Humane Society extends deadline for county

It is intrigued by plan to spay and neuter, then release feral cats

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer

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For nearly six months, the relationship between Clark County and the Humane Society for Southwest Washington has been strained as the two sides wrangle back and forth over a contract for sheltering county strays.

But when the county and Humane Society met for a brief discussion on the matter Wednesday afternoon, it appeared the fragile partnership might resolidify.

The Humane Society still says it wants a two-year contract with the county, and if not, the county can come up with a new option for housing the strays it is legally required to pick up on county land.

But the Humane Society is also intrigued by Commissioner David Madore's inquiry in July regarding a program that would spay and neuter feral cats, then release them back to the wild.

It's a program the Humane Society has been interested in, and it could save the county money in the long term. To that end, the Humane Society is willing to run the numbers on such an effort. But it will take a few weeks to pencil out the numbers, and the Humane Society said last month it wanted an answer from the county on a new contract by Sept. 1.

After a discussion on the program's potential at the commissioner's board time meeting Wednesday, the Humane Society now says it will push the deadline back to Oct. 1.

"I believe if you said to us, 'We would like to have that information so we could incorporate that into a 2-year contract,' then that would be very specific for us and we would say yes (to more time)," said Stacey Graham, president and executive director of the Humane Society's local chapter. "The reason we put a date on it is we have plans and things we are trying to do … we need to know what our relationship is going to be in order to move forward with that."

Commissioners didn't speak specifically on if they will eventually agree to a two-year contract, but all three appeared grateful for the extension on the deadline and thanked representatives from the Humane Society for joining them.

The negotiation process

It was a cordial and productive exchange over a matter that has seen the two sides mostly at loggerheads in recent months.

In March, the Humane Society requested the county boost its payment to $132.50 per animal in 2013, and to $145 per animal in 2014.

For years, the county has paid the Humane Society less than what the organization says it costs to house animals. In 2012, the county paid $120 per animal, or a total of $265,000 on the year.

But before the March vote, Madore said he wanted to see more information on salaries at the organization.

After a month of debate on the issue, the Humane Society eventually agreed to a 1-year contract paying $132.50 per animal, which was approved by Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart as a compromise.

In May, the Humane Society staff and board members explained its financial situation to commissioners during a workshop. But that meeting yielded little progress in the way of contract talks.

The Humane Society then sent a letter to commissioners in July asking for $170 per animal in 2014 and $200 in 2015. The $200 mark is cited as the actual cost of service in 2013.

And they put a deadline on commissioners to respond.

"If we do not receive a written intent by Sept. 1, 2013, Clark County's current one-year contract with HSSW will expire on Dec. 31, 2013," the letter states. "Without a contract, HSSW will not accept stray animals from Clark County."

The county is legally required to house the stray animals it picks up and hold them for three days.

The county did a cost analysis on building and operating a shelter of its own as an alternative, but the price tag came back north of $1 million in operating costs alone.

With Wednesday's development, commissioners now have until Oct. 1 to make a decision on the matter.

Erik Hidle: 360-735-4547; http://twitter.com/col_clarkgov; erik.hidle@columbian.com.