County leaders tour St. Joseph County Humane Society

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

The community response to our investigation into conditions at the St. Joseph County Humane Society has been overwhelming, and Monday many county leaders decided to see the place for themselves.

They also came with questions for the Humane Society's board of directors, about what kind of contingency plan they may have to maintain their no-kill policy for adoptable animals.

There are more than 500 animals at the Humane Society, which is built to house about 300.

A tour gave county leaders a first-hand look at the facility--the 70-year-old building the Humane Society says needs to be replaced.

“This isn't the best place in the world. I mean they're overloaded, and you’ve got to do some stuff to prevent overloading,” said County Council member Dennis Schafer.

“They’ve got issues, they’ve got capacity issues that they’re really struggling to get their arms around,” said County Commissioner Mark Dobson.

Many had seen our hidden-camera investigation documenting the conditions at the shelter, and said it seemed much different Monday, than what we found just weeks ago.

“You know, when company’s coming, you clean,” Schafer said.

Commissioner Dobson decided to take the opportunity to ask about the stacked carriers we'd seen in the treatment room.

“The public you know is curious, where'd the cats go, where’d the cats go that day?”

He was told they had been processed throughout the day, and were transferred into cages in other areas of the facility.

The Humane Society did tell county leaders feral cats can stay in the carriers for up to four days, and other cats can be housed in them for an “average of 2-3 days.”

Dr. Ecker told us in our first interview they'd be in them for up to one day.

After the tour, a Q & A session saw a lot of discussion about a new facility, and the humane society's $2 million sitting in the bank.

“Last time I checked $2 million is a lot of money. I mean something could be done for that, without understanding what their interior outfitting needs are it's hard to say. But it seems that with $2 million they could build quite a facility to address the needs,” Dobson said.

The Humane Society couldn't give the county leaders a solid estimate on how much the new facility might cost.

They said they had to change their plans to build on another site in town, and now plan to build on the same land the current facility is on. The estimate for a new facility on the other property was around $5 million.

The board says they are hesitant to take out a bank loan for the new facility.

Another county council member asked the board if they had thought about trying to save some money by buying an old building in the area and re-modeling it, rather than putting up a whole new one.

They said the main expenses are really on the interior, the elements needed in a humane society, and that a shell likely wouldn’t save them much money.

But, if they could find an option that would still give them the type of facility they want, they say they'd consider it.

They also were hesitant to consider a two-phase building plan.

“You know the solution lies in what they're going to do in the future with the new facility, or adding on to this one; and it doesn’t appear that answer's clear from their perspective,” Dobson said.

Dobson also discussed the County’s contract with the humane society for animal control services.

“The negotiations were not comfortable this year. There needs to be a better negotiation process going into 2009. Some of the accountability provisions that we want, I think we need to stand pretty hard on,” Dobson said.

The humane society is happy to say more cats have left their facility than usual since our stories aired.

They sent almost 70 cats to pet refuges, farms, and the Indianapolis Humane Society.

The Humane Society board also announced today they will be re-organizing, as they do every year.

Dr. Carol Ecker will no longer be the president of the board, but will still be the director of the humane society.

Meanwhile, the county council plans to discuss the animal control ordinance at an informal session next Monday, June 9, at 5:30p.m.

The public is invited to attend, but will not be allowed to speak at the meeting.

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