After the first two installments of "Who's watching the animals?" we spoke with St. Joseph County Humane Society board members, who said they wished we would've compared them with a facility closer to their size or larger, suggesting Fort Wayne or Indianapolis.
We decided to try to do that, but found out there's more contrasting to be done than comparing when it comes to humane societies, in general.
The St. Joseph County Humane Society is a non-profit organization, but does animal control work for both the city of Mishawaka and the county, through contracts.
But it's hard to find someone just like them, because there's really no by-the-book way to run a humane society.
For instance, in Fort Wayne the humane society also does animal control, but is completely funded by the city. With that steady funding they're able to pay employees more, and afford regular improvements to their facilities.
In Evansville, the humane society is a non-profit that also takes in strays, but doesn't handle animal control: a city-run organization does.
That makes it easier for them to know what to expect each day, while literally anything could come through St. Joe County’s door.
Indianapolis also has a different system in place, and we decided to make a visit there to see what we might be able to learn from their experiences.
The Humane Society of Indianapolis is also a non-profit, but doesn't handle any animal control services.
“We don’t have a contract right now, but when the humane society bought this property in 1967, we actually had a contract with the city, and for many years we were the sheltering and adoption resource for the city,” said humane society C.E.O. Martha Boden.
Boden says that contract for sheltering ended in the late 80's, and Indianapolis animal care and control were left on their own.
However, the two entities continue to work together regularly - the humane society takes in animals from many shelters in the region to be adopted out.
“I think in every community they just have to find the best fit for themselves, and I think right now our cooperative effort of having the animals come in here, and then funnel them back out for adoption at the humane society seems to be working right now,” said Kristeen Vantwoud, Kennel Manager at Animal Care and Control of Indianapolis.
While that type of change is drastic, and can be a huge investment for the city involved, Boden says sometimes it just happens to be the best option.
“It really depends on the community and what causes the relationship to change. In our case I think when our two organizations realized we were going to have 2 facilities, it just made sense for the city to consolidate and bring the animals to their own place,” Boden said.
Animal Care and Control of Indianapolis has more in common with St. Joseph County’s humane society than Boden’s organization does, because AC&C also has to take in whatever comes through their door. But still, they’re not operating on the same level entirely, since AC&C is funded by the city.
AC&C says they handle about 18,000 animals every year, and are around capacity most of the year, which is 450 animals.
If you want to compare that to St. Joe County, they take in about 8,000 a year, and they are currently holding more than 500 animals. Their ideal capacity is about 300.
Vantwoud says they've never really even neared double capacity.
“We're always running at capacity which makes everybody constantly scrambling to find the next home or the next foster, but yeah, not that bad,” Vantwoud said.
Never bad enough to need to use cat carriers for temporary storage like St. Joe County, who says some animals will stay in them 2-3 days on average while being processed.
But, it is considered an option at AC&C if they're in an overcrowding emergency.
“We've got a place that we could stack crates and keep animals. We haven’t had to resort to that, again we're fortunate to have enough space,” Vantwoud said.
But they say the way they plan for and avoid overcrowding, is by working with whatever agencies will answer their calls.
“You have to take help from wherever you can get it, and we're just grateful we work with many many many, over 100, rescue facilities that are here every day every week pulling animals,” Vantwoud said.
“We tend to get a little insular because it’s just such a demanding job, and you do have to step back and say wait a second do I have to do this by myself? Who could help me? Who do I even know who could help me?” Boden said.
The Humane Society of Indianapolis is one of those options for St. Joseph County. In fact, for the first time in Boden’s memory, Indianapolis took in a shipment of cats from St. Joseph last week.
Boden says being open to making changes is important, but also can be difficult.
“It really does take a certain amount of stepping back from that kind of day to day reactive mode and really saying what do we think is going to make a difference, and what do we know is going to make a difference,” Boden said.
“Every community is different. Every community is unique and the kind of solutions that may work in Louisville may not work in Indianapolis, and those might not work in Minneapolis, but they’re going to work in Milwaukee. So really understanding who supports your animal shelter, and who's going to help, and who's going to be interested in how you carry out your mission is an important part to making those decisions,” Boden said.
The Humane Society of Indianapolis says turnover is also a problem for them, as it is at St. Joseph.
Meanwhile, AC&C of Indianapolis says they are able to keep employees longer, since they're funded by the city, and the workers are unionized.
Both the shelters in Indianapolis use euthanasia openly, as do the shelters in Fort Wayne and Evansville.
Meanwhile, St. Joe County makes a point to avoid using it on adoptable animals.
Both Boden and Vantwoud also echoed what we've been hearing all along, that spaying and neutering are major solutions.
At the Humane Society of Indianapolis, they actually perform the operations on their animals on-site.
Meanwhile, AC&C offers them free to some clients, but not on their own accord. They line clients up with other programs in the community that offer those services.
Both also echoed the fact that adopting from shelters is key, but stressed it's important that the shelters themselves make it affordable and attractive to the community.
They hope the shelter is the first place people think to go looking for a new pet.
“Somewhere between I think it's 15% and maybe 20% of all new pets going into homes come from shelters, so if we could get that up to 25% or 30%, we could probably empty out most of the shelters in this county, its that simple,” Boden said.
“Shelters really do themselves a disservice by kind of skimping on those budgets and not really getting their names out there, and getting people to think to come here rather than going to a pet store or an ad in the newspaper or something along those lines,” Vantwoud said.
The Humane Society of Indianapolis says they do all they can to avoid adopted animals being returned to the facility, because that's very inefficient. At the same time, they try to make adoption easier for clients. For example, they don't require references for potential adoptions, however they do require information from a landlord to know if an animal is even allowed in the client's place of residence.
The city of South Bend started its own animal control program 11 years ago.
They're currently working on plans to build a new facility in Kennedy Park that would quadruple their size, for a price of between $1.5 million and $1.9 million.