Some tails wagging and some tails dragging

Filed under: News |

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

Englewood-based Colorado Humane Society won the animal control services contract in Colorado Springs after bidding $895,000 for the first year and $729,000 for the second, amounts that were in line with the City of Colorado Springs’ reduced budget for animal control services. The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region held the contract for 53 years, but Pikes Peak Humane administrators believed their proposal ($1.4 million) was more in line with the reality of an increasing population and burgeoning numbers of stray animals.

Contract discussions and decisions revolved around money and the city’s responsibility for owner-surrendered animals.

Police Chief Luis Velez said that the animal services contract is about the basics of animal control, per city-defined regulations – picking up strays, investigating cruelty cases, licensing and violations of the city’s code as it relates to barking dogs, number of animals in a household, etc.

But given the disparity in the bids, questions remain. Is Colorado Humane leading the pack and meeting the basics? Is the city’s mandate for basic animal control meeting the needs of the residents?

Pikes Peak Humane reported, in a 2004 year-to-date summary, that there were 636 owner-surrendered animals and 379 owner requests for euthanasia. Combined, the two humane societies took in 1,308 family pets. Colorado Humane charges $45 for surrendering a pet. Pikes Peak Humane asks for a donation.

In addition to relinquished pets, both humane organizations’ statistics show a barrage of city-related animal problems.

Colorado Humane’s quarterly report from Jan. 1 to March 31 identified calls for service, animal disposition statistics and income figures (no expenses were included in the report). According to the report, Colorado Humane intercepted 3,569 animal service calls, which included 864 stray animals that were brought into the shelter, 49 bite reports and 1,031 strays running loose. Colorado Humane took in a total of 672 owner-surrendered animals, 1,555 stray animals, 27 safe holds, three court holds, 17 transfers from Pikes Peak Humane, nine bite holds, 15 dead on arrivals, five medical and 54 transfers from other agencies, adding up to a total of 2,354 animals.

The report said that 503 stray animals were returned to their owners, 729 animals were adopted, 74 animals were euthanized at the request of their owners, 343 animals were transferred to another agency, eight died and another 280 (injured or aggressive) were euthanized.

Pikes Peak Humane, in the last quarter of 2003, handled 3,622 city animals in the shelter. Pikes Peak Humane intercepted 4,549 service calls, just over a 1,000 more than Colorado Humane in its first quarter 2004. The number of bite reports received during that quarter was 247, considerably more than Colorado Humane’s 49 bite-related incidents.

One of the differences in the contract with Colorado Humane involves licensing revenues. Pikes Peak Humane retained all licensing revenues as a part of its contract bid. This year, the city is claiming the first $400,000, and any amount in excess will be equally divided between the city and Colorado Humane.

In 2003, Pikes Peak Humane brought in a total of $417,669 in dog and cat-licensing fees, all credited to the cost of services to the city. In the first quarter 2004, Colorado Humane reported licensing income at $12, 795.

Colorado Humane blames Pikes Peak Humane for the disparity.

“We are way behind the eight-ball when it comes to licensing,” said Mary Warren, director of Colorado Humane. “But it’s because Pikes Peak Humane has refused to give us the records, and we’ve had to start from scratch. I am sure we’ve lost at least $200,000 in revenues.”

Pikes Peak Humane sees the situation a bit differently.

Dr. Wes Metzler, the group’s executive director, answered Warren’s accusations in a letter to the Colorado Springs Police Department. Metzler stated that, “On December 16, Chief Velez sent a letter to HSPPR (Pikes Peak Humane) requesting two elements of date, the licensing database and a two-year impound/disposition history. In that letter, the chief indicates that CHS (Colorado Humane) is going to use HLP’s Chameleon software (the same as Pikes Peak Humane). HLP was not ready to transfer the data until January 21, 2004 and on January 22, 2004, Ron Saxer of the HLP notified Bob Warren of CHS (Colorado Humane) that the data was ready. That data was transferred to CHS when the HLP representative was on site.”

Warren said she did not want to work with HLP Chameleon software representatives because she felt they “were hostile to Colorado Humane and aligned with Pikes Peak Humane.”

Colorado Humane is still not computerized, and, while license renewals remain an issue, Warren said the lack of a computerized system has not affected the quality of services. “We evaluate all situations, like lost and found animals, on a hard-copy basis,” Warren said.

That doesn’t sit well with Kris Dearden, the owner of Lost Paws, a non-profit company that has been matching owners with lost cats and dogs since 1997. She said the manual lost and found system is inefficient, and that reuniting pets and their owners quickly is not only good service, but fiscally responsible.

“The city could save money by returning the animal to its owner as quickly as possible,” Dearden said. The city has already made its money from the assessment of the impound fee and a licensing fee, if applicable, she said. If the animal is returned in a timely manner, the cost of housing the animal is avoided.

And while on the surface a quick return seems to make practical business sense, Dearden might not be the most completely unbiased critic of Colorado Humane’s operations. She has butted heads with the shelter’s staff and worked for four years as a volunteer cleaning cat kennels for Pikes Peak Humane before starting her business.

Her impetus was the low cat-to-owner return rate – at the time 5 percent. Since launching Lost Paws, the return rate has reached as high as 11 percent, Dearden said. The return rate for dogs, she said, is about 60 percent.

Dearden developed a tip sheet outlining what owners should do when they are looking for lost pets. The staff at Pikes Peak Humane, she said, gives the information to people who go to the shelter looking for their animals. Dearden said she created a spreadsheet that outlines information about how to match an owner to a lost animal for Colorado Humane because she was frustrated that manual reports were sometimes lost in the paperwork shuffle.

The frustration reached the point that Dearden wrote to a letter to a local paper about Colorado Humane’s lack of a computerized lost and found system.

The acrimony however doesn’t end with differing opinions about the necessity of technology. Dearden also claims she was rebuffed by Colorado Humane when inquiring about a lost dog. She said she was asked to leave the shelter and was told by Warren that she was interfering with Colorado Humane’s operations.

Of the incident, Warren said, “I am not even sure there was really ever a dog in question because we didn’t have a record of the missing dog.”

However, the dog was found at Colorado Humane, and the person who surrendered the dog said she brought the dog to the organization’s facility.

Dearden filed a complaint against Colorado Humane. In it she said that she can be of little help to lost animals brought into the shelter if she has no access to the facility. Chief Velez replied to Dearden’s complaint saying that Warren could
make her own decisions as to whom she would allow in the facility.

He also said that despite the controversies and glitches that have arisen as part of changing from one provider to another, the city is happy with the services it is receiving from Colorado Humane and the transition so far.

Regardless of the personalities involved and the accusations flying back and forth, the bottom line remains a question of whether the city is receiving the best service possible for its money. In the end, statistics, quarterly reports and perhaps residents will determine whether the city made a good or a bad business decision, whether the “basics” are all that are necessary and whether the city’s animal control budget is realistic or not.