Animal shelter’s annual checkup

Confusion reigns in Butte Humane Society’s partnership with the city

Animal Services Manager Tracy Mohr looks in on one of the dogs available for adoption through the Chico Animal Shelter, which is separate from (but in the same building as) Butte Humane Society.

Animal Services Manager Tracy Mohr looks in on one of the dogs available for adoption through the Chico Animal Shelter, which is separate from (but in the same building as) Butte Humane Society.

PHOTO by Meredith J. Graham

A visit to the animal shelter often offers a mixed bag of emotions. Walking along the cages filled with homeless dogs, most of them sweet as can be, can be heartbreaking, especially for the true animal lovers among us.

But hearing about and reading some of the success stories is enough to make one see not only the value of a good shelter and adoption program, but also the dedication of all the people who make them possible—even if that dedication is sometimes overshadowed by confusion and controversy.

Such is life for the folks at Butte Humane Society and Chico Animal Services, which share a plot of land off Fair Street in south Chico and have similar enough missions to perpetuate public confusion.

“It’s very confusing—we often have to redirect people,” said Chuck Tourtillott, the newest executive director at Butte Humane Society (BHS). “It’s difficult for the community to keep us straight.”

So, what are the differences, exactly?

For dogs, their journey through the shelter process starts with Chico Animal Services, a branch of the Chico Police Department that includes Animal Control and Chico Animal Shelter. They stay there for five days—or until they are claimed by their owner—and then they go one of three ways: 1. Purebreds are often offered to rescue groups. 2. Unclaimed pets may get adopted by the person who found them. 3. They are offered to BHS to be put up for adoption. (Animal Services does not accept cats unless they are unable to fend for themselves in the wild. BHS does accept cats, but there is currently a waiting list.)

Here’s where it gets a little tricky for the dogs. BHS goes through several screening processes, for behavior and medical issues, to determine an animal’s adoptability. If deemed un-adoptable, or BHS simply doesn’t have the resources to fix the problems, the dog is returned to Chico Animal Services, which may choose to seek treatment and offer the animal for adoption through the Chico Animal Shelter.

“BHS is able to take the vast majority of adoptable dogs, so we can concentrate on the ones that need more attention,” explained Tracy Mohr, animal services manager. The Chico Animal Shelter, then, accepts donations through a fund at the North Valley Community Foundation to pay for the medical care of those animals returned to them from BHS.

So, the main source of confusion seems to lie in the fact that both organizations—one city-funded, the other a nonprofit—accept donations while offering animals for adoption at the same location.

As a relatively recent transplant from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Tourtillott brings with him a wealth of experience in running animal shelters. On his list of priorities for BHS, he said, is increasing fundraising (as always) and establishing the differences between BHS and the city services.

“I don’t blame the city for our identity problems,” he said. “We need to assert our identity, and bring an awareness that we are reliant on donations.”

One way he hopes to do that is by moving BHS to a donated piece of land near the airport. That project is still a ways off, however, and a capital fundraising campaign likely will take off early next year. In the meantime, the two entities will continue to work side-by-side.

“Everyone is here because they really love animals,” Mohr emphasized. Tourtillott concurred.

Success stories really do bring it all home.

Take this one about Charleston as an example: A mix of pit bull, border collie and Labrador, he had a rough start in life, suffering an at-home neutering and abuse before being taken to the shelter. He spent a year and a half at the Butte Humane Society or in foster homes through BHS, underwent a huge amount of training and socialization, and finally was adopted. In his “forever home,” he’s learned to trust his owners, Laura and Brandon White, who lovingly posted their story on the BHS website.

“I cannot tell you what a difference having Charleston has made in our life and I know we’ve made a difference in his,” their post reads. “I never thought I’d be where I am today with this dog who has gone through so much and still has so much love to give!”