Here are the facts about Calhoun County’s proposed takeover of the animal shelter. We appreciate the Anniston Star for the opportunity to get the news out.
We were stunned when the Calhoun County Commission voted 3-2 to end its contract with Cheaha Regional Humane Society. We strongly urge the Commission to reconsider that action, take another vote, and extend its contract with Cheaha Regional Humane Society. County officials have said the County plans to take over all shelter operations March 1. Animal lives are stake, and the quality of life for our community is at stake.
We applaud Commissioners Tim Hodges and J.D Hess for voting to continue the contract with Cheaha Regional Humane Society. We encourage Commissioners Lee Patterson Fred Wilson and Eli Henderson to reconsider and vote to extend the contract. Cheaha Regional Humane Society saves and rehomes hundreds of animals every year.
Unfortunately, Cheaha Regional Humane Society was not given the opportunity to sit down with Commissioners before the Commission voted to kill the contract.
There was no voice for the animals whose lives are at stake here. We are puzzled that some Commissioners appear eager to invest the County into the business of wholly operating an animal shelter at a tremendous new expense to taxpayers when there are so many other pressing public issues that command their attention, and the shelter is doing its job just fine.
Cheaha Regional Humane Society was formed in 2013 to intervene in a crisis in the local animal population. At the time, Calhoun County was tasked with managing and operating all aspects of animal welfare including running the shelter. The job overwhelmed County resources, and as a result, dozens of animals were routinely and needlessly euthanized every month. Readers may recall what a tragic and sad situation it was.
Cheaha Regional Humane Society took over the shelter, immediately improving conditions for animals. More importantly, we drastically reduced the euthanasia rate. Things have continued to change for the better.
Open hearted adoptive families, generous private donors, a committed staff, selfless volunteers, hardworking Board and Advisory Board members and a remarkable network of associated animal advocacy and rescue groups work together daily for the animals brought into the shelter. Consistent County funding has been fundamental, and we are grateful to taxpayers and the County Commission for providing that funding through a contract. It’s not too late to extend that contract.
We are thankful that Calhoun County law enforcement moved from the shadows to the front lines in tackling this tough issue. The Calhoun County District Attorney’s office has successfully pursued criminal cases against the most heinous offenders in puppy mill, animal abuse and hoarding cases. Sheriff’s deputies and police officers enforce the laws that make our communities safer.
Sound like a complex web? It is, but it works remarkably well, and that’s what matters most. Cheaha Regional Humane Society provides the services it was created to provide, and the agency continues to evolve in response to community needs. We face the same struggles and difficulties all shelters face. One county official cited waste disposal issues at the shelter as a continuing problem. It’s an issue we deal with daily, but killing the contract with Cheaha Regional Humane Society will not solve it.
Shifting shelter management to the County threatens to collapse the underpinnings of a strong and successful animal welfare service. It would be a costly disservice to the animals and the taxpayers, and it represents a huge step backward for animal welfare and quality of life for our community at large. Nationwide, the overwhelming majority of counties and municipalities are getting out of the business of running animal shelters.
Animal problems, like people problems, are problems that we must work together to manage, not solve. There are no easy answers, but by building a culture of caring, responsibility and accountability, we can continue to make strides in the right direction. Everyone from legislators to local elected officials to law enforcement to animal advocates and pet owners has a role to play.
It is not too late for our elected officials come to the table to seek a solution that will include extending the contract that funds Cheaha Regional Animal Shelter. Animal lives are at stake, and whatever happens at the shelter March 1, the day Calhoun County is set to take over, taxpayer dollars will be funding it. It is not too late for elected officials to put the animals and taxpayers first and do the right thing.
Jane Cunningham is director of Cheaha Regional Humane Society.