Down to the bare bones

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Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series that looks at the issue of animal control in Colorado Springs. In December, the Human Society of the Pikes Peak Region lost its contract with the city after more than 50 years of service.

In 2003, the city of Colorado Springs spent $60 million on 3,327 purchase orders and 440 new contracts. Steve Gess, the director of purchasing and contracts for the city, said the yearly amount spent on contracts and purchase orders averages $100 million. Gess said economic woes kept the city about $40 million shy of the norm.

Many cities across the country contract services to outside businesses. The contracts may be cut and dried, like repair and maintenance, or ambiguous based on public opinion, like animal-control services.

For 53 years, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region held the contract for animal control in Colorado Springs. Although Pikes Peak Humane continues to contract with El Paso County, it lost its contract with the city on December 31, when Englewood, Colo.-based Colorado Humane Society won the contract after underbidding the Springs-based animal welfare organization.

Gess said the City Council put the contract out to bid after yearlong, private negotiations with Pikes Peak Humane came to a standstill. The city, with a desire for basic bare bones, city-code-enforcement-only animal control services, dependent, in part, Gess said, on budget cuts, would not agree to Pikes Peak Humane’s final and best $1.4 million offer.

Instead, Gess said the city felt that Colorado Humane offered the best value for the utilization of the taxpayers’ money. However, the decision to bid farewell to Pikes Peak Humane in favor of Colorado Humane has divided not only the new animal shelter but also the taxpayers. The decision has garnered plenty of attention.

Gess said the No. 1 bone-of-contention during negotiations between the city and Pikes Peak Humane was the cost to taxpayers related to owner-surrendered animals. Dr. Wes Metzler, executive director of Pikes Peak Humane, agreed on the apple of discord. However, opinions differed on the city’s responsibility. Gess: How can we expect the taxpayers to fork over tax dollars for people who want to unburden their pets? Metzler: How can we be comprehensive in our services and responsible to the citizens if we do not accept the animals, without question?

In 2003, Pikes Peak Humane accepted 4,684 owner-surrendered animals from the city. The number included 913 animals surrendered for euthanasia and 3,771 animals surrendered for other reasons. The Springs is transient, and people on the move often leave Fido or Whiskers behind. Metzler fears that, without the no-questions-asked service that allowed people to bring their unwanted pets to the shelter at no cost, Fido or Whiskers could have been and now might be wandering the streets, game for wildlife, automobiles and humans who view their nomadic presence as a nuisance. Gess said Pikes Peak Humane charged people who relinquished their animals; Metzler said the charge was voluntary.

No matter, if owners release their animals to the elements instead of the proper authority, this issue could end up to be the taxpayers. Ann Hagerty, the director of community resources for Pikes Peak Humane, said, “Additional stray animals place more of a burden on our community, whether they’re making neighborhood families feel unsafe, spreading disease to other pets or impregnating pets running loose.” She said more street-abandoned animals could mean more dog bites and a worsened pet overpopulation problem.

Under Colorado Humane’s contract, the city will not pay a dime for owner-surrendered animals, although Mary Warren, in Colorado Humane’s November 21 “best and final offer” document to the city of Colorado Springs, stated, “An owner-release program is a basic part of any full-service animal control program. & Facilitating owner release abates the problem immediately and provides the best possible outcome for the city, the animal and the citizens.”

What is the city paying for? Basic animal control, Chief of Police Luis Velez, said. Velez said it is about the bare bones – it is the letter of the code – animal control for purposes of public safety. “It’s simply the four corners of the document,” Velez said.

The four corners of the contract include the basics, per city-defined regulations – picking up strays, investigating cruelty cases, licensing and violations of city code, such as the number of animals to a household, noise issues, etc. Colorado Humane bid on the city’s animal control services at $895,000 for the first year and $792,000 for the second year.

