mean there are fewer unwanted animals and a higher demand for rescue pets.
Board president Kelly Schubert said the new fee is designed to cover the cost of providing shots and a wormer for the dogs -something provided to every dog brought into the shelter.
"An animal's life is worth more than anything but we also have to be responsible and make sure we are making choices that allow us to remain open and be here in the future," Schubert said. "Nothing we decided is set in stone. If we lose rescue groups and we're faced with euthanizing, we'll make adjustments."
Schubert said it takes about $20,000 each month to keep the shelter open. About $5,000 of that money comes from the Washington County Commissioners and the rest is made up though adoption fees and donations.
"Last month we were negative $5,800," she said. "We can't continue to operate like that, so we're trying to find ways to close gaps."
Ridgway said she also took issue with a vote by the board that delays her from sending some dogs to rescue groups. Previously, as soon as a dog was eligible to be adopted, Ridgway began networking to find a rescue group that was willing to take the animal. A vote by the board Tuesday gives the shelter manager the authority to keep some animals for up to two weeks before they can go to rescue.
"I'm afraid that's going to back us up, lead to overcrowding and more dogs having to be put down," she said. "If something isn't broke, why are we trying to fix it?"
Becky Johnston, board member and shelter treasurer, said the new policy is designed to prevent rescue groups from "getting the pick of the litter."
"Sometimes smaller dogs or specialty breeds are more desirable and I just don't think it is good (public relations) to automatically send these dogs away," she said. "The people who live here and who support us should have an opportunity to adopt those dogs."
Johnston also noted that having the dogs adopted would generate more money for the shelter than giving them to a rescue organization. Dog adoption fees are currently $64 for small dogs and $119 for large breeds. The fees also cover a spay/neuter certificate, dog tags and current vaccinations. Fees are slightly less if the animals are already spayed or neutered.