DANVILLE — Last year, nearly 4,000 dogs and cats ended up at the Vermilion County Animal Shelter or the Danville Humane Society's shelter.
Only 556 were reunited with their owners, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, which gathers the numbers annually when licensing animal shelters in the state.
Another 1,429 dogs and cats, or 36 percent, found new owners through adoption, but 1,825, or 46 percent, weren't so lucky and were euthanized.
Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon and Danville Mayor Scott Eisenhauer both would like to see the adoption rate increase and euthanizing decrease. Both would like to find more efficient ways to handle animal regulation, which the county currently does separately from the city.
Prompted by a recent $164,000 donation to the county animal shelter, McMahon wants to form an independent committee of community members to study creating a one-stop shop to shelter and adopt animals in the city and county. He said the donation could serve as "seed money" for such a merger.
Counties in Illinois are the government entities required to appoint an administrator "to control and prevent the spread of rabies and to exercise dog and cat overpopulation control" within their borders, according to the state Animal Control Act. However, the act does not prohibit the power of municipalities to further control and regulate dogs, cats or other animals within their borders.
The city of Danville is one of those municipalities, and for many years, has paid the Danville Humane Society at 1225 N. Collett St. to enforce city animal regulation ordinances. But the humane society is not a department of the city. It's an independent, non-profit organization operated by an all-volunteer board of community members. The society operates an animal shelter and survives on donations, revenue from its thrift store, fees (including those from animal adoptions) and revenue from its contract with the city.
Most recently, the city had a three-year contract with the society at an annual cost of $73,000. The city has not yet renewed that contract, which expired in late 2011. Eisenhauer said each time the humane society contract has ended, he has considered whether there are other ways to provide animal control in a more efficient and economical way.
"What I would like to see, in whatever option the city goes to in the future, would include a more aggressive adoption program, a more aggressive outreach program and an educational component. I would also like to see more stringent guidelines in analyzing the potential adopters to make sure that animals are going to good, clean, healthy environments," he said.
Eisenhauer said he's researched in the past what amount of funding would be necessary for a combined animal regulatory program and shelter between the city and county. Anytime officials can consolidate government services there are benefits to users and to taxpayers, he said.
McMahon said taxpayers in the city are paying twice for animal regulation and sheltering, and his primary goal is to get away from duplicating services while hopefully reducing the euthanization rate.
About $155,000 comes out of the county's general fund each year to subsidize the county animal control services and shelter, which is on Catlin-Tilton Road just west of Tilton. And the city is paying its $73,000 to the humane society to enforce its animal control ordinances.
McMahon wants to forge ahead with an independent committee to study a merger. But Eisenhauer said he has suggested to the chairman that rather than use the money donated to the county for a study, he already has much of the information put together and "would be more than happy to share that at an appropriate time."
And, Eisenhauer said, even if the city decided tomorrow to contract with another entity for its animal control enforcement, the humane society could still exist as a shelter and adoption agency.
The county animal shelter is also supported by the Vermilion County Animal Shelter Foundation, an independent group of volunteers who raise funds to support the spaying, neutering and adoption of animals at the county shelter. McMahon said he wants the boards of both organizations — the humane society and animal shelter foundation — to have the opportunity to participate in a merged organization.
Pete Lary, president of the humane society board, said his board has not been contacted by McMahon about being a part of the committee that he's forming to study a merger.
"We welcome a meeting to see what his plans are," said Lary, who added that he would not have a closed mind to new ideas but also would not completely surrender to a re-creation of their organization. "We don't know whether to be interested. We would like to know what it is he's talking about ... I would be curious (to know) as president of the board."
By the numbers
Vermilion County Animal Shelter
In 2011, the shelter took in 1,198 dogs. Of those, 625 were adopted, 203 were reclaimed by owners, 294 were euthanized. The shelter took in 1,235 cats last year. Of those, 517 were adopted, 22 reclaimed, 632 euthanized.
Humane Society of Danville
In 2011, the facility took in 824 dogs. Of those, 194 were adopted, 301 reclaimed by owners, 329 euthanized. The shelter took in 716 cats last year. Of those, 93 were adopted, 30 reclaimed, 570 euthanized.
Of note: Shelters must report numbers annually when they are renewing their state licenses. Also, any remaining numbers (76 dogs and 64 cats at the animal shelter and 23 cats at the humane society) as of the end of 2011 were animals that still were in the facilities, went to foster homes or rescue groups or might have died in the facilities. Source: Illinois Department of Agriculture
A $164,000 donation to the county animal shelter has prompted officials to examine the benefits of joining the Vermilion County Animal Shelter and the Humane Society of Danville. Taxpayers, says Vermilion County Board Chairman Jim McMahon, are essentially paying twice for animal regulation and sheltering — $155,000 a year out of the county's general fund for the animal shelter, and $73,000 a year from the Danville city budget for the humane society.
This story appeared in print on Feb. 26.