FREMONT, Neb. (KMTV) — After protests were held at Fremont's Dodge County Humane Society last spring, the Fremont City Council made a move Jan. 26 intending to improve the city's animal control situation.
The city council unanimously approved a contract with FurEver Home, another Fremont shelter and nonprofit, to provide sheltering services for the city. One member didn't vote due to a potential conflict of interest.
But the city's contract with the controversial Dodge County Humane Society remains.
In practice, FurEver Home is handling most of the work. Fremont City Administrator Newton said that because of “issues with breaches in the current agreement” with Dodge County Humane Society, animal-related dispatch calls are being referred to FurEver Home.
Fremont also plans to hire two community service officers who will handle things like stray animals and other tasks related to animal control, among other duties to help with manpower at the police department, Newton said.
A board formed by the city council to investigate the humane society identified possible breaches with the contract to provide animal control services to the city, including examples of inadequate record keeping, refusing to pick up animals when requested and improper animal care.
Several former employees joined community members in making allegations about Dodge County Humane Society, especially since an incident in late April, when protesters gathered outside the facility calling for the release of a dog. Director Tamar Reed said she and members, her staff and its board of directors have faced harassment since that incident.
Maddy Mathews, an employee who worked at the shelter until March last year, said Reed was slow to listen to staff when they said veterinarian care was needed. She also said Reed repeatedly told a dog owner a lie that their dog wasn’t at the facility.
"I told her I thought that cat needed to go to the vet and she laughed at my face and said he's fine," Mathews wrote to the city council. "The next day we came in and he was dead."
A member of the animal control advisory board also noted that FurEver Home, the shelter recently awarded a contract with the city, appeared to outpace Dodge County Humane Society in handling strays despite not holding a contract at that point.
Both the board and a state inspector noted that the facility was underreporting euthanizations. Two weeks later the state inspector returned for a late May inspection and found record keeping was in compliance with the state’s requirements for those two weeks.
What is the city doing?
The FurEver Home contract gives the facility $190,000 annually for sheltering, well more than what the Dodge County Humane Society is receiving for both animal control services and sheltering, $103,000.
“I know it's a lot of money, but I'm partially excited to see this city go from treating animal control services somewhat as a necessary evil into putting a lot of money into this to get to a point where we can find something that works,” FurEver Home founder Deb Newill said.
Newill originally put in a bid for just over $227,000 to handle both animal control and sheltering, but Newton asked for a separate bid for sheltering only, Newill said. Instead, the city will pay FurEver Home $32 each hour for animal control services as needed. Newill said the facility wants to help the community any way it can.
The city has budgeted $41,000 for each of the two community service officers it plans to hire, and $60,000 for one-time expenses to outfit them, Newton said. Newton prefers the city move away from almost entirely relying on a third party for animal control.
“I think that to look at, consider, and try out all the options that we have available to us is very important,” Newill said, “because part of the problem that Fremont has suffered for quite a while is we've done the same thing the same way and then wonder why we’re still getting the same unsatisfactory result.”
What is FurEver Home?
FurEver Home was founded in 2016, 28 years after Dodge County Humane Society.
FurEver Home is well established both locally and nationally, Newill said. The shelter took in about four dozen dogs during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in late 2017 and early 2018, and took in more than 200 animals during the 2019 floods, she said.
Newill said the events around the Dodge County Humane Society in 2020 directly impacted their organization, including a larger role dealing with at-large animals. The shelter took in about half of what it could have handled to ensure it had enough space for “lost and found” animals.
“We feel like we've already had this relationship all of 2020 with our community,” Newill said, “and now for the city to kinda make that official relationship with regard to animal control services formal, we just hope to continue to do great things and make Fremont proud of their little rescue.”
By helping take in stray animals in 2020, Newill said some might have felt FurEver Home was “interfering” in the city’s animal control structure given the city was only under a contract with Dodge County Humane Society at the time.
“Our community asked us,” she said. “With every call. With every message. With every tag. They asked us. That’s where we felt we needed to be….We were just there to plug a hole in the wall at the time.”
Will the Dodge County Humane Society contract be terminated?
City Councilmember Brad Yerger said Fremonters are “distressed” that the city remains in contract with the Dodge County Humane Society despite another contract, and said it’s undetermined when that could change. He’s concerned the city will pay Dodge County Humane Society nearly $9,000 each month for little to nothing in return. He’s moved to begin the termination of the contract twice already.
“I think there's a little less than three years left on that contract,” City Administrator Newton said. “We'll have to see how it plays out (and) what council wants to do with that contract. Right now we really have two choices (for animal control).”
Newill said Dodge County Humane Society didn’t come up during her conversations with the city, but added that she doesn’t “expect them to be a part of this animal control services plan.”
Former City Council President Susan Jacobus, who lost her November election, said “my personal belief is sooner than later that contract will come to termination.” She added that the city is required to provide animal control services, and might not have been able to cancel the contract without another plan in place.
When 3 News Now requested an interview in a call to the Dodge County Humane Society on Tuesday, the facility told KMTV to expect a call from its legal counsel. They haven’t called as of this publication.
But Dodge County Humane Society Director Reed did speak at a city council meeting in late December. She said she and her staff have been harassed, complained about The Fremont Tribune’s coverage of the “false claims” of contract violations, and said some members of the animal control board were biased.
“We are here to perform animal control, however that is not possible when other rescues or other individuals just continue to harass us and bully us as they do,” Reed said at the time.
At the same meeting, Board President Jamie Parsons said she fears for the animals if the contract is terminated. “We simply cannot continue to care for these animals if we don’t have the funding for them,” she said. That prompted the statewide director of the Humane Society of the U.S., Jocelyn Nickerson, to say at that next meeting that they are willing to help if needed.
Though protests began in the spring, Jacobus said fear regarding the Dodge County Humane Society had been building longer than that.
“There's fear in the community and that doesn't shed good light on the city of Fremont,” Jacobus said. “And we failed to address it until it got out of hand...And shame on us, myself included, for not having pushed harder to rectify the situation.”