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County asked to foot bills for hurt animals

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By Kevin Koelling, Managing Editor

TELL CITY - The president of the Humane Society of Perry County, in continuing his effort to get the county to take more responsibility for injured animals, told other animal-welfare workers May 21 he thinks money can be found for that purpose.

As The News reported May 8, Humane Society President Jim Carter appeared before the county commissioners to urge them to begin helping his organization foot the bills for dogs and cats injured on the county's roads.

"There are many things I get calls on other than animals hit by cars," he told the board of directors for Perry County Animal Shelter Inc., a nonprofit organization that operates a shelter in Cannelton. As an example, he said cats have been found with their legs twisted, a cruelty he suspects has been inflicted by teenagers in the Tell City High School area.

Carter told the board he wants to get injured animals to local veterinarians so they can receive the care they need and so a "paper trail" is developed that can show the extent of the problem and its cost.

"We need a way to come up with revenue," he told the shelter board. "I approached the county commissioners, and they agreed the county should be responsible when ownership (of an injured animal) can't be determined."

Commissioner Jody Fortwendel, also a member of the shelter board, said when Carter addressed the county leaders he'd like to help pay for injured animals' care, but he and the other commissioners expressed concern about how they could pay for it.

Carter thinks money may exist in the county budget that could be diverted from other purposes, and said the shelter would need to hire another employee if it were to take on the responsibility of nursing injured animals back to health.

"There's a pie there," he said. "I don't think the shelter is getting its fair piece of the pie. I think there could be places in the budget where we could find money. The Tell City Police Department and (county) sheriff's department are always asking for another car. That's $20,000 or $30,000. If they drive it for another year, it would provide enough to pay for an employee for a year. There should be a way we can look at different options to get revenue."

He pointed out state law requires county commissioners to provide quarantine areas for diseased animals.

"We have held several at no charge," said Gene Ritchie, outgoing president of the shelter organization.

"The state should pay for that," Carter told him. "Has anyone approached the state?"

"I think there's something in the statute about reimbursements," Ritchie replied.

Carter said city leaders might help pay the costs of euthanizing animals, but getting the public involved is important to making any changes.

"I applaud your attitude of wanting to save all animals," Ritchie told him, But I don't think that's realistic. There are so many out there."

Reading information from the Humane Society of the United States Web site, he said 2,000 to 3,500 dogs and cats are born every hour in this country, compared to 415 humans.

Spending on veterinary care cuts into funds that can be used elsewhere, he told Carter.

"Our problem is not the revenue," said Mike Neyenhaus, incoming president for the shelter organization. "We never euthanize due to revenue, we do it for space."

The national average for euthanizations in shelters' first year of operation is 90 percent, Ritchie said. "We've kept it at approximately 50 percent."

He said later in the meeting the euthanization rate was just under 35 percent for dogs and just over 40 percent fir cats the previous eight months. Spikes in those rates have occurred when people took diseased animals to the shelter.

"The bottom line is there are too many animals and not enough people (willing to take care of them)," shelter-board member Kim Strobel said. "We have to start at the beginning of the problem; it has to start with not having all of these animals."

A teacher, Strobel has involved her students in creating advertising to encourage people to adopt shelter animals and educational materials urging them to get their pets spayed or neutered.

Ritchie said he thinks money is better spent on spay-neuter programs than on injured animals.

"For every animal you nurse back to health and adopt out, we have to put one down," he said. "Where do we put these animals?" he asked a few minutes later. "Do we put an animal down so we can bring in an injured animal?"

While the organization is paying its bills, he said, "we only get half of (the money) we need."

The cost of running the shelter is approximately $90,000 per year, and "we get about $45,000 from the county and cities," he said. "We haven't had an increase in years."

Carter noted he understands the realities of dealing with abandoned and injured animals, and said several times throughout the meeting he wanted to seek innovative means for increasing revenues.

"If you can find some money for us, we're all for it," Ritchie told him.