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Shelter is straining from cats and dogs
A financially struggling western Wisconsin animal shelter is at risk of closing, overwhelmed by the surge in abandoned animals and strays that find their way to its doorstep.
Story and Photograph By Kevin Giles •, Star Tribune
Last update: December 2, 2005 at 10:01 PM
Theresa Jonas of the Pierce-St. Croix County Humane Society recalls the rabbits on the shelter's doorstep, waiting beside a sign that said, "Take care of me." She remembers finding nine puppies yelping outside the door.
There was the stray pygmy goat named Billy Bob, and the guinea pig left in a cage at the shopping mall. The shelter's guest list this past year shows three horses, two raccoons, a tundra swan and even a cockatoo.
"People just abandon," said Jonas, who is the volunteer executive director at the shelter near River Falls, Wis. "We live in a throwaway society."
The problem is compounded by the area's booming housing developments from River Falls north to Hudson and New Richmond near the eastern fringe of the St. Croix River. Right now, the shelter is so overwhelmed by the sheer number of abandoned pets, Jonas said, that it could close by January.
"The Humane Society can no longer be responsible for all the strays in the two counties," Jonas said.
Jamie Feuerhelm, Pierce County clerk, agreed that population growth is creating more strays. "More people, more pets," he said.
State figures show that St. Croix County will be growing faster than any other in Wisconsin over the next 25 years. Since 2000, the county's population jumped 20 percent. Pierce County's population growth isn't as dramatic, but it has increased about 6 percent since 2000.
The shelter depends on donations and fees, not tax dollars, to survive. Jonas said it gets $10,000 from Pierce County dog license fees and is designated as a county pound. It gets nothing from St. Croix County, she said.
This year, income could fall more than $72,000 short of expenses. Jonas foresees a deficit of more than $250,000 next year if the shelter remains open, and even more in 2007.
Because the shelter is the only one of its kind in Pierce and St. Croix counties, Jonas said, the Humane Society is asking all local governments to pay a per-capita fee to save the shelter.
By mid-December, Jonas will know how many will participate, which determines the shelter's fate.
Feuerhelm is concerned that the many villages and townships in the county won't be able to find the money this year for the fee. But Phyllis Beastrom, clerk of Ellsworth township, said Friday that local governments probably will support the shelter because there's no other alternative. "These townships don't want these dogs coming to their houses," she said.
Jonas, meanwhile, said it would be inhumane and a violation of state law for her shelter to turn away the mounting number of stray animals, particularly diseased ones that threaten the public.
Built for 50 animals, the shelter routinely houses 70 dogs and cats a day. In preparation for closing, shelter workers still care for strays as the law requires, but are saying no to people who come to "surrender" their animals.
One day recently, dozens of cats and dogs appealed for attention from behind wire mesh. Adoptions, however, lag far behind mercy killings. That, Jonas said, is the sad result of too many people wanting pets but then failing to take responsibility for them.
"The human connection with animals is never going to go away," she said.
Kevin Giles • 612-673-7707