LAKE JACKSON — Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of Brazoria County wants to terminate its contract with Clute, Freeport and Lake Jackson now, before the contract’s expiration in 2023.
Lake Jackson’s city manager said there is no early out provision.
The current agreement between the SPCA and the cities “essentially is not serving the animals or the citizens of this community in the way they deserve,” said Whitney Holt, a director for the SPCA.
Much has changed since the member cities and SPCA signed the current contract in 2003, all parties agree.
Officially known as the Southern Brazoria County Animal Shelter, the original facility was intended to hold animals for 10 days, Lake Jackson City Manager Bill Yenne said. After that, animals were to be transferred to the SPCA, which at that time had a facility in Angleton, he said.
After a few months, the SPCA closed its dilapidated facility in Angleton and made the Lake Jackson shelter its home, Yenne said.
The contract outlines the SPCA is “hired” to operate and manage the Lake Jackson facility, including the delivery, control and custody of all animals delivered by an employee or dropped off by a resident of Clute, Freeport or Lake Jackson.
The cities pay a fee for each animal that comes from the respective city limits, the contract states.
The shelter — meaning the organization formed by the cities — is not responsible for costs associated with any animal held by the SPCA for more than 10 days for adoption, the contract states.
While Holt and SPCA Board President Elect Beate Damm were not involved with the nonprofit at the time the contract began, they said the Lake Jackson facility was not built to hold animals for a long time.
As the shelter shifted to becoming “no kill” — which means it does not euthanize animals for space — in 2014, animals began to stay longer. Only animals that are extremely aggressive, have medical issues or are otherwise not adoptable — which accounts for less than 5 percent of the shelter’s animals — are euthanized under the no-kill policy, Holt said.
The Southern Brazoria County Animal Shelter board never agreed to a no-kill policy, Yenne said. That board consists of the mayors of Clute, Freeport and Lake Jackson, a Lake Jackson councilman and one SPCA representative.
Since that no-kill decision in early 2018, the facility has become more and more overwhelmed.
The SPCA has more than 500 cats and kittens in its care now through various programs and more than 170 dogs. The organization pushes adoption and funds multiple efforts to help control the population, Damm said.
It often ships animals out to near-empty shelters in Washington and Oregon, she said, and has relocated more than 500 animals this year to reduce the burden for this community.
The SPCA is doing a “marvelous job” of finding fosters and shipping animals out, but still, more animals are coming than going, Yenne said.
The shelter at 141 Canna Lane is “dilapidated at best,” Holt said.
“The facilities right now are woefully inadequate,” she said.
The contract states the shelter would be responsible for the maintenance of the facility, but later specifies “the SPCA shall contract with third parties on terms and conditions … subject to the approval of the shelter, for the operation, maintenance, repair and/or administration of all or a portion of the facility.”
SPCA officials believe they don’t have the maintenance budget from the shelter to maintain the facility properly, Damm said.
“We are supposed to make sure that maintenance is done; they’re supposed to be paying for it,” she said.
The contract is out of touch, Damm said, and the public mindset regarding animal welfare has drastically changed since it was drafted in 2003.
The contract leaves the financial and emotional burden on the SPCA and needs to be revisited if not immediately terminated, Holt said.
The contract’s provisions can be changed with a vote of four out of the five members of the shelter board, and Councilman Buster Buell, the extra representative of Lake Jackson, said he can foresee that happening.
“It’s not built for the way it’s being run now,” Buell said.
The SPCA wants to dissolve the contract, establish and move into its own facility in 2020 and manage its own intake, according to documents SPCA officials provided to The Facts.
But as much as the SPCA wants out, the contract won’t allow it.
“The current contract was for 20 years and does not have an ‘early out’ provision in it,” Yenne said by email. “So, we have been planning on needing to have something in place for our use in 2023.”
Lake Jackson’s bond committee recommended including $3.5 million of debt for a new, modest animal facility, a renovation of the current facility or another regional agreement with Clute and Freeport.
Clute likely would be interested in continuing that relationship with the other two cities, Mayor Calvin Shiflet said.
But since the board didn’t have a quorum and therefore canceled its December meeting, he’s unclear what is happening until the board meet again in January, Shiflet said.
Freeport Mayor Brooks Bass did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
When the contract expires, the SPCA will retain ownership of the animals in its care. There is a committee fundraising for a new facility, Damm said. They will need community support in any event, especially if the community wants to keep the no-kill status, she said.
“We can’t do this by ourselves,” she said. “Financially, physically, even if someone has property they want to loan.”
They need financial support, people willing to foster animals and volunteers, they said.
In any event, the involved parties seem to have similar goals.
“I want to do what’s in the best interest for the animals,” Buell said. “Those poor little creatures, they’re not asking for all of this.”