Humane Society – “Membership Denied”?


I have followed, with great interest and concern, the local media coverage of the controversy surrounding the Humane Society of Jefferson County and the Jefferson County animal shelter which stems from recent decisions made by the Board of Directors of the Humane Society and the resulting resignations of key employees.  A few weeks ago, I mailed a completed membership application, along with a check for membership dues to the Humane Society.  Earlier this week, my check was returned, along with a letter signed by the Board of Directors, regretfully informing me that the Humane Society is not currently accepting new members. While the Board of Directors regretfully declined my membership application, they assured me that they would be happy to accept donations.

I was so surprised by the letter that I had to read it again.  In my experience, most struggling non-profit organizations are eager to attract and welcome new members, and membership dues.  When I was active in the Humane Society many years ago, we handed out membership forms at every bake sale, car wash and roadblock fundraiser in an effort to increase our membership base.  We gave away door prizes at annual meetings to encourage members to attend and participate.  After reading the letter a second time, I thought back to the late 1970s, when the Humane Society began.  There were only 3 of us in the beginning–a high school student, a young teacher and a housewife.  We thought it was important to to add to our membership roll for a variety of reasons. It was an affirmation of support from the community.  Members were our largest source of donations.  When we needed cookies for a bake sale, or a foster home for a litter of puppies or kittens that had been dumped at the convenience center, we called on our members.

The Humane Society’s decision to cease to be an open surrender/open admission animal shelter is very troubling.  The Humane Society was formed to help all pets, strays and homeless animals in Jefferson County, regardless of age, health status, breed, disposition, etc.  We wanted to provide a safe and humane haven for these animals–whether the animal was surrendered by the owner, picked up and brought in by a good Samaritan, or picked up by animal control.  In fact, we especially wanted to provide a safe haven for animals brought in by animal control.  When we started the Humane Society, Jefferson County did not have an animal control program.  A couple of the city governments assigned someone in the sanitation department or work crew to pick up stray animals within the city limits, when City Hall received enough complaints about a stray dog.  One of the cities had a chain link “pen” in an open field with no shelter where stray dogs were kept for the state-mandated holding period (I think it was 72 hours at the time). Often, when a dog’s time was up, members of the Humane Society would pay the fine and foster the dog, while we tried to find an adoptive home.  I will never forget what happened one day when I went to meet the sanitation employee to pick up a dog whose time was up.  Just to the right of the chain link pen was a small block structure  (probably 5 ft square by 4′ tall) with a roof, a small door, and a metal pipe protruding from the block.  I was curious, so I asked the employee what this block structure was.  He explained that, once a dog’s time was up (he had not been reclaimed by their owner or “adopted” by someone else) the dog was placed inside the structure, the door was closed, and then a pick-up truck was backed up to the structure so that the truck’s exhaust pipe covered the protruding metal pipe. The pick-up was allowed to run for a while, and the animal was “euthanized” with the fumes from the carbon monoxide generated by the truck.  I was shocked.

Learning about this “euthanasia” method made us even more determined to build an animal shelter in Jefferson County–a place where we could house and care for homeless animals, and a place where the public could come to adopt a new pet.  We would not turn away any animals–especially those most in need–those who are old, sick, injured, aggressive or neglected.  We would provide a safe haven to all animals.

After years of fund-raising and soliciting donations of materials and volunteer labor, we finally raised enough funds to build the animal shelter.  The shelter filled up quickly, and it became apparent early on that not all animals would ultimately be adopted to responsible homes. When the animal shelter was at capacity, we frequently turned to members and volunteers to foster dogs and cats until space was available..  But, at the end of the day, the unfortunate reality was, and still is today, that the number of homeless animals in our county outnumbers the number of adoptive homes.  Those animals which were not adopted were humanely euthanized.  The sad truth is that, for many homeless, neglected and abuse animals, there are fates worse than a humane death.

The decision to turn animals away from an animal shelter is misguided and short-sighted, and will only exacerbate the problem.  These animals often end up being dumped at convenience centers, or abandoned on the side of the road to fend for themselves.  They reproduce, thereby compounding the overpopulation problem.  Many will meet a tragic end–dying from starvation, parasites, hypothermia, under the wheels of a car, at the hands of a cruel person, or at the end of a chain.

A Humane Society can implement policies, programs and outreach efforts that will reduce the number of homeless animals, over time.  They can require that all adopted animals be spayed or neutered.  They can offer reduced or no cost spay/neuter to pet owners.  They can educate people to be responsible pet owners.  They can provide humane education curriculum and programs to schools and youth groups in an effort to encourage children to grow up to be responsible pet owners as adults.

I have been pleased with the progress made at the Jefferson County Animal Shelter and with Jefferson County’s animal control program over the 40 years since the Humane Society was formed.  While there is room for improvement, we have come a long way from the homemade euthanasia chamber with a metal pipe sticking out.  However, I am concerned that, with recent decisions and changes in animal shelter policies, we have taken a step backward.

In my opinion, the Board’s decision to cease accepting new members is perplexing, and was not a decision made in the best interest of Jefferson County’s animals or its residents.  The Humane Society’s annual meeting is upcoming in June, at which time Board members and officers will be elected.  While I am not privy to the reason the Board stopped accepting members, I can only speculate that the Board of Directors has taken this position in an effort to thwart an anticipated effort to effect a change in the leadership of the organization at the annual meeting.

The Humane Society meets on the 3rd Thursday of each month at 6:30 p.m. at the Jefferson City Library, for concerned Jefferson County citizens who may be interested in learning more.  The next meeting is scheduled for March 15.  According to the Humane Society’s website, meetings are open to the public, and visitors are welcome.

Carol Morgan
Founding Member of the Humane Society of Jefferson County

Source: “Letters To The Editor” do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Jefferson County Post nor any of its employees. The Jefferson County Post does not underwrite any of the facts or situations mentioned in the letters.