Clark County agrees to contract to house strays

Humane Society still has final say on Oct. 15

By Erik Hidle, Columbian staff writer




Previously: Clark County commissioners had delayed a two-year contract with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington to house county strays to the point that the Humane Society said it didn’t believe it will work with the county next year. But with time running out, commissioners agreed to try one last time to agree to terms.

What’s new: Commissioners unanimously agree to the Humane Society’s contract, but say they will continue to look at ways to change how stray animals are kept at the county.

What’s next: The Humane Society must still officially approve the contract on Oct. 15.

Clark County commissioners unanimously agreed to a two-year contract with the Humane Society for Southwest Washington on Tuesday, ending seven months of debate over how to house stray animals found in unincorporated areas.

The vote, which left the door open to renegotiating the agreement, followed an hour of deliberations during the board of commissioners’ weekly public hearing. It came after Commissioner David Madore failed to gain support to amend portions of the proposed agreement, and Commissioner Tom Mielke said time had run out for additional research on alternatives.

It will now be up to the Humane Society’s board of directors to approve the contract at an Oct. 15 meeting. While a Humane Society-imposed deadline for the county to present a contract by Oct. 1 has passed, Stacey Graham, the nonprofit’s executive director, has said the board will consider a contract if presented unchanged at the Oct. 15 meeting.

Commissioners have reluctantly approached this zero hour for months. In September, when negotiations appeared to be headed nowhere, the Humane Society declared it would move forward without the county contract.

Noting that reality in his comments, it was Mielke who first relented on the matter and sided with Commissioner Steve Stuart in the belief that a contract with the Humane Society must be signed as a “safety net” moving forward.

“I’m still having trouble moving forward with the contract,” Mielke said. “That said … we have work to do at home.”

More work ahead

Mielke said he wants to see more staff work on the matter. Specifically, he said he wants to see work on changes to a county code that addresses which animals are collected.

Mielke said he also hopes to see a plan for working with private kennels. He said he has received information that kennels could house county strays at a cheaper rate.

Under the contract approved Tuesday, the county will pay $170 per animal in 2014 and $200 in 2015. The $200 mark is cited as the actual cost of service in 2013. The county currently pays $132.50 per animal.

The county is likely to pay around $325,000 to the Humane Society for services in 2013. That pays for about 2,450 animals to be housed and kept for the mandated minimum amount of days. Of those 2,450 animals, about 35 each year aren’t cats or dogs.

Mielke said he believes that, after the county has completed the research, they will re-enter talks with the Humane Society. And if changes can’t be agreed upon at that time, a 180-day exit clause in the contract could be enacted to find a better deal for the county.

Stuart then told Mielke he agreed that research on the matter must continue.

Before the final vote, Madore proposed a handful of amendments that altered the contract in ways he said further protected the county. But after the first change was turned away by Mielke and Stuart, Madore said he recognized he had no traction for the alterations and told his fellow commissioners, “I will join you and support this, as well.”