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Lower stress boosts outcomes for animals at new Humane Society shelter

Tamarack Resort Q4 2020

With its new building, the Idaho Humane Society entered a new era. 

About a year ago, the nonprofit moved into its new, 46,000 square foot second facility off of Overland Road for adoptions and other public-facing services. Private donations helped build the $16 million project. It separated the organization’s public services from its animal control contract services cities and Ada County pay for. 

Idaho Humane Society CEO Dr. Jeff Rosenthal said the new building’s larger enclosures and less stressful environment made a big difference on the disposition of the animals. He said IHS had its highest save rate for animals in the past year, which he partially attributes to the more calming environment. 

“People come in here and see this is a warm and friendly space with animals that are well cared for,” he said. “The decrease in stress level is just dramatic for the animals that come into this facility.”

A dog awaits adoption in the dog dorm of the Idaho Humane Society’s facility on Bird Street

Out with the old, in with the new

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Before moving into the new shelter, IHS operated out of an aging building near the airport on Dorman Street. The facility served as the home base for animal control operations, the veterinary clinic, adoptions, and administrative staff. And it included half as much space as the new building.

The cramped space made it difficult to separate sick animals from well ones, dogs on bite quarantine or those who needed to be alone for other reasons. Enclosures were smaller, closets and outbuildings without running water had been converted to office space and the space was less inviting for those hoping to adopt a pet. 

The new building features larger enclosures for all animals, including small animals like rabbits who struggle in tight spaces. Cats enjoy double enclosures, which allow them to sleep on one side while the other gets cleaned — all while the public gets a look at the adoptable kitties. Dogs also have larger enclosures and there is an option for the spaces to be open so social canines can be housed with another animal they get along with. 

Rosenthal said dogs were frequently agitated and barking at the Dorman Street shelter, but most often they are found sleeping in their blankets at the new shelter. There are large playrooms for potential adopters to play with animals, and a “get acquainted” yard to take dogs out for walks or to play outdoors before deciding to take them home. 

The new building also has a new classroom for IHS’s Humane Education Program, which teaches children about animal care. The program is largely on pause due to COVID-19 while the building has limited visiting hours, but will resume later. 

An animal care area inside Idaho Humane Society’s veterinary clinic on Bird Street. Photo: Margaret Carmel/BoiseDev

More costs for animal control

But, splitting the organization’s operations into two buildings meant IHS requested more funds to pay for the animal control services run out of the Dorman Street facility. Rosenthal said this enabled IHS to totally segregate funds to know what it cost to run the services for the public, and what it cost to take care of code enforcement for animals and other animal control services local governments should be paying for. 

This shift in how service cost calculations meant IHS increased its fees to the local governments to continue providing services. Rosenthal acknowledged this cost the localities more money, but he said their fees are still less than other comparable cities in the Pacific Northwest are paying to operate these services themselves. 

“Based on a study done earlier this year IHS ranked at the top compared to similar organizations for positive outcomes for animals, but in the lower half for revenue received per animal,” he Rosenthal wrote in an email. “As a matter of fact, IHS finished this fiscal year with a combined dog and cat live release rate of 94 percent.”

Data provided by Rosenthal showed IHS’ budget for animal control services is $5.10 per capita, which lags far behind other cities in the region for animal care. Spokane spends $7.53 per capita, Washoe County where Reno is located spends $12.60 per capita and Portland’s Multnomah County spends $13.40 per capita.

One of the hallways in the new Idaho Humane Society building on Bird Street

A closer look at the contracts

IHS has animal control officers responding to calls in Boise, Eagle, Meridian, Kuna, and unincorporated Ada County. The only municipality in the county not contracting with the humane society is Garden City. It dropped IHS’ contract in 2019 because of the $95,000 cost, Garden City Mayor John Evans told the Idaho Press in 2019

Boise’s contribution to IHS for fiscal year 2021 increased to $1.314 million for the upcoming fiscal year, up from the roughly $1 million it paid in fiscal year 2018. However, this is a slight discount from the $1.336 million the city paid to the organization in fiscal year 2020. 

Rosenthal said all of the municipalities got a slight discount for services for the upcoming fiscal year due to the impacts of COVID-19. 

When IHS first raised its costs for service in 2019, the City of Eagle originally planned to join Garden City in leaving the contract due to the increased cost. Due to the lack of an alternative, the city signed the IHS contract on a quarterly basis while a citizen’s advisory group researched solutions, Eagle spokeswoman Ellen Smith said in an email. But, they found the only alternative would be for the city to create its own animal control program from scratch and opted to pay instead. 

Eagle paid IHS $137,684 for fiscal year 2021. 

Garden City has been operating its own animal control for the past year, which Evans said has been a success. The city is using a kennel facility it already owned, and contracting with animal rescue Homeward Bound to respond to issues relating to dogs. There are no city funded services to serve cats. 

One reason for the increase in costs for localities last year was IHS’s plan to increase wages for its animal control officers, who now make between $13 and $17 per hour. Rosenthal said there is still progress to be made in this area to retain quality staff and keep the program running. 

“It is a huge priority of ours to pay a living wage,” he said. “We don’t yet have parity with comparable city and county services elsewhere in the region.”

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Margaret Carmel
Margaret is a BoiseDev reporter focused on the City of Boise, housing, homelessness and growth. Contact her at margaret@boisedev.com or by phone at (757)705-8066.

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