You’ll probably never hear the leader of a nonprofit organization telling a government board “No, we don’t need more money. We’re doing just fine, but thanks for the offer.”
But while it’s true there may never be “enough” to meet all of the needs addressed by each organization, some provide such essential services they shouldn’t have to beg for enough to cover the basics.
Yet that’s exactly what leaders of the Cheyenne Animal Shelter keep having to do. Year after year, they stand in front of the Cheyenne City Council, sounding like Oliver Twist, with his arms outstretched, holding his empty bowl, saying, “Please, sir, I want some more.”
The inevitable result? Shelter officials head back to their board of directors with the bad news, and make plans for more community fundraisers to try to help make up the difference. But that’s like asking the fire department to hold enough bake sales to raise the tens of thousands needed for new equipment.
Yes, it’s true, many area residents care about the welfare of animals and have been generous when it comes to meeting the shelter’s needs. They attend the annual Fur Ball, bidding on donated items during both silent and live auctions. They also answer the call when shelter leaders share a story of emaciated dogs taken in during a criminal case or a large number of cats brought in from an animal hoarder’s house.
But they shouldn’t be asked to also cover the deficit caused by local government leaders failing to provide their fair share.
Most years, shelter staff offer care – and yes, unfortunately, end-of-life services – to about 6,000 animals a year. This includes dogs and cats, but also domestic geese, pot-bellied pigs and many other types of pets voluntarily surrendered by residents. And since the government contracts require CAS to be an open-intake shelter, no animal gets turned away.
But Cheyenne and Laramie County also contract with CAS to provide animal control. That means making sure trained officers are available to respond, day or night, to a loose dog barking and digging into trash cans in a back alley or a rabid skunk threatening a rural area outside of town.
So how much does all of this cost, and what, exactly, is local government’s “fair share”? That depends on who you ask.
Shelter CEO Sue Castaneda and Board Vice President Richard Mincer say that based on their review of the budgets of other shelters and municipalities providing similar services in the region, Cheyenne and Laramie County combined should be covering at least $1.5 million of the shelter’s $3 million to $3.5 million in annual expenses. That’s because about 4,000, or two-thirds, of the animals are there due to the requirements of the contracts.
Cheyenne has so far budgeted $675,000 in fiscal year 2022 for its share of animal control and housing costs (up $111,500 from the reduced amount in the fiscal year 2021 budget), and county officials expect to contribute the same $235,000 as this year. That adds up to $910,000 – $590,000 short of the target. Shelter board members say that unless they get $850,000 from the city in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, they won’t be able to continue providing these services. (They have asked the Laramie County Board of Commissioners to increase its contract amount to $300,000, but, so far, no ultimatum has been laid down for the unincorporated part of the county.)
Both Mayor Patrick Collins and Commission Chairman Gunnar Malm say they’re sympathetic to the shelter’s needs, which include a maintenance backlog at the Southwest Drive facility. But they have a lot of other important issues to address at a time that state funding to municipalities is drying up.
For their part, both Ms. Castaneda and Mr. Mincer say they don’t feel this funding disagreement is contentious in any way; they say they just can’t agree to keep struggling to cover costs the way they have for more than 10 of their 50 years in existence.
Funding is so tight that Ms. Castaneda said they only recently were able to raise starting pay for frontline shelter staff from $10 to $12 an hour. But considering these folks can work for the fast-food joint down the road for $3 an hour more, the shelter struggles to keep employees. In fact, she said she hired 27 new employees in 2020, and lost an equal number to higher-paying jobs.
In Casper, where they handle about 3,000 animals a year, it costs about $1.5 million to run Metro Animal Services. In nearby Fort Collins, Colorado, where the shelter handles about the same number of animals as Cheyenne, and has expenses of more than $5 million a year, its contract with the city is for $1.7 million.
Which leaves local elected officials with a major question to answer: Do they want to dig deeper and find the money, or do they want to face the prospect of even higher costs if they are forced to provide these services on their own?
Luckily, shelter leaders aren’t threatening to cut off services abruptly due to lack of funding. They said if the city can’t come up with the $850,000, they’ll make a transition plan until city staff can get ready to handle this workload themselves.
The Cheyenne Animal Shelter has served the capital city and the surrounding area for 50 years, and Ms. Castaneda said they care deeply about the animals and their owners. But the writing on the wall is clear: it’s time to fund this critical work properly, end the annual begging and let them do the jobs they were hired to do or move to Plan B – whatever that is.