Licensing revenues were included in bids by both Colorado Humane and Pikes Peak Humane. In the past, Metzler said Pikes Peak Humane retained 100 percent of the dog and cat licensing fees. “When we had the contract, the whole amount stayed with us, and we always credited it against the cost of the services to the city,” Metzler said. He said that user-pay fees – fines, license fees, etc., covered 33 percent of the dollar amount to operate animal-control functions for the city. In 2003, Pikes Peak Humane brought in $417,669 related to city dog and cat licensing fees.

According to a CSBJ article published on Dec. 12, Tom Albertson, the fiscal services manager for the Colorado Springs Police Department reported that the city budgeted $696,000 plus licensing revenues (estimated around $500,000) for animal control in 2004. Even though the population has increased, the animal control budget keeps decreasing. Albertson said that in 2003, the budgeted amount for animal control was $818,000 plus licensing revenues, and in 2002 the budget was $909,000 plus licensing revenues.

According to Colorado Humane’s contract, “All licensing fees up to the first $400,000 per calendar year shall be remitted to the city on a quarterly basis. Licensing revenues in excess of the first $400,000 shall be divided on a 50/50 incentive basis, wherein the society shall keep 50 percent of the revenues as an incentive to actively pursue licensing participation, and remit the remaining 50 percent to the city.”

Even though the city retains a percentage of the licensing fees, it is responsible, in addition to the contracted amount, for paying Colorado Humane’s utility bills (averaging about $100,000 per year) for shelter use, Albertson said. (The city contributed $3 million to the new shelter, where Pikes Peak Humane and Colorado Humane now share space). Albertson said the city has paid another $6,000 – beyond the contract with Pikes Peak Humane and because of a clause in the original construction and use agreement, to build walls for Colorado Humane. Computers were included in the Colorado Humane contract. Although the computers are in the facility, Albertson said the programs have not been set up.

Did the city underestimate the realities involved with animal control? Is the city robbing Peter to pay Paul by retaining a portion of the licensing fees? “The job is getting done according to the contract,” Velez said. “This is an animal control contract in comparison to all of the other human issues and concerns the police have to deal with. The problem is the blurred area between animal control and humane society functions. We are not interested in humane society functions; it’s a matter of animal control as it relates to public safety. The problem is that articles have been written based on the inflamed emotions surrounding animal welfare issues.”

One of the biggest emotional issues – inflamed by confusing reports – relates to the euthanasia of animals.

In 2003, according to Pikes Peak Humane’s 2003 annual report, there were 390 adoptable animals euthanized. Animals received in the shelter from the city and the county totaled 23, 261 – an upsurge from the 2
002 statistics. Pikes Peak Humane reports euthanasia statistics on what it is defined to do – adopt appropriate-for-adoption animals. However, the animals received at many humane societies, including Pikes Peak Humane, also include owner surrenders (including owners who request euthanasia), aggressive and sick animals (unadoptable) and feral (wild) cats and animals.

The total euthanasia numbers for some humane organizations may seem high to the public, but the truth is in the received number of adoptable and unadoptable animals.

Pikes Peak Humane euthanized about 4,343 unadoptable animals in 2003, a number that is down from previous years. Hagerty said, “The biggest reason for deeming an animal unadoptable is its behavior. Probably the most crucial behavior is aggression toward humans.” Hagerty said the national save rate among humane societies is 64 percent; Pikes Peak Humane’s save rate is 79 percent.

When there is unlimited admission, euthanasia is a reality. Limited admission – accepting adoptable animals only – allows any humane society the flexibility to call itself a “no kill” shelter. “It makes their (euthanasia) statistics look better,” Hagerty said.

What is the city’s responsibility regarding the vast numbers of unadoptable animals? How does the city’s animal-control business practices compare to other like cities? Is Colorado Humane living up to its contract? Is the city saving money in the end? What do the taxpayers think about paying for owner-surrendered animals?

In Part 2, the CSBJ will address those questions and report on first-quarter statistics from Colorado Humane.