MUSKEGON COUNTY, MI – The recent decision to seek bids for a new Muskegon County animal shelter contract has some residents worried about euthanasia becoming an acceptable, cost-saving means of animal control.
The county board of commissioners voted Sept. 25 to seek proposals for a new animal control and shelter contract. The county’s current contract with Pound Buddies, the shelter provider since 2010, expired in September but was extended until the county can sign a new contract. Pound Buddies also took over animal control duties for the sheriff’s office in June.
Last year, Pound Buddies received nearly $235,000 for shelter services, which director Lana Carson said only covered about 50 percent of its annual budget.
Muskegon County Administrator Mark Eisenbarth said officials aren’t necessarily seeking to save money by issuing bids. They are looking for the best service provider overall, which could still be Pound Buddies if the company submits the best proposal, Eisenbarth said.
In addition, the county wants a single contract that covers both animal control and animal shelter services, according to Muskegon County Treasurer Tony Moulatsiotis.
But the decision to seek a new contract sparked a groundswell of concern from patrons and volunteers working with Pound Buddies. On Tuesday, Oct. 30, more than 100 people showed up to the county board’s regular meeting to protest the decision to seek a new contract.
Provider upset as Muskegon County seeks new animal control contract
“This takes our community backward, not forward” said Norton Shores resident Elizabeth Danigelis. “The total cost of animal control and boarding is down under the tutelage of Pound Buddies as well as euthanasia rates decreasing over the last 10 years. This is a fact. Their building is falling apart, but they are continually cost effective, resourceful and their care for the animals is superb.
“This is an agency to be proud of and supported.”
Tuesday’s agenda did not include any action or discussion items related to Pound Buddies, their contract or the request for proposals (RFP). Contract proposals aren’t due until Nov. 9.
The crowd of demonstrators packed the fourth floor of the Muskegon County administration building, some carrying signs hailing Pound Buddies and its work as a no-kill shelter provider. Before Pound Buddies took over in 2010, the county-owned shelter included a gas chamber for euthanasia.
Carson told MLive/Muskegon Chronicle in an earlier interview said that her company shut down and all but dismantled the gas chamber because it didn’t want to operate a kill shelter.
A portion of the county’s RFP mentions that the county has a statutory obligation to keep licensed animals in a shelter for up to four days. The state also recommends that unlicensed animals should be kept in a shelter for up to seven days.
The RFP does not state what the contractor should do with animals after that period. Some residents thought that meant the county suggested a new provider should euthanize those animals.
Moulatsiotis addressed the issue of euthanasia in a letter to the county board on Oct. 23.
“I don’t believe that limiting the contractual costs to the statutory four days for a licensed dog and seven days for an unlicensed dog would suggest that we are encouraging euthanasia,” Moulatsiotis wrote. “I believe this to be the period that the County’s financial obligation should cover.”
However, Moulatsiotis went on to say that an animal control shelter was designed to impound and provide care for stray animals until they can be reunited with their families. Animals kept longer than that period would be made available for adoption for a fee, but the county or its provider would have to cover the cost of protecting that animal from euthanasia.
Moulatsiotis urged the board to consider the financial costs of exceeding its statutory obligations.
“In good conscience and as a steward of the taxpayers I would ask you to consider keeping the financial impact and statutory responsibility in mind while negotiating any further increase in the contract for Animal Control services,” he wrote.
Since Pound Buddies is against euthanasia, many of those upfront animal protection costs are covered by donations, Carson said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, residents said suggesting euthanasia as a means for cost savings was unacceptable.
“I served on the board of a humane association that was a no-kill shelter, and I am appalled that that is even being considered in this community where we are trying to make a positive impact on people and our communities overall,” said county resident Linda Davis.
Aside from gripes about euthanasia, some of those who addressed the board said they believed Pound Buddies was already providing the best service with limited resources.
Some residents suggested that the county extend the Pound Buddies contract for another 10 years and seek a millage to help make vital repairs to the county-owned shelter located at 1300 E. Keating Ave.
A millage may not be a viable option, however, as commissioners issued a moratorium on new millages to help finance county and court operations.
Muskegon County leaders worry about voter wrath over new millage requests