Animal shelter saved

A standing-room-only crowd filled the seats and lined the walls of the City Council Chambers this week to hear the fate of the Butte Humane Society, whose directors had threatened to abandon the Fair Street shelter if the city did not come up with a new contract by July 8.

Cathy Augros, the shelter’s director, told the council that city staff had ignored the shelter’s requests for a new contract, necessitating the threat to end services.

“We could have had a lot of things in place by now,” she said.

Augros said the shelter, which has a $425,000 operating budget, needed more money from the city, which last year paid $192,000 for the shelter’s services. The shelter contracts with the city to take in stray and surrendered pets and keep them until they are adopted. The rest of the money comes through service fees, donations and fund-raising.

“We took in 1,000 more animals in 2003 over 2002,” Augros said, adding that they never received any fees for 675 of the animals brought in.

The shelter has a broken air-conditioner, bare wires, no fire-sprinkler system and the animals are left alone 14 hours per day.

“There is no way for them to get out” should a fire erupt when no humans are there, she said.

Staff recommended the city up its share of the cost to run the shelter to $230,000. The council’s Finance Committee raised that suggestion to $260,000. Staff said it would take 45 to 60 days to get a contract in place.

Councilmember Larry Wahl, who is up for re-election this year and a member of the Finance Committee, put the matter on a short leash by making a motion to have the contract in place by the end of July, spend $5,000 immediately to fix the air-conditioner, evaluate the shelter’s wiring and get an estimate for fixing the sprinkler system.

(Wahl also said the city should rescind the notice to vacate, but removed that part when he was told the shelter had written the letter, not the city.)

Before opening the issue for public comment, Mayor Maureen Kirk asked the audience for a show of hands to gauge the level of approval for Wahl’s motion. There were none.

“Who understands the motion?” asked Councilmember Dan Nguyen-Tan. Again there was no response.

But once the motion was fully understood, it was received with a roomful of applause. Beginning immediately the shelter will operate on a five-day a week schedule, charge a surrender fee of $25 and the city will reimburse the shelter, which is owned by the city, for any repairs and maintenance costs incurred between July 1 and the signing of the contract.