Humane Society-city partnership moves forward

Improvements continue despite change in leadership

Butte Humane Society Shelter Manager Trent Burnham looks at the area that used to be filled with outdoor dog pens and will soon be home to a new kennel building.

Butte Humane Society Shelter Manager Trent Burnham looks at the area that used to be filled with outdoor dog pens and will soon be home to a new kennel building.

Photo By Meredith J. Graham

Anyone who has stopped by the Butte Humane Society lately has likely noticed a few changes on the premises. They hint at big things happening at the city’s oft-maligned shelter, and they’re more than skin-deep.

As the CN&R reported in the June cover story “Breaking down barriers,” the shelter and the city of Chico are working on a partnership that will take full effect in February 2012, but they’re getting started early with cosmetic and structural improvements. Among those improvements—and the most visible thus far—is the elimination of the outdoor dog pens, which have been cleared to make way for a new kennel building.

Amid all the natural chaos surrounding a new partnership that will require shifting some operations to the city and physically moving bodies and offices, one of the key players is no longer part of the game. Jaime Veglia no longer holds her post as administrative services manager at Chico Police Department, a change that Chief Mike Maloney would not elaborate on, calling it a personnel issue.

“Regarding the City-BHS partnership, things are continuing to move forward,” he wrote in a recent email, adding that Veglia’s oversight of Animal Control—which would have put her in charge of the new city-run shelter come February—has shifted to Capt. Lori MacPhail.

The partnership basically will make the city responsible for the state-mandated five-day sheltering of stray and surrendered animals. That function has been contracted out to BHS since 1987. With Animal Control moving into the current building on Fair Street—which is owned by the city—BHS will move into a portable building on site and be responsible for adoptions. It will also retain its nearby spay/neuter and cat facility.

“Jaime was the face of this transition, but there were a lot of other people who were doing a lot of the work,” said MacPhail, who has overseen Animal Control and worked with BHS in the past. “The transition is a lot smoother than you realize.”

Trent Burnham, BHS shelter manager, agreed, adding that he’s already sitting down regularly with Animal Control officers to show them the everyday operations.

Looking out at where the outdoor pens used to stand, filled with big dogs barking for attention or at each other, Burnham was clearly optimistic for the future and content with the present.

“We don’t want dogs outside,” he explained. “Plus, double housing is not good for them.”

For years, a visit to the Butte Humane Society has been a fairly dismal experience. Many dogs sat in large pens outside, shielded from the sun only by a faded blue tarp. In the summer, they were hot; in the winter, they were wet, muddy and cold.

A few weeks ago, an effort to adopt out all the available animals on site was extremely successful, Burnham said. In fact, since that event, they’ve been able to keep numbers sufficiently low to house all the adoptable dogs in the existing kennel building.

“Having fewer animals makes them more presentable,” Burnham said during a recent interview in his office at the Fair Street shelter. “It creates a better environment.”

In addition to the adopt-a-thon, Burnham has made an effort to change the adoption requirements to put more responsibility on and trust in the adopters. For example, in the past shelter staff required landlord approval before adopting out a dog, and would spend time making repeat phone calls to landlords to get that approval. Now that responsibility is in the adopters’ hands—they bring in written approval or proof a pet deposit has been paid.

He’s also working with shelter staff to improve the interview process for potential adopters, and he lowered the price of adopting adult cats from $55 to $25 to pave the way for more pets finding good homes.

“We want to ensure we’re giving homeless animals a good place to be,” he said. “This is not the same as a home.”

By emptying the shelter—especially the outdoor pens—the staff has made it possible for the city to come in and begin work on a new kennel building. Tuesday (Sept. 27), trees were removed and a construction team began dismantling the few covered structures that existed. The actual metal cages have been moved behind the shelter as an emergency overflow area, but Burnham is happy to report he has yet to place any dogs out there.

“It’s really nice to have them inside,” he said.