Cramped quarters

Frustration mounts as animal shelter progress stalls

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Merri Hansen, animal control officer in Humboldt County, tries to settle Levi, a husky mix who was surrendered by his former owner.

HUMBOLDT — Animal Control Officer Merri Hansen has grown increasingly frustrated in recent weeks.

Since she started three years ago, about 700 cats and dogs have come through Humboldt Community Animal Shelter from around Humboldt County. The size of the shelter, about 260 square feet, remains a source of tension between her and the City and County of Humboldt.

In the small rented space, which Hansen said was meant to be a temporary fix, one corner is occupied by four crates, stacked two-by-two. This is the “quarantine area,” even though it doesn’t meet the closed off requirements for one.

Just a few steps from that, several kennels hold various dogs and cats, in the building about 60 square feet larger than a 25-foot camper.

Social media posts expressed her frustration at the situation, which she says has been three years in the making. Close quarters leave little room to walk and unintended consequences between dogs and cats that sometimes need to be separated.

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Levi, a husky pup at Humboldt Community Animal Shelter, has juvenile cataracts. Merri Hansen, animal control officer in Humboldt County, gives Levi a treat.

The paperwork that is a constant necessity on the job also suffers from a lack of separation, scattered here and there in small stacks in between dusty printers and other items around the “office” that have been nudged by a wet nose more than once or twice.

Dogs muddy from the outdoor run can’t get a rinse inside, as the facility has no wash tub.

After jumping through hoops for zoning and finding a piece of land in city limits where the shelter could be moved to for more space, she says the progress came to a stop.

“I honestly don’t know where the hold up is,” she said, expressing exasperation with the red tape. “I signed up for (being an ACO) obviously, but it doesn’t need to be this hard.”

“I can’t tell you either,” Travis Goedken, Humboldt city administrator, said on Wednesday. “I don’t know, honestly.”

-Messenger photo by Elijah Decious
Merri Hansen, animal control officer in Humboldt County, is growing frustrated with a shelter she says is too small for the needs of neglected, abandoned and surrendered animals. The current shelter building is about 250 square feet.

“We have a resolution that says once they buy the land, we’ll give them a donation. They haven’t bought the land,” he said, so the $2,500 donation has not been made.

Goedken said there’s a lot of misinformation sparking anger on social media.

“Social media has a way about it that no matter what we say, it’s not going to be believed–we’re the ‘big bad city,'” he said.

But Goedken said the accusation that the city and county aren’t helping is incorrect.

“I’m beyond frustrated with the lack of support from them,” Hansen said. “They say ‘we’re moving forward on it, but it’s been three years.”

Goedken contests that three year figure, saying the Humboldt Community Animal Shelter’s Board was only formed six months ago.

“This hasn’t been a project for three years,” he said. “I believe we’ve made tremendous strides in the six months that its been an actual organization.”

He said part of the problem is Hansen’s contract as an ACO was not intended to morph into a role where she takes in as many animals as a shelter does.

“That was never the intention of the city and county when she was hired,” Goedken said, distinguishing between animal control and animal sheltering.

That might part of why Hansen only gets paid for the animals she picks up through the dispatch system, reimbursed at $30 each.

She says most of the animals that come through are not picked up from dispatch, and she doesn’t do it for the money. The full-time custodian at Faith United Methodist Church hasn’t turned an invoice in to the city since December.

“I have a love for animals,” she said understatedly Wednesday, right after she got off her knees from sopping up the water a dog spilled all over the cement floor. She has to clean it up every day.

The dog has a habit of lapping up a little to drink, and then running a lap in the water with his paws.

“It’s our moral responsibility to take care of all the animals we have domesticated,” she said.

And that’s why she’s fundraising to get a new shelter that the animals deserve during what may be one of their lowest moments in life. She said over $20,000 has been raised by a community eager to step up, but the facility needs $125,000.

She hopes everyone will come to know their local shelter and its needs as well as she knows the needs of each animal.

“Levi likes cake doughnuts from Casey’s and car rides,” she said of the nearby husky that howled impatiently for attention, whining more exaggeratedly the longer he was ignored.

“For me to take it personal would probably affect what I do for them, so I’m not going to,” she said of the debacle with the city.

Plus, she has to set the example of hope for the animals.

“If you don’t have hope, what do you got?” Hansen said, an apt metaphor for helping dogs and cats abandoned, neglected or surrendered by people can’t or won’t take care of them.

Goedken said having the same person affiliated with both the animal shelter and animal control is “blurring the lines,” exacerbating the tension of the situation.

But confident in the direction of progress, Goedken said the conflict could be chalked up to miscommunication.

“I’m trying,” Hansen said. “If it kills me, I’m going to get this shelter built.”