High Society

It's flush with money and has a grand new building, but the Humane Society of Missouri is doing little to prevent the growing euthanasia rate for unwanted animals

Ray Feick, one of the founding members of Pound Pals, says buying the old Humane Society building seemed like the ideal solution to the city's problems when the idea was raised in 1997. "It just seemed like an absolutely perfect blend," Feick says. People looking for an animal for adoption would have two places to look in one stop -- those who had lost a pet could check two places at once, and animals with health problems at the pound could be treated across the street at the Humane Society (animals with health problems at the pound are routinely euthanized). Dogs and cats brought into the pound would find better living conditions, Feick says.

He attended meetings about the proposal with former Humane Society director Kent Robertson and two members of its board, an alderman from that ward and the mayor's wife, Janet Harmon, who had been involved with Pound Pals early on. "It was a meeting to say this will work for the benefit of the animals. It is a good move all around," Feick recalls. "This is a way to sell your building and make money on it, to provide a better facility for the animals ... and bury the hatchet between these two entities." (The hatchet involved a dispute about 20 years ago when the Humane Society tried to take over the city's pound services with a private contract approved by then-Mayor Jim Conway. When Vincent Schoemehl became mayor, however, he rescinded the contract, saying the city could do it more cheaply.)

The old Humane Society building had problems, such as asbestos, but the city was still interested. The Humane Society was not.

Ray Feick of Pound Pals remains angry that the Humane Society chose to build a park rather than sell its old building to the city: "I just couldn't believe this is a place that calls itself the Humane Society and they would rather build a memorial to dead animals than see that living animals had a better place to live and a better opportunity to be adopted. I was just livid."
Jay Fram
Ray Feick of Pound Pals remains angry that the Humane Society chose to build a park rather than sell its old building to the city: "I just couldn't believe this is a place that calls itself the Humane Society and they would rather build a memorial to dead animals than see that living animals had a better place to live and a better opportunity to be adopted. I was just livid."

Robertson contends that the old facility the city wanted was "not going to be good for anybody. It was code-deficient and had all kinds of problems and needed to be demolished."

"The Humane Society would have no part of it," Feick says. "First they told us they were going to use the building as a quarantine area for large confiscations. Fairly quickly we heard they weren't using it at all. Then we were told they were going to tear it down and make this a pet memorial." Feick is still rankled by the rebuke. "I just couldn't believe this is a place that calls itself the Humane Society and they would rather build a memorial to dead animals than see that living animals had a better place to live and a better opportunity to be adopted. I was just livid."

Janet Harmon recalls the Humane Society's reaction: "We sort of floated a balloon and they just weren't interested. Part of it is, some of their board people are sensitive about the city pound and how it would affect their image. I think they wanted their own complex," she says. "The city has to deal with strays who bite people. The Humane Society is a volunteer organization. I think they were concerned it might somehow damage their own image. People might get them confused."

Ed Throop, who has served as interim director of the Humane Society since Robertson's departure last year, says that decision was made before his time -- he joined the board about three years ago. But he says he understands why the organization wasn't interested: "I wouldn't want to have the pound across the street from us. That would be bad. It would just cause confusion."

Less worried about such "confusion" is the Metro East Humane Society, which exists right next to the Madison County animal-control facility.

Throop, a millionaire businessman who grew up in Ladue, was asked to find a new use for the old property, and he and his family donated $2 million to construct and maintain a pet-memorial park named in his late mother's honor.

"We wanted to give the park to the entire community," Throop says. "We wanted to have the theme that it be pet-oriented, so it's a place where you can take your dog. It's a growing park. Over time we will continue to embellish it with benches and memorabilia."

One of the newest methods aimed at reducing pet overpopulation comes in the form of a 26- or 36-foot spay/neuter mobile, a surgical van on wheels that can travel to low-income and rural areas that are underserved by veterinarians. Houston was the first to run a van, in 1994, and a spay-mobile is in use in the New Orleans area as well. Animal organizations in New York City and Los Angeles are each getting two, and Boston; Raleigh, N.C.; Santa Fe, N.M.; Austin, Texas; and Columbia, S.C., have each ordered one. A base unit costs about $85,000, plus the staffing of a vet and a veterinary technician.

Neither the Humane Society of Missouri nor anyone else in St. Louis has such a mobile unit.

Bob Christiansen of Napa, Calif., a former dog trainer who has written extensively about animal-welfare issues, recently toured the country in a mobile spay/neuter van, speaking with animal-welfare organizations in 36 cities, including St. Louis. He strongly believes mobile vans can combat euthanasia rates by offering low-cost surgeries in poor areas, by parking at a church or fire station where people can bring their pets. As many as 50 surgeries can be performed in a single day. He advocates partnering with local governments to help subsidize the cost of spay/neuter.

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