The Hermiston City Council and both supporters and opponents of Humane Society of Eastern Oregon Pet Rescue all agree that fewer stray animals on Hermiston streets would be a good thing.

The disagreement is over what to do about it.

“We’re not going to make everyone happy,” city councilman John Kirwan said.

The council discussed the fate of Hermiston’s strays during their Monday meeting after City Manager Byron Smith gave a report on the city’s contract with Pet Rescue. The animal shelter is on call to take in animals picked up by the Hermiston Police Department and handles the city’s dog licensing program in exchange for about $30,000 a year. Some residents had previously urged the city to re-examine that contract, citing the shelter’s 39 percent euthanasia rate and their concerns that the animals are kept in cramped quarters with too little exercise.

Kirwan said there might be things Pet Rescue could do to lower its euthanasia rate, but the community also bears responsibility for letting pets run wild without getting them spayed or neutered.

“Is it really Pet Rescue’s fault that that’s happening?” he asked.

Mayor David Drotzmann said in many cases people can’t afford the procedure. He suggested it was worth looking into ways to work with local veterinarians or an out-of-town program to help people who can’t afford to get their pets fixed. Councilwoman Clara Beas Fitzgerald suggested more community education on the subject as well.

Smith said he met with Stanfield and Umatilla last week to discuss paying for a humane officer dedicated to bringing the area’s stray animals off the streets. That would come with a price, although Kirwan pointed out the city could probably make more money if it actually enforced its dog licensing policy.

Smith said an average of only eight dogs a month get licensed with the city. Police Chief Jason Edmiston said as far as he’s aware the department has never issued a ticket for an unlicensed dog.

As for the contract with Pet Rescue, Smith said city investigation showed the shelter is fulfilling the terms of its contract. However, he also heard from a number of citizens who refuse to use Pet Rescue anymore. He said PAWS animal shelter in Pendleton takes about 200 animals a year from Hermiston residents.

He said while Pet Rescue is a private entity that the city doesn’t control, he thought it was worthwhile to have conversations encouraging the shelter to find ways to adopt out more animals and better utilize volunteers.

Stanfield resident Jennifer Berry said she would happy to organize fundraisers and volunteers to build a dog run and make other needed improvements. She said Pet Rescue isn’t perfect, but is dealing with a high volume of dogs and cats. While she was volunteering there one afternoon she saw four dogs go to new homes and five dogs brought in.

“Whatever the community can do is fantastic ... (the director) just doesn’t have the manpower to get it done,” she said.

Some residents were less charitable. RaeLynn Moon said the city ought to be ashamed of the shelter and the lack of compassion she saw there. She said she brought in a dog that had been hit by a car and was given no help and was called crazy.

“I was not only treated poorly but given no resource,” she said.

Pet Rescue manager Beau Putnam countered that Moon “got directly in my face” and started calling him names after he said he was happy to take the dog as long as she paid the $25 impound fee for animals brought in from outside city limits.

“I can only take so much slander and lies,” he said, asking the city to not drag out its discussion of Pet Rescue.

Drotzmann said he was aware of how difficult it was for Putnam to be the subject of so much public criticism but as a public body the city had to listen to all sides and consider them seriously.

“We don’t want to make a rash decision,” he said.

Councilman Doug Smith said when he was a Hermiston police officer he remembered one of the many times Putnam showed up to take a dog after his on-call hours. In this case Putnam showed up within 10 minutes in the middle of the night for a dog hit by a car and the dog bit him hard. Smith said Putnam showed restraint with the dog, understanding that it was lashing out because it was hurt.

“Sometimes when people are passionate they lash out just like an animal does,” Smith said.

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Contact Jade McDowell at jmcdowell@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4536.

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