GULFPORT -- The City Council took another step toward establishing a city-run animal shelter Tuesday, but a veteran of the nonprofit Humane Society of South Mississippi told council members it is making a mistake.
"I'm going to tell you very strongly, right now, that this is a terrible idea -- not a bad idea, but a terrible idea," said Eric Aschaffenburg, who helped establish the modern HSSM shelter in Gulfport where the city's strays were housed. "This is going to be a very poor shelter compared to what you already have, which is one of the best facilities in the country."
The city and HSSM have been unable to come to terms on a new contract, so Police Chief Leonard Papania's department is running a temporary shelter. Papania is still negotiating with HSSM, which wants $209,000 a year, or $120 per animal, to house Gulfport strays for five days.
Gulfport's cost, Papania told the council, have been $89 per animal for the mandatory five-day hold.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to allow Papania to advertise for an architect to design a shelter.
Papania is continuing to negotiate with HSSM. He wants a better understanding of HSSM's costs for housing animals. City officials also fear they are being charged for animals turned in from outside the city limits.
Papania said his officers have picked up 146 strays in two months and taken them to the temporary city shelter.
The council did not ask about euthanasia, but Papania told the Sun Herald 68 of the animals -- or 46.6 percent -- have been euthanized. HSSM's euthanasia rate is 23 percent, spokeswoman Krystyna Schmitt said.
HSSM holds animals longer than five days and runs special adoption programs. The agency also has helped reduce the number of strays in the community with a spay and neuter program, judging by its statistics.
HSSM used to take in 17,000 strays a year from Harrison County and its cities, but the number was more recently down to 10,000 a year, Aschaffenburg said.
He said the city simply can't provide the same kinds of services.
Papania said the city is holding pet adoptions once a week. He told the council he believes he can run the shelter with two full-time employees, with salaries and benefits totaling $76,000 a year. He said he supplements the shelter staff with inmate labor.
The animals also must have shots and veterinary care. Papania said area veterinarians have stepped up to offer services and advice.
Council members are concerned about the bottom line but Aschaffenburg said they are spending too much time discussing animal care, which amounts to only about 1 percent of the Police Department's budget under the HSSM contract proposed. He doesn't see how the city will save much, if any, money.
After the meeting, he said, "They're going to run (a shelter) with convict labor. They're going to kill the animals after five days. Is this what the community wants?"