Contracting for Animal Shelter Services

Animal shelter budgets are one of the most precarious budgets found in city/county budgets. The battle is between whether the city/county administration wants money to go to animals when budgets are thin for humans. In one Florida county, I was faced with a Country Administrator whose mission it was to slash our animal control budget. He made it clear to me that the fight was between helping animals or helping babies. Of course, the battle wasn’t that simple. Every budget cycle I would be asked to prepare budgets with various reductions. Our County Administrator didn’t recognize the our support with the County Commission. The Commission saved our budget each year.

Many local governments look for ways to save money and usually the concept of contracting out their animal control services will arise. It is not uncommon for the government to contract with their local humane society to provide for animal shelter services. During the pressure years of the No Kill Movement, many humane societies failed under the new pressure that was placed on them to save the strays.

I was hired twice to oversee the takeover of a humane society’s operation of the “pound.” In the first incident, a group of animal rescue organizations came together to bid against the humane society for the contract because the humane society didn’t play well with rescues and seemed satisfied with a ninety percent euthanasia rate (which was common in public animal shelters at that time). The humane society would cherry pick (picking the best) animals for adoption and kill the rest. The group of rescues were awarded the contract and I was asked to oversee the newly formed organization.

I would get phone calls from the humane society’s board of directors telling me that I was putting the community at risk for adopting out dangerous dogs. Oddly, they actually believed that only 10% of impounded stays were worthy for adoption. They were committed to the belief that a 90% euthanasia was acceptable. And would boast of their fine adoption record.

In the second incident, the humane society had boasted of being a No Kill organization with a ninety percent adoption rate while having a ninety percent euthanasia rate in the “pound” side of their operation. Basically, the community didn’t buy their story of the fact that they could call themselves no kill by ignoring half of their operational deaths. The humane society wanted to rid themselves of the stigma of being a “kill shelter” and asked to give the contract up. I was hired to retake the shelter and bring it under government control. We were able to reach a 90% save rate by working closely with animal rescue groups.

The dynamics were perfect for us, in that the community became so vocal against the humane society that local jurisdictions did not baulk at our request for more funding for veterinary services. If you want to see your adoptions increase, cover the medical expenditures (including sterilization) for rescue groups accepting your animals.

The reason that governments wish to contract out their animals shelter operations is that it is a pain to run them. I once had a county commissioner tell me that he got more complaints about animals than any other issue. Given the uproar of the killing of animals in shelters, animal shelters have become more expensive to run. It is no wonder that government look for someone else to run their programs. They figure that a nonprofit could get donations to supplement the operational expenses of running an animal shelter. The costs of maintaining animals longer so as to increase adoptions is often beyond many shelters financial means and the contract falls apart.

I worked in one public facility in which the administration would not let us conduct fundraisers because it gave the appearance that we were not properly funded. Which we weren’t With this kind of mentality, it is no wonder that governmental administrations wish to surrender their animal shelters to other entities.

The benefit of contracting out an animal shelter operation to a humane society is lower costs. The problem with contracting out to a humane society is that they frequently under estimate their budget needs and generally do not work well with other animal rescue organizations. As such the animals do not get the care or adoption opportunities that they should.

Many animal control/shelter operations fall under the jurisdiction’s police department. Wtih recent public demands to defund the police, the animal control portion of the police budget becomes even more at risk as police are forced to reduce their budgets. The issue becomes making the decision to have animal control officers on the street picking up stray animals, or police officers fighting crime. There will probably be an increase in outsourcing the shelter’s operation. In a few years, when budgets stabilize, the shelter’s contract will likely return to government control.