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All sides must agree on shelter changes

Local government’s responsibility to provide animal control versus its responsibility to increase the number of pet adoptions is at the heart of recent discussions between the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Board and the Humane Society of Washington County.
“Philosophically, we’re really on the same page,” Animal Control Board member David Tomita said, clarifying the role each should play.
“The municipality’s responsibility is animal control,” said Tomita, who serves as both a city and county commissioner. “After that, it needs to go to another organization.”
Tomita said he can’t justify using tax dollars to extend the length of stay to 14 days in the shelter. “We need to take it out of the political arena because the funding could fluctuate,” he said, noting there is not a no-kill shelter in the country that is operated by a municipality.
The Humane Society has great resources, he said, but the ACB cannot afford to involve the organization at the new facility if additional funding will be required.
While there has been some talk of a donor who is ready to fund the position for an adoption director, Tomita said that person can’t be a municipal employee. “We’re not going to take on the (recurring cost of) salary.”
Lucinda Grandy said the primary function of the Humane Society was spay and neuter education when she began her term as president in January.“We had a couple of Animal Control Board members approach us about taking over the adoptions, and in May, we received permission to begin pulling animals from the shelter to take to adoption events,” she said.
The animal shelter provides a service to the public similar to public safety, she said. “They are good with adoptions, but I don’t think they have enough staff.”
Grandy said Johnson City Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin and Tomita proposed the Humane Society’s increased involvement. “Ralph is extremely interested in moving toward a no-kill facility,” she said.
The next step for her board is to sit down and look at the staffing and funding they would need. “I really hope we can make this work,” she said. “It would be a great educational opportunity, and we’re excited.”
The Humane Society currently fosters 60 dogs, and Grandy said more volunteers are needed. Anyone interested in fostering an animal can visit the Humane Society’s website at hswctn.org for more information.
While construction of the new facility is expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year, Tomita said the changes being discussed are part of a 10-year plan. “There’s no way they could take over the whole thing (immediately),” he said. “Best case is taking over the adoptions, worst case is (starting with) taking over the fostering.”
As a commissioner and an ACB member, Tomita said he hears comments that the employees at the shelter are sort of indifferent and not a lot of help to individuals who come in interested in adoption.
“The Humane Society wants it to be more retail-based customer service, but that’s not our job as a municipality,” he said. “We basically threw the ball into their court.”
While Tomita said Washington County may see the operations be truly independent in another 10 years, the question for now is determining what the Humane Society has the capacity to do for day one of the new shelter’s opening. “That’s all we’re looking at for right now.”
Grandy said board members are working with some people who are extremely successful in operating shelters, and trying to get everything down on paper regarding proposed procedures. “Obviously we would like to be able to start when the doors open, but I don’t know if that’s possible,” she said. “If the two organizations are going to work together, we have to have more communication.”
Tomita said the Humane Society has asked for some specifics on the operational budget of the shelter, which will be provided based on estimates of the new facility yet to be constructed. “I want to see it work, but I will fight against any additional funding.”
Mayor Dan Eldridge said the Humane Society has a role in the management of the shelter by way of the fact that one member serves on the ACB.
“They have a seat at the table, but we need to see a recommendation from them before changes are made because the shelter is governed by a private act, and it has to continue operating under the ordinances of the act,” he said.
Modifications would require legislative action, Eldridge noted, which must start with an agreement by both the city and county on the proposed changes.
Shelter Director Debbie Dobbs said she and her staff welcome help in saving more lives by finding homes for more of the stray and unwanted animals, but believe they have insight to offer when it comes to the adoption process.
“We take care of these animals every day, and we all would like to be involved,” she said.
Another strength the shelter staff offers is constancy, she said, noting a shift in focus that can come from a board on which members change.
“The joining of the two entities who have the same goals in mind can only be a good thing, and the future can be positive if we all work together,” Dobbs said.