Who's Watching the Animals? - Checking back in

By: Ryan Famuliner Email
By: Ryan Famuliner Email

Our hidden camera investigation at the St. Joseph County Humane Society back in May generated a lot of debate on our website and in the community.

We decided that, since the debate had mostly quieted, it would be worth checking in on the humane society to see how things had changed -- or if they had at all!

Many were surprised to see the conditions we found in May, with more than 500 animals packed into the facility, which the humane society says should hold around 300.

Others defended the shelter's move to become a no-kill facility for adoptable animals.

As we found out, that move is still an uphill battle months later.

In May, our two-month hidden camera investigation found cats living in cat carriers stacked on top of one another.

When we visited in person, they were nowhere to be found.

The humane society later told us that cats could stay in the carriers for an average of two to three days.

Other area humane society directors said that was unacceptable, and said they use euthanasia to control their shelter populations.

St. Joe County avoids putting down animals they believe are adoptable.

Last week, we showed up to the facility unannounced to see what we would find.

They took us through, and the carriers are still in use.

"I mean, every day, when you get 50 cats in or 30 cats in, you have to use the carriers, and, frankly, in a big carrier they're no worse off," said Dr. Carol Ecker, the Director of the St. Joseph County Humane Society.

Dr. Carol Ecker

She was also the president of the humane society's board of directors during our investigation in May, but since then, those duties have been handed off to another board member.

The influx of cats the humane society was seeing in May has yet to subside.

"We have more animals than we can deal with; I mean, we still have cats up the wah-zoo. People still don't get that they have to spay and neuter, and that's so important," Ecker said.

They suspect that the economic troubles of many in the community will continue to lead to packed cages.

"It's really starting to show here. We've got people moving in with their parents, because they can't afford to stay in their own apartments. We're getting people having to sell and move out of the area," Ecker said.

The layout of the facility has changed slightly, and they do have some new cages.

"Those were ordered before this whole thing, and we may order another set. Unfortunately, it's only 24 cats, you know, so that didn't help a lot. You know, those cages back here are $8,000, and the portable ones were like $50. So it's like, 'okay, is a portable cage that bad compared to a permanent cage?' You have to really weigh the expenses we're using," Ecker said.

They have been looking for new fosters for animals, but they're having trouble finding refuges that aren't full this time of year.

But they have found one way to cut down the cat population.

"A lot of farms have stepped up though that live way out in the country. They've taken cats for us. They're living a good life out there, you know, they have a good farm, 100 acres to live on, and a barn with mice, so they're happy," Ecker said.

Meanwhile, adoptions have been way up overall, thanks partially to donations from an Elkhart car dealership. They use the money to offer gift cards to people who adopt cats.

The adoptions actually cleared some room in their dog kennels -- enough to take some animals from the flood-affected counties in central Indiana last month.

"We were down on dogs, and so we thought we should help some other people," Ecker said.

They say that, really, their approach hasn't changed.

"We're trying; we're doing the same things we've always done. We're trying to euthanize the ones that are sick, and keep the ones alive that are healthy and try to adopt them," Ecker said.

But they think the public's perception has changed, or at least they hope it has.

"I really think that the whole story was a good thing, because I really think people were not aware of what our problems were here, and I think the public's totally responsible. If they quit breeding animals and quit letting cats reproduce, we wouldn't have the problem," Ecker said.

The humane society says they still have a desperate need for a new facility, and they have $2 million in the bank to put toward that endeavor.

But they still have no timetable to start work on the new building, and say they don't want to go into debt for the project that they think could cost as much as $4 million.

Meanwhile, the county is watching the progress of that new building project closely, as they decide whether to renew their contract with the humane society.

The humane society has handled animal control for St. Joe County and for the city of Mishawaka for years.

Tuesday at 11:00, we will tell you why St. Joseph County Commissioner Mark Dobson is concerned about the humane society's lack of a plan for change in the future, and is considering cutting ties with the shelter.

We'll tell you what that might mean for both the county and the humane society.

To view our past coverage of humane society issues, click on the links below.

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