The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office has terminated its contract with the Columbia Humane Society to care for stray animals. Humane society officials say the move will lead to more euthanizations and reduced opportunities to recover lost pets or adopt animals, but county sheriff Jeff Dickerson says the concerns are unfounded.
“As a board director and animal lover ... if one of my animals were involved in this new change I would be deeply concerned,” Lori Furman, vice president of the society’s board of directors, said by phone Friday afternoon.
“This comes down to a philosophical difference between the mission of animal control and the humane society. The humane society mission is to try to make (animals) live better and their futures better. Animal control is not about that. That is the crux of the matter,” Furman said.
A humane society press release issued Friday afternoon said, “We will no longer be managing the welfare of stray, neglected and abused dogs, or licensing dogs within Columbia County due to the county’s cancellation of our contract. ... If your dog wanders off, please be quick in contacting the sheriff’s office or Animal Control as your pet’s time may be short and at risk.”
Sheriff Jeff Dickerson acknowledged that there are differences in the missions of the two organizations, but he rejected the notion that stray animals will be treated less humanely under the sheriff’s control. The sheriff’s office is simply restoring an arrangement that existed prior to its contract with the Humane Society four years ago, Dickerson said in a phone interview.
The humane society wanted the county to double its $18,000 annual contract with the humane society to provide medical care, food and shelter for stray animals, Dickerson said. From now on, those functions will be managed by the sheriff’s department and Columbia County Animal Control, which will take over the part of the Holsheimer Lamar Animal shelter in St. Helens, created in a 1995 as a joint venture between the humane society and Columbia County.
Furman said the loss of space at the shelter will reduce the society’s ability to raise money.
Dickerson, though, said, “We are not really changing anything except who is responsible for the strays. We are taking care of the strays instead of them. At the time a stray is no longer a county concern, then we are willing to give (the humane society) that dog for free, even though we could charge them.” The society can then adopt them out like they do now, he said.
The humane society will be allowed to continue operating out of the shelter free of charge. “It is not like we’re leaving them without any support,” Dickerson said, adding that the society was told over the summer that the contract would be terminated at the start of 2018.
He said the county will launch a new program on Jan. 1 using jail inmates to care for the strays and clean kennels. Inmates won’t be paid, but there’s no shortage of individuals wanting to get out of lockup, Dickerson said. “It is a way to use the inmates in a positive way for the community.”
Dickerson said the shelter has euthanized about 50 dogs per year while under humane society management (that number includes owner-surrendered dogs where dog owners request the shelter put them down).
“We have no desire to euthanize a healthy dog, and I expect CHS has no desire to have us do so.”
It was also differences between to the two agencies’ missions that Dickerson said led to legal conflicts.
“We are a government entity, not a private organization. We don’t get to make the choices they make with dogs. For us, if we seize a dog, as long as someone pays the fine we have to release them. We don’t get to make discriminatory decisions” like, for example, refusing to release a dog to a homeless person, the sheriff said.
The humane society “looks at the best interests of the animal. That is their mission. Our mission comes down to what the state law says.”
In its press release, the society announced that loss of the county contract will force it to reduce hours (noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Saturday and Sunday) and cut three staff positions, 14 indoor kennels and eight outdoor kennels, (about one third of its previous capacity) and a third of its operating budget.