There is great chaos among the dogs and cats at one of our village's animal shelters this week. Seems that word of a brand-new policy called "variable pricing" -- purebreds and other pets deemed more "desirable" now fetch upwards of $400 -- is making its way through the kennels. The story was first dug up, as you'd guess, by the dog in Kennel 14. He's a news hound.
The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, which last year lost its lucrative contract to serve Colorado Springs, unveiled the new policy Sept. 20. Now serving only unincorporated areas of El Paso County (the rival Colorado Humane Society has the city contract), the Pikes Peak group is searching for new ways to make money.
Among the ideas tossed around:
Hire out the St. Bernards to deliver small casks of whiskey, carried around their necks, to our City Council. (Maybe if they got all liquored up, council members would, just once, find the courage to say no to a developer.)
Get a mutt elected to one of the vacant, $65,000-a-year county commission seats. Although, this would create a lot of territory marking, with one seat already occupied by Jim Bensberg. (To protect the government-owned carpet, commissioners could spread those extra copies of the Independent that are hidden under Bensberg's coat.)
Sell all the golden retrievers to Pete Coors so his campaign staff would have some help in the middle of the night when they're "retrieving" all those Ken Salazar signs from people's front yards.
Instead, the Pikes Peak humane folks went with the variable pricing policy, which they explained this way: "The basic idea is to price high-demand, easy-to-place animals at a higher amount so they may leave a financial legacy for the other animals in our care that require extensive medical treatment or more time to find a home."
Critics say the "financial legacy" also helps the other critters at Pikes Peak Humane. Executive Director Wes Metzler takes an annual salary of more than $80,000 from the nonprofit animal group. Two other executives are paid about $60,000, and a fourth, the shelter manager, is paid about $52,000 a year.
And in 2003, the Pikes Peak shelter took in 23,261 animals and euthanized a staggering 8,506 of them --nearly 38 percent.
In the same year, the rival Colorado Humane Society took in 5,082 animals at its main shelter in Englewood and euthanized 278 of them -- just 5.4 percent.
The financial legacy line makes Colorado Humane Director Mary Warren bristle.
"The expensive pets are leaving a financial legacy for the other animals all right," she said. "On their way to the euthanasia room."
Warren said variable pricing will never happen at the city shelter.
"It doesn't happen here and it won't happen here," she said. "They're doing it because they can. For [the Pikes Peak Humane Society], it's all about making money."
A beautiful dog
The variable pricing policy is in place at just a few other shelters around the country, mostly in affluent communities where people don't balk at high-priced pets, according to Humane Society of the United States Vice President Martha Armstrong.
"It's new, and we're not quite sure what to make of it yet," she said from her Washington, D.C., office.
In Colorado, the only other shelter charging higher fees for "desirable" pets is in Boulder.
Dianne Hurtado of Colorado Springs was introduced to the new system on Oct. 7.
"My family has adopted three dogs over the years from Pikes Peak Humane," Hurtado said. "They cost about $68 or so. So I went looking for another dog a few weeks ago and found a beautiful springer spaniel. We decided to give him a nice home. Then they told me he'd cost $300. I was shocked.
"I thought their job was to get dogs adopted. They're supposed to be a nonprofit, and now they're capitalizing on certain breeds of dogs," she continued. "I just wouldn't do it. I just didn't feel good about it."
Hurtado left the springer spaniel in the shelter. She said Pikes Peak Humane workers told her the dog had already been there for two weeks.
"It was a beautiful dog," Hurtado said. "But I'm sure other people walked away from him because of the price."
Contradictory to their mission
In a letter to City Councilman Richard Skorman -- although the City Council no longer oversees the activities of Pikes Peak Humane -- Hurtado wrote: "I've always taught my children that the Humane Society was there to help animals and unite them with good families. This new policy seems to be contradictory to their mission."
Under the new system, cat adoption fees now range from $34 to $195, according to Pikes Peak Humane. Dog adoption fees range from $44 to $395.
At Colorado Humane -- which works uneasily from the same shelter building as Pikes Peak Humane on Abbott Lane -- the cost to adopt any dog is $100. Cat adoption fees are $60.
From CHS's Warren: "At $300 and $400, people won't go there anymore. They'll go to a place where the dogs have pedigrees and papers. And no one will see the little Labrador mix with the big, brown eyes who needs a home. We need to remember the reason why there are shelters.
"It's where the unwanteds are."