Humane Society: No contract with Clark County

Two sides appeared to reached deal on housing stray pets

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer



History of negotiations

March 12: Clark County Commissioner David Madore halts a two-year contract with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington for housing stray animals in 2013-14. Madore says he wants a closer look at the independent nonprofit’s payroll. Commissioners Tom Mielke and Steve Stuart authorize a one-year contract as a compromise for the Humane Society to consider.

March 19: Madore says he approves of the two-year contract after reviewing the salaries.

March 26: Madore says he has gathered more information, and is now uncomfortable with the salaries and won’t support a two-year contract.

April 5: The Humane Society agrees to the one-year contract with the county through the end of 2013.

July 18: The Humane Society says it will only accept a two-year contract through 2014-15, and the county must pay its fair share of animal costs. The Humane Society gives the county a Sept. 1 deadline to agree to terms.

July 28: The county learns it would cost more than $1 million per year to operate its own animal shelter.

Aug. 22: The Humane Society agrees to extend the deadline to Oct. 1 as commissioners appear willing to work out a contract. Madore requests information on a spay-and-release program for feral cats.

Sept. 18: Commissioners agree in principle to terms with the Humane Society. Madore says he has concerns with the types of animals the Humane Society accepts. Mielke persuades Madore to move forward, saying the county doesn’t have an alternative.

Sept. 27: The county sends a letter of intent to the Humane Society, but the language does not include the terms the Humane Society believed the county had agreed to.

Sept. 30: The Humane Society retains legal counsel and informs the county it is moving forward without a county contract. Madore responds on his public Facebook page with a post stating if the Humane Society doesn’t agree to the county’s terms, “then their business will have some new competition.”

After months of wrangling with Clark County over a contract for housing stray animals, the Humane Society for Southwest Washington says it has given up on a deal with the county.

The organization said that it would consider a contract amicable to its needs if one is presented before Oct. 15, but is moving forward with the expectation of no contract with the county.

The two sides have held testy contract negotiations since March, when the Humane Society requested the county pay its fair share for housing animals, and Commissioner David Madore questioned the salaries at the nonprofit.

The two sides eventually agreed to a one-year contract through 2013 that pays $132.50 per animal. But the contentiousness continued throughout the year as the Humane Society said it needed some assurance moving forward and requested a two-year contract with the county through 2015. It also asked for $170 per animal in 2014 and $200 in 2015. The $200 mark is cited as the actual cost of service in 2013.

Through the months of discussions on the matter, it became clear the county would likely accept a contract, but only because it had to. As the county attempted to avoid a contract with the Humane Society, it looked for other animal shelters and into the feasibility of constructing and operating its own animal shelter. The results of those studies found that other shelters did not have capacity for the number of animals the county collects, and that operating its own shelter would cost more than $1 million per year.

Throughout the negotiations, Madore continued to find issues with the way the Humane Society operates. He asked it to consider a spay-and-release program for feral cats, and took issue with the fact that animals such as birds and rabbits were being collected and charged to the county.

No more negotiating

Last month, the two sides appeared to come to terms on a contract despite the disagreements. But that changed last week when the Humane Society said it received a letter of intent from the county that did not include the terms it believed the two sides had reached.

"When we got the letter of intent on Friday, and it left all the terms up for negotiation, we didn't feel like at that point a contract would be reached," said Stacey Graham, president and executive director of the Humane Society's local chapter. "We have indicated to the county that we are not negotiating any longer and we are moving forward with the retooling of the business plan to not be in a contract with the county. We are operating on that assumption, that we will not have a contract and our team has already begun making the changes they need to move on."

The county is likely to pay around $325,000 for services to the Humane Society in 2013. That pays for about 2,450 animals to be housed and kept for the mandated minimum amount of days.

If the Humane Society goes without a contract from the county, its operating budget will dip from $3.7 million in 2013 to $3.4 million in 2014.

Graham said the final date for the county to offer a contract amenable to the Humane Society would be Oct. 15, when the nonprofit's board meets.

"If they want to provide us with a contract before that time, we will consider it," Graham said.

The Humane Society informed the county of its decision Monday through its legal counsel.

Commissioners could officially discuss the matter as soon as today during their board time meeting.

In the meantime, Madore has already taken to his Facebook page to offer an ultimatum of his own to the Humane Society as, he "cannot in good conscience agree to pay $200 for a guinea pig or a rabbit.

"There is no such thing as no alternative and we are working with other local providers who would be happy to provide their service for half the cost," Madore writes. "We will offer them our own contract that pays their full price for two years, but with the needed corrections that solve the above problem. We hope that they will accept our offer. If they don't, then their business will have some new competition."

Madore did not respond to an inquiry from The Columbian on Tuesday into what alternative providers are in play for the county.