HSMC serves the biggest county in the state and has been doing so for over 60 years! In that time as animal welfare has changed and developed, so too have the policies, procedures and services of the shelter. Though no major changes have been implemented since 2013, there’s still a lot of confusion as to what services we are able to provide and we would like to offer some clarity in that arena.
HSMC is contracted as the designated impound facility for stray dogs and bite quarantines (cat or dog) within Marathon County. This means that any person who finds a stray dog within the Marathon County line is able to bring said dog to our facility free of charge and there is no charge back to the associated municipality or police department. The costs for caring and providing for that stray during the required hold time is covered under county contract and placed back on the owner if identified. Pretty straight forward, right?
When it comes to stray cats it can get complicated and confusing; we see residents frustrated on a daily basis.
Rewind to 2013 to a time when HSMC was seeing approximately 2000 animals coming through our doors annually; there were days when 25+ cats were coming in to a shelter that was already busting at the seams with cats. Space was limited, overcrowding was always a problem and the health of our population was rarely in a stable state due to the high volume and constant arrival of new, unvaccinated and already sick animals. The shelter had to consider the financial stability of the organization and the writing was on the wall- we couldn’t keep going like this. For years we had been taking in hundreds of cats with no reimbursement for their sheltering and care (aside from the handful of return to owners where we were excitedly able to get a cat back to its family). Caring for cats is expensive (as every cat owner knows) and that’s before you add in the stress of the shelter environment, compromised immune systems and overcrowding.
HSMC approached the county to request increased funding under the existing impoundment contract to account for the increased spending for housing hundreds of cats and to secure our future in this business to enable us to continue to help our four-legged friends. After further review at the county level the resolution was that the municipalities themselves are responsible for stray cat services on an individual basis and that state statute only mandates involvement at the county level for stray dogs. So here we are, 50+ years into the business and a wrench is thrown into the system that changes everything. For the first time, municipalities would be required to pay for a service that had otherwise been provided for free.
Next came a lengthy process of communicating the change and developing a contract for stray cat services. A tiered system was developed based on years of data collected by the shelter to establish the average number of cats typically received from any given area. Those accounting for the most cats would have a higher contracted rate while those with fewer cats would be contracted at a lesser rate. It was also made clear that HSMC was not the only rodeo in town; if a municipality so chose, they could reach out to other shelters, veterinary clinics, boarding kennels or private parties to enlist the same services we were offering to provide in search of a different rate or arrangement.
We provided service documents to each individual municipality; think of every city, town, village in the county. To be specific, there are 40 towns, 16 villages and 6 cities in Marathon County; that’s 62 municipalities!!! There was a brief period of time where no contracts were in place and we were not accepting any stray cats- can you imagine?!
It wasn’t long before the major players (bigger municipal areas) started contract negotiations and before long the cats were coming, but not from the whole county. Of the 62 municipalities that were presented with documents for stray cat services, 9 contracted with HSMC. What about the other 53 municipalities you ask? Good question. As we mentioned earlier, each municipality was given the option to seek the same services from other vendors. For example, the Village of Maine contracted with the Lincoln County Humane Society for their stray cat services and the Village of Spencer contracted with the Marshfield Area Pet Shelter. Some municipalities, for budgetary reasons or otherwise, chose not to provide services at all.
So what happens when someone brings us a cat from an area that is not contracted? To take that cat would be in violation of all of our other service contracts, which could result in a loss of revenue and financial instability in our organization. Simply put, we cannot take that animal. What we can do is scan that cat for a microchip. What we can do is check our lost reports to see if the owner has called us. What we can do is take down detailed information about what the cat looks like and where it was found in the event that an owner does call us. What we can do is take a picture of the cat and post it to our Facebook page and Lost Cats of Wisconsin’s page. A small percentage of cats are reclaimed by their owner from our facility and facilities across the nation. Though it can be hard to see a cat outside, if the cat is collared and appears to be well cared for it is more likely that it will find its way back home on its own than be reclaimed by its owner once in shelter. In the event that a finder is willing to hold onto the animal, we are able to schedule the cat to come in as a surrender when kennel space is available. This may require a commitment from the finder to hold the animal for at least 7 days but there is no fee associated. In the event that a finder surrenders an animal that they have found stray and had cared for until space was available, it is not in anyway held against the finder for future adoptions or dealings with the shelter; the situation is thoroughly documented internally and the same intake procedures are still in place which includes scanning the cat for a microchip and checking lost reports. We know that not everyone who finds a stray cat is in a position to care for it.
We understand that this is frustrating to the concerned citizen who found a cat out in the Town of Berlin and drove all the way to the shelter to do the right thing, just to be told we cannot accept that animal. We wish that we could.
So what can you do? If you are in an area that does not currently have stray cat services with HSMC, start the conversation again. Reach out to your township directly and ask if there are services in place for stray cats; there may be arrangements in place that HSMC is not aware of and your municipality’s representatives would be best able to direct you appropriately. If your township does not have any services in place for stray cats, express your concerns and ask them to revisit the issue.