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Stray-dog dilemma confronts Allen County

LIMA, Ohio - The agency that has taken care of the Allen County's stray dogs for 16 years told commissioners yesterday it is getting out of the business.

The Humane Society of Allen County notified commissioners it will terminate its contract to house and dispose of stray dogs effective Oct. 31.

Director John Heltman cited “philosophical differences” in making the announcement.

“We are perceived as the Allen County dog pound,” he said. “We are not a dog pound. The Humane Society philosophy is much different than animal control.”

County commissioners said they were surprised by Mr. Heltman's letter because they have been negotiating for several months with Dale Kohlrieser, president of the agency's board of trustees, and thought they were close to reaching a new contract.

“We had not been able to finish our dialogue with the board president. We did e-mail him but hadn't heard back, and now we get this,” Commissioner Steve Diepenbrock said.

While Mr. Heltman said the agency's desire to get out of the animal-control business was the primary reason for terminating the contract, he noted that the county has been paying the Humane Society the same amount for taking care of stray dogs as it did in 1985.

Payments for the services accounted for just 5 percent of the agency's annual budget, while the number of dogs brought to the shelter by county dog wardens accounted for more than 33 percent of the dogs at the shelter, he said.

Mr. Diepenbrock said the county always has paid the Humane Society $10 per dog, which in recent years has amounted to about $36,000 annually. He said commissioners were open to increasing the fee but first wanted to see what the agency's expenses were.

“At the last meeting, we said, `Let's make it easy. How much do you want per dog? If it's reasonable, fine.' None of us are saying $10 is the right number. We're just saying we need a new number,” he said.

Without the Humane Society contract, commissioners could be forced to operate a separate dog shelter for strays.

Mr. Diepenbrock said he would prefer to try to work with the Humane Society, if both sides would agree to a contract.

Mr. Heltman, director since March, said he didn't consider that an option. “At this point, there are no plans for any more negotiations. We want to get out of the business. We want to stop killing,” Mr. Heltman said. “Last year we had to kill 4,100 animals or more.”

Under Ohio law, the county commissioners are charged with animal control - both the stray population and unwanted pets in the county. The Humane Society, on the other hand, is a nonprofit organization focused on humane treatment of companion animals.

“All we're saying is, `You do what is mandated by the Ohio Revised Code,'” Mr. Heltman said. “What we will do is take our resources, stop the killing, and pursue the Humane Society philosophy, which is adoption - we want to expand our adoptions - work on a spay/neuter program, and work on education and try to prevent all these animals from being euthanized.”

The Humane Society has been in a state of flux for nearly a year.

Its longtime director, Joanne Bowsher, resigned last fall, citing family and health reasons. Her replacement, Sandee Laing, was fired after just seven weeks on the job, and the board declined to give a reason.

Officials said at the time the agency had a $250,000 deficit stemming from construction of its new $2 million facility on Elida Road.

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