John Ross Ferrara / Thursday, Feb. 4 @ 4:55 p.m. / Animals, Community, Local Government

Curry County Residents Paid $130 Per Dog, Per Day to Shelter Rescues Last Year Because the Board of Commissioners ‘Kind of Dropped the Ball’


                                       Yesterday's Budget Committee meeting.

On average, Curry County pet owners paid more to shelter dogs last year than the county did to house its inmates.

That’s the realization that the Curry County Board of Commissioners came to at yesterday’s Budget Committee meeting, when County Code Enforcement Officer David Fortman explained that residents paid approximately $26,000 in dog licensing fees in 2020, which averaged out to a cost of nearly $130 per dog, per day. The daily cost of housing and feeding an inmate in Curry County in 2020 was $117.

This shocking statistic was caused by two main factors: A spike in revenue due to the county’s recent push to collect the $25 dog licensing fees, which all county dog owners are legally required to pay annually, and an outdated contract with Wild Rivers Animal Rescue in Gold Beach which entitles the shelter to 100 percent of the profits from county’s licensing fees.

“That’s a terrible deal,” Fortman told the Board of Commissioners.  

Currently, all of the licensing fees are used to fund part of the Wild Rivers Animal Rescue’s cost of operations. And while the state of Oregon requires all revenue from dog licensing fees to be spent on animal welfare issues, Fortman says a new contract will allow that money to be better put toward taxpayers expenses. For example: The fees can cover the cost of running the Code Enforcement Department’s animal control service. Fotman told the Outpost that the revenue could also be put toward providing low-cost vaccines and spay and neuter services for county residents.

“Dog licenses are set up so that it shouldn’t cost the county money to run an animal control program,” he said. “So that taxpayers aren't paying for it, animals owners are.” 

In addition to the licensing fees, the Wild Rivers Animal Rescue also collects $40 impound and $15 daily feeding fees from owners recovering their lost dogs, fees that WRAR Board of Directors President Bill Ostrowski says are needed to cover the shelter’s $200,000 in annual expenses.

“Eight percent of our revenue comes from licensing,” Ostrowski said. “We do all the processing and everything else, so we’ve got to offset this money somehow. That’s where we are now. We have to come up with a mutually agreed upon funding method. Who’s going to pay for these impounded dogs? It's expensive.”

Ostrowski said that processing a dog on its first day at WRAR typically costs more than $100. The nonprofit also sells its adoptable dogs for a flat rate of $100, less than what it cost to cover those expenses.

“The first 24 hours of receiving a dog is really important,” Ostrowski said. “We have to determine its health, if it has all its vaccinations, which is hard because they usually don’t come in with tags. We have to give it a couple of vaccinations to protect the other dogs. We figure it’s about another $45 to keep it in the kennel. Usually an impounded dog stays between three and five days to three weeks.”

Like the county, the South Coast Humane Society shelter in Brookings also receives no licensing fee funds under the current contract. But its executive director Jenifer Alcorn — a former world champion boxer with an undefeated 18-0 record with 11 wins by knockout — said she has no problem working hard to fund the shelter by other means. 

“It’s a lot of work,” Alcorn said while taking a short break from adding roughly a dozen more dogs to her shelter this afternoon. “I work everyday. I’m on duty all the time. I’m not worried about licensing fees. Our shelter is doing great. I help [the other shelters] as much as I can by taking in strays and doing licensing to make sure our community is doing the right thing.”

The licensing fees issue began in 2012, when the county decided to dissolve its animal control unit and agreed to enter a contract with beloved local animal advocate Catherine Powers, who took over the county’s shelter under the nonprofit Pennies for Pooches (now Wild Rivers Animal Rescue). 

Under that contract, the county agreed to award the nonprofit use of the county animal shelter and 100 percent of its dog licensing fees, which were rarely enforced at that time, on the grounds that the nonprofit properly received, cared for and managed the sale of stray and rescued animals.

While the county hasn’t taken issue with the nonprofit’s management of the shelter, one part of the agreement that never effectively materialized was who would provide the dogcatchers.

“The dog control responsibility was given to the local sheriff’s office, but that didn’t go very well,” Bill Ostrowski said. “They didn't have the resources or the time to take care of it, so the shelter basically ended up becoming a dog collecting organization, but the county did bring in some dogs once in a while.”

Volunteers dogcatchers proved to be an unsound and fairly infeasible idea, and in the spring of 2020, County Code Enforcement Officer David Fortman decided that his department would take over animal control responsibilities due to a rising number of complaints from the community. But a county-run animal control service requires county funding.

“I’m not trying to take money out of someone else’s budget, but my staff works 24/7, 365 [days a year], we have not gotten one penny of overtime, we’ve done it without it,” Fortman said. “Then we have citizens paying for an impound which should be paying for our fees and gas and vehicles and all the other [stuff] to go out and [catch these dogs], and the private industry is getting that money.”

In response to the issue, the Board of Commissioners is planning to hold a workshop sometime within the next two weeks to work out a deal with the Wild Rivers Animal Rescue that would give the licensing fees back to the county. 

“We tried to deal with this last year and the board kind of dropped the ball on it I think,” Commissioner Chris Paasch said during yesterday’s meeting. “There were some issues that we had to get corrected and never followed through with.”

Commission Chair Court Boice expressed similar sentiments in resolving he problem sooner than later.

“I’m shooting for [a workshop next Wednesday],” Boice said. “We’ve got some semi-emergencies here and this may be one of them.”


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