A few days ago, a Good Samaritan turned up at the Center for Animal Health & Welfare in Williams Township with a cardboard box filled with 12 kittens that had been found abandoned on the towpath.
The box had been taped shut. Even the handle holes in the box had been taped closed to keep the kittens from escaping, said Wendy Benedict, the vice president of Northampton County’s largest animal shelter.
Incidents like it are not all that unusual, according to shelter officials.
Nary a morning comes when someone hasn’t stopped by overnight to tie an unwanted dog to a bench or pole on the shelter’s grounds or left one to run loose, Benedict said. Every morning, the shelter manager walks the grounds to look for animals that have been abandoned there.
But each abandoned dog and box of kittens comes with a cost beyond the obvious cruelty. The shelter will pay upwards of $1,000 to prepare those kittens for adoption, including spaying, neutering and the requisite inoculations, Benedict said.
It is in part the cost of stray animal care that has driven a wedge between the shelter and the city of Bethlehem, which stopped using the Center as its primary animal refuge less than a year ago and now finds itself a more permanent solution to deal with stray dogs as police are called on to take them into custody.
On Thursday, Benedict said the center is still willing to be a part of that solution, adding that she continues to have a dialogue with members of City Council to help resolve the issue.
“We have been made out to be the bad guy,” said Andrew Flegler, the shelter manager.
On Tuesday night, city Community and Economic Development Director Joseph Kelly said he declined to sign a new contract with the center after it tried to impose new conditions that he found “unacceptable.”
Those conditions included a $150 fee for every dog brought in by city employees or residents. For pit bulls, the fee escalates to $300 if more than 10 are brought in.
Until a few years ago, Bethlehem had a “special deal” with the shelter in which it paid only $40 per dog, which was less than half of the $100 other municipalities in Northampton County were paying, Benedict said.
In 2011, the center took in 154 stray dogs from the city of Bethlehem and 572 dogs from all of the municipalities in Northampton County – an overwhelming majority of the dogs the shelter accepted.
It is only in the last year, that the center has been asking for $150, Benedict said. “That $150 is spent in the first few hours that the dog is here,” she added. The primary cost is veterinary care.
And the center is not collecting any money from municipalities for abandoned cats, Benedict said.
Still, Bethlehem is not alone at balking at the higher fee. Other municipalities in Northampton County have also stopped contracting with the center. Benedict said the center hiked the fees in an effort to be more fiscally responsible.
The center brings in only $80,000 a year in its municipal contracts, while its operating budget is $1 million, most of which arrives in the form of donations, she said.
“Ninety-eight percent of the animals we keep here bring in 10 percent of our revenue,” Benedict said.