Animal lovers and Pound Buddies supporters pack county commission meeting over re-bid requirement over

Pound Buddies Executive Director Lana Carson testifies before the Muskegon County Commission Oct. 30.

Citizen after citizen spoke in favor of Pound Buddies or on behalf of animals; shown is Pound Buddies board member Claudia Fairbanks.


By Cynthia Price

Multiple reasons in relation to the re-bid process for management of the county dog pound brought so many people out to the Oct. 30 county commission meeting that many had to wait their turn to speak out in the hallway, despite standing room only in the commission chambers.

Many came because they fear that the current entity running the facility, Pound Buddies, may be displaced.

But one of the most pressing of the reasons people were upset is the result of a misunderstanding.

The rather ancient statute that governs such matters, The Dog Act of 1919, was updated in 1933 and on occasion since then – but the provision in question stems from the 1969 Use of Dogs and Cats for Research Act, PA 224. It requires that a seller or municipal dog pound must keep a found/reported dog for not less than four days, and if there is an identifiable owner, seven days from notifying him or her, before “disposition.”

Many read this to mean that the county was intending to change the euthanization policies followed by Pound Buddies – which, as reported in previous Examiners,
has won awards as a No Kill shelter – to one where the dogs would be killed after that four- or seven-day period. But this was never the intent.

County Administrator Mark Eisenbarth said, “The way I read this, the statute is just trying to protect dog owners. All counties follow the same requirement. But no one is saying they’re going to get euthanized on day eight; we just can’t start to find a new owner to adopt or buy until after that waiting period.”

Indeed, even the Michigan State Animal Legal and Historical website says that the “trigger” for Michigan law is to “sell or otherwise dispose” of the animals and adds “some interpret statute as ONLY applying to the sale of animals to research facilities.”

So it was never the county’s poosition to change that aspect of what Pound Buddies has been doing – although it is a legitimate concern whenever something like this goes out for bid. Several of the county commissioners have said on their Facebook pages that they never intended that to happen.

Lana Carson, the Executive Director of Pound Buddies, comments, “Years ago it was happening here. I started doing rescue work in 2001, and even as late as that I saw dogs packed into the back of trucks. But now we think of these pets as part of our families, and it’s a multi-billion dollar part of our economy, so attitudes have changed and it’s not likely to happen again.” It should also be noted that animal cruelty laws have expanded since then too.

Although there may be a lot of motivations behind putting out the Request for Proposals (RFP) for the pound management, Eisenbarth points out that it is county policy, though not mandated.

“People have been saying that we terminated the contract,” Eisenbarth says. “But it’s really that the contract came to an end. This currently falls under Tony Moulatsiotis as treasurer, though it doesn’t have to be that way.”

Says County Commissioner Bob Scolnik, “The motion to put the Pound Buddies Animal Control contract out for bid was proposed at the last minute by the County Treasurer. Animal control and licensing currently falls under the Treasurer’s office. I looked at the information provided by the County Administrator and I thought, based on the data that was provided, Pound Buddies was doing an excellent job. I know they had many volunteers and were effective fundraisers to help support their operations. The cost per dog was low and Pound Buddies was passionate about their mission. In addition, they were interested in a capital campaign for a new building to replace the current structure. With that information…and it seemed clear they were doing a great job…I voted no to rebid the animal control contract. I was the only no vote.”

The county’s RFP has four alternative structures for management of the pound function, and also includes animal control (defined as “responding to requests for help with animals ranging from wild animals, dangerous animals, or animals in distress”), which used to be managed by the county itself.

“Back in July our last animal control officer retired,” Eisenbarth explains. “Pound Buddies has been assisting with this for years, and they have the knowledge and experience, and have built out the relationships to make it work very well, so it made logical sense to have them manage animal control as well. We combined in-pound care with animal control earlier this year.”

As the word got out that Pound Buddies might no longer  be caring for the animals for the county, supporters and animal lovers wanted to let the commission know they thought it was a bad idea to “fix what’s not broke.” Many, many people spoke on behalf of Pound Buddies, limiting themselves to the two minutes provided by the county.

The proposals are due Nov. 9 and Eisenbarth says that staff will submit recommendations over the weekend so that the county Ways and Means committee has time to consider it before their Nov. 13 meeting.

Lana Carson says she believes that at least one other organization will submit a bid. Everyone involved cautions that simple dollar figures are not the only measure of who will eventually get the contract.

Commissioner Scolnik points out that the money the county puts toward the operation is at least matched by the donations, fund-raising and grants Pound Buddies have contributed to the cause of loving animals.

Says Carson, who was taken by surprise by the request to re-bid, “We’ve written over $400,00 in grants and we know the realities of this. Dogs and cats are such an important part of the quality of life of a community. Yes, they may be trying to save taxpayer dollars, but what they don’t recognize is the amount of skill and the years of learning we’ve put into it. It’s a steep learning curve.”

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