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

"Nobody knows right now what is available," Rudder says.

She disagrees with critics of the Humane Society's education efforts and says its programs are one of its greatest strengths. Volunteer docents lead tours of the building and teach about 30,000 schoolchildren each year about the importance and responsibilities of pet ownership. It also offers a camp in the summer. "They are, hands down, the best educational service," Rudder says. "They do a lot of work with adults, too, sending volunteers out to talk about humane issues. By virtue of their size and strength, they can be in the news a lot more. They can get issues to the forefront."

The euthanasia rate's not going down "has nothing to do with the Humane Society of Missouri," she says. "It has to do with public perception of animals as throwaways. Until the education gets around to enough people, they're hitting the kids big with responsible ownership. That will eventually make a difference. People keep trying to lay the numbers on the agencies. It is not the agencies, it's the people. People keep bringing unwanted animals in the front door. It is easy to fault them but you have to look at some strengths."

The Humane Society's kennel for adult female dogs at the Society's new $11 million headquarters
Jay Fram
The Humane Society's kennel for adult female dogs at the Society's new $11 million headquarters

Both Rudder and Migneco agree that the St. Louis metro area's efforts to decrease euthanasia numbers have long been hindered by a lack of coalition-building.

"The shelter agencies have traditionally not reached out to work with each other," Rudder says. "Operation S.P.O.T. is one of the first roundtables for all the agencies to come together and talk about a problem, and that is the euthanasia figures."

Migneco, however, questions how well that is working.

"I honestly don't know if it's doing any good," he says. "Apparently not, if the numbers aren't dropping."

Even critics agree that the Humane Society does provide a host of services and programs for pet owners and that it's a leader in investigating animal-cruelty complaints.

With its annual budget of $8.6 million -- driven entirely by private donations -- the Humane Society is able to operate its large medical centers on Macklind and in Maryland Heights. It's a break-even proposition that costs about $3.05 million a year and brings in about $3.1 million in fees. Its spay/neuter surgeries are less expensive than the going rate at local veterinary offices, though its other fees tend to be competitive with those of private veterinarians.

The Humane Society spends $1.6 million on its adoption centers at both locations and brings in $374,000 in revenues. It adopted out about 10,000 pets last year and includes a microchip with every one, allowing the pet to be easily returned to its owner if it is picked up as a stray. Its Golden Friendship program allows seniors to adopt pets at no charge, and its Cinderella Program pays for medical care to injured strays that would otherwise not be adoptable. It spends another $270,000 on its large-animal rehabilitation center in Union, where neglected and abused farm animals are kept. It partners with the Greater St. Louis Training Club to offer obedience classes to pet owners.

It is also considered a leader in investigations of cruelty complaints and spends about $640,000 annually on its investigative units, which are open 24 hours a day and impound hundreds of animals each year. They also testify in court in cases involving animal abuse.

Regionally, and nationally, the Humane Society of Missouri is well known, largely for its wealth and its new facility. Whereas San Francisco is often touted as a progressive, innovative organization, the Missouri organization has a more staid reputation.

"The Humane Society of Missouri is fairly well known probably because of its size," says Jesse Winters, a Midwest regional manager with the ASPCA. "They just built a new shelter that has incorporated a lot of innovative ideas in terms of how to present animals to the public, more of a mall-type atmosphere, quieter, trying to address some of these new ways of thinking in terms of how shelters should feel and look and be more welcoming to the public. Certainly a lot of shelters in the Midwest would love to have those facilities."

In terms of its practices and philosophies, Winters says, the organization "is not considered particularly progressive, but they are not considered regressive. I haven't heard of anything innovative coming out of the Humane Society of Missouri."

She says she is not familiar with the Humane Society's pet-memorial park but notes that other humane organizations have built them -- and that they come at a price. "They cost money to operate and maintain," says Winters. "It's a choice. Do we want to memorialize animals that are no longer living, or try to do something with animals that are still living? When you have limited resources, it's a choice."

The Humane Society of Missouri is, perhaps, at a crucial juncture in its long history, and Throop says the new direction will include an increased emphasis on reducing the euthanasia rate.

The Society's longtime executive director, Kent Robertson, left last year after about a decade with the organization. He accepted the No. 2 position at the SPCA in Dallas, an organization with a budget about half the size of the Humane Society of Missouri's.

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