Critter crisis

City and Humane Society at odds over shelter contract

ON THE CAT WALK One of the felines that hangs around the Butte Humane Society’s office on Fair Street takes a leisurely stroll Wednesday morning.

ON THE CAT WALK One of the felines that hangs around the Butte Humane Society’s office on Fair Street takes a leisurely stroll Wednesday morning.

Photo By Tom Angel

As long as both sides can avoid getting into a catfight, the Butte Humane Society will most likely continue to operate a shelter for missing and lost animals for the city of Chico. But if for some reason their contract falls through, there will be a lot of unhappy animals—not to mention animal lovers—in this town.

Both sides expressed hope that the situation can be resolved soon, but the fact remains that the society, which has run the Fair Street animal shelter for about 17 years, is so fed up with the lack of progress being made with negotiations over its latest contract that it sent the city notice last week that it will vacate the shelter if a new contract is not in place by July 15.

“We’ve been trying to get this thing resolved for months and have made little or no progress,” shelter Director Cathy Augros said. “We’re somewhat in limbo. It’s had serious impacts on operations at the shelter.”

Augros said the lack of movement on some key provisions that don’t necessarily involve money has caused the shelter to put off important decisions regarding staffing, purchasing and other issues. City Risk Manager Bob Koch said those provisions include who will be responsible for maintenance of the shelter building, changes to the ill-and-injured-animal policy and charges for quarantining and other special services.

If the society were to vacate the shelter, Augros said, it would “appeal to the community” to adopt as many of the animals as possible. Any animals not adopted would become the responsibility of the city, a prospect that could spell the end for many of the critters. While the Humane Society is obliged to spare the lives of as many strays as possible, the city is required to keep unwanted animals for only six days after they are picked up.

City administrators said the notice to vacate took them by surprise, especially since the City Council’s Finance Committee voted unanimously last week not only to renew the shelter’s contract for one year but also to raise its budget by $30,000. That decision will be finalized July 6, when the City Council approves next year’s budget.

But Augros noted that the council is only renewing what is already in place, not approving a new contract. Ten years ago, when the last shelter contract was signed, the negotiations that preceded it dragged on for three years, and Augros said the society can’t afford to see that happen again.

“It’s really not an issue of whether it can be worked out; it’s when it will be worked out,” she said.

Augros said she is optimistic about the prospects of getting a contract. But if the city stonewalls, the society may be forced to make good on its threat, which would put the fate of as many as 200 animals up in the air.

The latest flap over the fate of the animal shelter comes just a few weeks after it was disclosed that the city was considering shutting out the Humane Society altogether and contracting with the Town of Paradise to provide shelter services. That idea seemed to have run out of steam by the time it got to the Finance Committee, as one city employee said the committee barely even looked at the Paradise proposal.

Cuts to animal shelters have also proven controversial at the state level, as last week Governor Schwarzenegger backed off on a plan that would have saved the state about $14 million by cutting the number of days cities must house stray animals from six to three. Already, about 600,000 animals are euthanized in California every year.