Laura Higgins' article "High Society" (RFT, Feb. 23) was insightful and helped scratch the surface of a growing local and nationwide animal-welfare issue regarding euthanization and the big dollars surrounding it.
As the former executive director for one of the largest no-kill animal shelters in this region, I saw firsthand how many Missourians throw dollars to the animal cause. However, managing and using these dollars for the needed innovative programs meant taking new risks.
The readers need to understand that the governing infrastructure of a nonprofit (and those especially found at animal-welfare agencies) are genuine but not visionary. Their love and passion to "save the animals" does not transcend to the bigger picture; rather, it generally lingers on the day-to-day cause of saving and adopting Fido or Felix. To even begin to tackle pet overpopulation, euthanization or basic community education, these agencies need to look at thinking outside the box (or cage). This is an extremely difficult task to accomplish when trying to balance the needs of donors, volunteers and, most important, the public. The last 50 years of the animal-shelter industry taught us that bigger does not necessarily mean better; it just means more pets to warehouse and (generally) more to kill -- not adopt. Humane shelters should not be in the big business to create the demand for more adoptions but rather create less unwanted pets in the first place.
Like with any social cause, the solution can only be found in the changing of a society through legislation and education. I witness people donating to private animals shelters in an effort to wash away the ever-growing truth of community irresponsibility. No St. Louis animal-welfare fundraising executive wants to speak about the increasing animal abuse, dog bites, strays or euthanization when trying to get a check for a brand-new building or to sponsor a new program. (And, unfortunately, the public does not really want to know about it, either.) So how do we begin to tame this beast?
The accountability comes from the source of the money! Donors, before they give, need to be educated and savvy. They need to earmark and demand results when giving dollars. If contributions held more animal agencies accountable for actual results, I think we would all see the creation of successful programs that actually lower the animal-kill rate at St. Louis private and public shelters.
When Ms. Higgins first came to the Humane Society of Missouri, we were elated that The Riverfront Times' readership would have an opportunity to learn more about the pet-overpopulation problem that plagues our community. Unfortunately, the article that appeared in the Feb. 23 issue of the RFT reads more as a forum for uninformed critics.
In comparing us to the San Francisco SPCA, an organization located in another geographic sector of the United States, Ms. Higgins failed to explain that we are located in the agricultural belt of the nation and constantly combat the attitude that animals are merely property. Missouri has a national reputation as one of the largest puppy-mill-breeding states in the country. We service a community that has vastly different financial and human resources than those found in San Francisco. What fair comparison can be made with such different circumstances shaping the cultures of these communities? In addition, we service an entire state, while San Francisco is responsible only for their city. Readers might also be interested to know that San Francisco's label as a "no-kill" city is a misnomer, as they annually euthanize 6,000 animals. This information, compiled by the Humane Society of the United States, was provided to Ms. Higgins.
Furthermore, it was not explained that the Humane Society's $55 million in assets are restricted. The donors for an endowment have restricted nearly $30 million of those assets. Therefore those funds cannot legally be used for operations or to establish new programs. The other assets listed include land, buildings and equipment that are put to work for the animals each day at our three locations. In addition, the same legal restrictions hold true for the park. My family made the donation to the Society specifically to build the park. Our intention was to have a place where the St. Louis community could go to enjoy spending time with their pets while serving as a tribute to the more than 1 million animals helped at our 1210 Macklind Ave. location. No Humane Society of Missouri funds are being used for either the construction or maintenance of our park.
According to Dr. Lon Dixon, our director of veterinary services, we do provide low-cost spay/neuter services for the poor under the Spay/Neuter Assistance Program. Additionally, we do not normally spay/neuter animals 8-12 weeks of age because we are concerned with the health of the individual animals. With this age group, we primarily focus our efforts on preventive-health-care procedures. We feel the extra stress of surgery impairs our efforts to ensure these animals are free of parasites and properly vaccinated against a variety of infectious diseases. These young animals have enough stress in their fragile lives due to separation from their siblings and their mother, relocation to strange places, change in diet and exposure to many new people. We feel it is better for the health of these very young animals to allow them to equilibrate to these stresses, be fully protected by vaccination and dewormed prior to surgery. We do spay/neuter animals coming from our shelters beginning at approximately 12 weeks of age -- again, depending on the individual animal. We have had great success in providing for the health and well-being of our animals by waiting until 4 months of age to spay/neuter animals adopted younger than 12 weeks of age.
Focusing on our headquarters, we renovated an existing warehouse rather than building an entirely new building. We moved directly across the street so that we could stay within the city limits, continuing to serve city residents and their pets. We have a vaulted-ceiling mall area that filters natural sunlight into the facility for the health and morale of the animals in our care, in addition to our employees and clients. Although aesthetically pleasing, these components of our new building serve a definite function.
In reading comments from St. Louis Animal Control, moving into our former headquarters would have proven ineffective and cost-prohibitive for them and the city of St. Louis, since the building was code-deficient, asbestos-laden and built in 1929 (more than 10 years older than the current facility on Gasconade). We can only hope that St. Louis taxpayers take the initiative to contact their city leaders and plead for additional funding to help the animals held at Gasconade. Perhaps our city leaders can make the necessary funding allocations that will give the animals higher priority.
I am sorry to notice that the article does little to help educate readers about the important role they can play in helping curb the pet-overpopulation problem. As our own Katherine McGowan points out in the article, "in making a better world for the animals, it won't happen overnight and we can't do it alone." We are disappointed that The Riverfront Times has chosen to give merit to uninformed critics rather than educate and inform a readership that must be part of the solution.
Edward G. Throop
President, Board of Directors
Humane Society of Missouri
It was amusing to read D.J. Wilson's "Short Cuts" of Feb. 23, in which County Executive Buzz Westfall and John Ferrara, chairman of the Convention and Visitors Commission, claim the cost of the Trans World Dome should be given as $280 million -- not the $720 million the RFT keeps quoting, which is the total amount with interest costs.
"It's not reality, it's bullshit what you're saying," Westfall was quoted. Both he and Ferrara say the cost of the stadium should be looked at the same as the cost of a home and not include interest. However, the analogy is way off, as government has options that homebuyers don't.
For example, in the 1980s the Metropolitan Sewer District needed to raise an estimated $436 million to upgrade its facilities to comply with clean-water regulations. MSD management swore the only way to finance the projects was with revenue bonds. This would have meant another $436 million for interest costs.
After those plans were sidetracked by litigation and the defeat of a couple of ballot proposals, sewer-district officials and MSD critics formulated a "pay as you go" proposal. It was overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1988. Total interest costs: not one cent. And the cost of one project alone was estimated at $230 million.
The Westfall/Ferrara contention is only the latest in years of deception about the cost of the Dome. In an April 5, 1989, Post-Dispatch article, titled "Stadium Financing Plan Offers No Risks, Backers Say," it was said: "Participation by the city, county and Missouri in the financing plan is voluntary under the proposal."
Would Buzz Westfall consider that reality or bullshit?