Thursday, December 18, 2014

Prairie Paws seeks help from city

By DOUG CARDER, Herald Senior Writer | 6/28/2013

$63,378.

That would be Ottawa’s share of the annual cost of dogs and cats taken from the community to Prairie Paws Animal Shelter, just east of the city at 3173 K-68, shelter representatives said.

$63,378.

That would be Ottawa’s share of the annual cost of dogs and cats taken from the community to Prairie Paws Animal Shelter, just east of the city at 3173 K-68, shelter representatives said.

“At the request of the city and county last year, we came up with a formula to calculate what it costs to house and care for the animals per day,” Vondie O’Conner, vice president of the Prairie Paws executive board, said. “Then we took the numbers from the most recent full year, 2012, so we could project the [number of animals] for a full year.”

Of the 2,200 animals served by the shelter in 2012, 503 dogs and cats — nearly 25 percent of the shelter’s population — came from Ottawa, O’Conner told Ottawa city commissioners during a budget study session Monday. The commission listened to budget requests from several organizations that receive funds from the city, but took no action.

“The [animal control officer] brought in 134, and the other 369 were strays that citizens picked up and brought in,” O’Conner said.

Based on the daily cost to house and care for the animals — which have to be at the shelter for three business days before Prairie Paws can take title to them in accordance with state law — Ottawa’s tab would have been $63,378, O’Conner said.

“We’ve asked for $63,378, but after discussions with city staff we know we’re not likely to get that amount,” O’Conner said.

The city allocated $45,540 to Prairie Paws in 2012.

“We hope to get an additional 10 percent and get it to $50,000,” O’Conner said.

The shelter serves portions of five counties, along with several communities in those counties, O’Conner said, with the lion’s share of animals coming from Ottawa and Franklin County.

The animal shelter moved from Ottawa into its current location three years ago, O’Conner said, adding the shelter celebrated its third anniversary at the new location June 22.

“We were incredibly fortunate that we had a donor give us $1.5 million that covered the majority of the cost of the new facility, and [that donor] has provided a good chunk each year since,” O’Conner said. “It’s a substantially larger facility that allows us to provide better care for the animals. We’ve reached capacity often for dogs and cats [throughout the past year]. This comes with additional fixed and variable costs.”

Some of the increased costs include utilities, food and medicine for the animals and other expenses associated with running a larger facility, O’Conner said.

Prairie Paws also has experienced personnel cost increases as it continues to transfer duties from the board to professional staff which, O’Conner said, board members think will lead to improvements in the quality of the facility as well as the bottom line.

The shelter already has seen evidence of the effect the upgrades in professional staff have made, O’Conner said.

“We recently had a surprise visit [conducted by state inspectors],” O’Conner said. “It was the best inspection [results] since the place has been in operation.”

The shelter currently is operating at a budget deficit, O’Conner said.

“If we didn’t have a line of credit, our doors wouldn’t be open right now,” he said. “In the last two months, we’ve had to dip into our line of credit to the tune of $47,500.”

Mike Skidmore, city commissioner, noted that some of the communities the shelter serves do not contribute funds to Prairie Paws, or do so on an irregular basis.

“We appreciate that you see us not as a charitable endeavor, but rather a service,” O’Conner said. “I don’t think all the cities understand that.”

Under the shelter’s formula for calculating daily costs, Prairie Paws is requesting $52,794 from Franklin County in 2014. The county contributed $37,585 to the shelter in 2012, according to budget figures.

The cities of Pomona, Princeton, Richmond and Wellsville did not allocate funds to the shelter in 2012, according to the budget documents, while Williamsburg contributed $976. Miami County contributed $4,500 to the shelter in 2012.

“When we don’t get the funding we’ve requested [from cities and counties], we have to scramble to find supplemental funds to cover the difference,” O’Conner said, through private donors and fundraisers.

The shelter is determined to reverse its financial losses, O’Conner said.

Jaron Asher, Prairie Paws’ new operations manager and deputy director, has done a good job of with controlling costs, O’Conner said. Asher brings vast animal health and nonprofit experience to the table as the former animal control director for Kansas City, Mo., and through his work with the Boys and Girls Club of Kansas City, O’Conner added.

One step Asher already has taken is to change the adoption fees for dogs and cats, he said.

“We are trying to be more fiscally responsible, and see what things we can buy in bulk if we have storage for them,” Asher said. “We’ve changed our adoption fees. They used to be a straight fee of $150 for dogs and $85 for cats. National trends indicate it’s not good policy to have a set fee any more. Some animals are more adoptable than others. ... Our fees are varied now and it’s raised our adoptions considerably already for dogs and cats.”

The shelter is projecting expenses of $537,408.80 in 2014, up from actual expenditures of $478,322.47 in 2012, according to the budget. When revenues are factored in, Prairie Paws is forecasting a net income of $6,303.26 in 2014, though budget numbers showed the shelter was operating at a loss of -$63,087.12 through April of this year. The shelter showed a loss of -$7,818.93 in 2012, according to the budget.

“We really appreciate what we get from the City [of Ottawa] and others,” O’Conner said.

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