Fees Drove Wedge Between Animal Shelter and City

Until recently, Bethlehem paid only $40 to bring stray dogs to Williams Township shelter, but shelter officials say that doesn't nearly cover the expense of caring for the animals.


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.

Keith June 22, 2012 at 12:37 PM
Half of Bethlehem is in Lehigh County. Why doesn't Bethlehem use the Humane Society in Allentown like APD?
Jim Gregory June 22, 2012 at 01:06 PM
Again, as I have mentioned before, Bethlehem is foolish for not signing an agreement with the center..As they have discovered, it's not a cheap proposition to take in and care for these animals..It's not as if the Center for Animal Welfare is some for profit corporation trying to extort money from the city. They are non profit and they utilize a number of volunteers to run the facility..Bethlehem needs to sign a new agreement and then look towards a spay/neuter release program for cats...It's not rocket science.
Keith June 22, 2012 at 03:46 PM
Jim, The city would rather cry "poverty" than commit to anything that might cost them a dime. Yet the greenway, and new "star on main st." projects continue! Where are counsels priorities!?!?
Daryl Nerl (Editor) June 22, 2012 at 05:37 PM
I would point out that the streetscape project on Main Street is being privately financed.
James June 22, 2012 at 07:13 PM
Wasn't there an issue when the city held dogs at the sewage treatment plant? I guess they will have to fire someone else if they come forward to report any misdeeds.
Keith June 22, 2012 at 08:37 PM
Thanks Daryl. And I would point out... "The city is contributing a $50,000 state grant toward the project. Kiel said the first phase costs MORE than $350,000 and his company is still seeking donations. In all, the city plans a $3.2 million upgrade of Main Street’s streetscape over several years, Mayor John Callahan announced in April."
Daryl Nerl (Editor) June 22, 2012 at 08:49 PM
Yes. But that $50,000 state grant would not be coming without this particular project. And the lions share of that $3.2 million is supposed to come from private sources. In any case, I don't think the merchants on Main Street think that project is frivolous or unnecessary. There are lawsuits waiting to happen up and down Main Street with broken sidewalk and raised bricks that people trip on regularly.
Daryl Nerl (Editor) June 22, 2012 at 08:52 PM
This also has little to do with the problem at hand. The question is what do we do to deal with stray dogs and cats in the city?
Jim Gregory June 22, 2012 at 09:04 PM
They need to take it seriously Daryl. People that are letting their animals constantly run at large should be fined. Other than that, the city should look into a new deal with the Center for Animal Welfare as soon as possible..They also need to look at the possibility of a spay/neuter release program for cats to cut down their populatuion. If they can expend hundreds of thousands of dollars for skate parks, they can certainly afford to pay the center a moderate fee for taking care of these animals.
Keith June 22, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Thanks Jim, I think you got my point. Daryl, as I suggested the city needs to explore other options if nothing else. There are several other options beside the Williams Township center. Like I said APD uses Lehigh County Humane Society. Maybe Bethlehem can get whatever deal Allentown gets. The point I was trying to make was that it seems the higher ups in Bethlehem expect something for nothing more often than not. Or they don't care or think animal control is nesscesary. It would seem animal control would be more appropriate to spend tax money on than some of the other projects the city is involved in currently.
Dana Grubb June 23, 2012 at 10:52 AM
Daryl, I agree with both Jim and Keith on the issue of priorities in Bethlehem. Beside, this entire issue developed over the treatment of stray animals while they were in the city's possession, and the fact that some employees felt that they were risking their jobs by coming forward to raise that issue. The director of community and economic development and police commissioner got caught where the animals' treatment was evidently concerned, and have been trying to deflect the original issue by blaming it on everything and everyone else. If you collect strays you had better have a humane plan for dealing with them. These guys didn't and now they are working the way they should have been from the start to resolve it. Nobody likes it when the cost of doing business increases, and usually you just suck it up and pay (think higher gasoline costs) while making adjustments where you can, but to have nothing in place in this case was not very well thought out and just plain irresponsible. To not properly care for the animals was even worse..
kristin vance June 26, 2012 at 09:02 AM
Keith, I guess you don't get that the humane society in Allentown euthanizes a large majority of the animals it gets which is why it can perform the service cheaply. No need to spay/neuter what won't live more than 72 hours. Don't need to feed it or house it until a good home can be found. The animal lovers of bethlehem will not stand for that. I am guessing you are not an owner of a pet.
tammy June 26, 2012 at 01:51 PM
Thank you Kristin, I was just about to mention the difference between lehigh county and the center. Taking the animals there would just be an out of sight out if mind solution. Just like it was the state if mind Bethlehem used when they were only paying the Center $40. It was and is always about the money. They didn't care what happened to the animals brought in. It was a cheap way to shrug off the responsibility of having to do with the animal themselves. Now they make it look like they are taking responsibility but obviously with a half assed attempt at it. Wake up people and stop balking about the $150 or even $300 the center wants. Having a dog spayed or neutered at a private vet costs more than that! The center does so to each animal, gives them all their preventative treatments, including shots, microchips them, feeds them and houses them(adequately I might add) for however long it takes to find them a home. Which is sometimes years. Sounds like a bargain to me Bethlehem!
Judith Hernandez June 26, 2012 at 02:11 PM
Because they are a high kill shelter and who wants the animals to die?
Judith Hernandez June 26, 2012 at 02:14 PM
If it was your pet would you want it going to Lehigh County Humane Society? They are privately ran and HIGH KILL. I would not want my animal ending up there. I agree something needs to be done but LCHS is NOT the answer. The costs are NOT that great
Keith June 30, 2012 at 11:25 PM
Ladies, I AM a pet owner and have rescued animals from LCHS in the past. I will not cause a huge Internet debate on the need for euthanization, but with that said I believe it is sometimes nescessary. The treatment of strays in Bethlehem currently is ridiculous. Taxpayers want all these services, but could you afford the tax increase that would be needed to accommodate? No. You'd probably rather cut other important services the city provides in order to afford "no kill" stray animal care. If your position is to put animals need ahead of tax paying people of the city I could not disagree with you more. If you believe Bethlehem should just absorb the ever rising cost of "no kill" sheltering of these animals then why don't you stop critising people and come up with a logical and detailed explanation of how you would suggest it be paid for. This all goes back to my point of the main st. project, and or greenway and how the city could have better spent their money on needed things such as affording the 150-300 per animal. I wouldn't plan on the city commiting to a contract with Williams twp. That would take what "little" money they have for the mayor's "pet" projects and apply it to something useful. And that would just make too much sense.
Daryl Nerl (Editor) June 30, 2012 at 11:47 PM
No one wants to say this on the record, but I have heard from people who work with animals that "no kill" shelters are part of the problem. They become filled with pets no one wants to adopt and are therefore expensive to maintain and have very little room to bring in new animals, which creates a crisis of housing every time new animals are found. I don't want to see animals die, but I think this might be a legitimate criticism. It seems though that no one wants to utter these words out loud. But if it's true somebody needs to. Or someone needs to talk me off the ledge here because I am inclined to believe it.
Keith July 01, 2012 at 03:08 PM
I agree with you Daryl. I can definately see how no kill shelters could cause that type of an issue. Without trying to sound biased here I've seen first hand the great work that LCHS does, with the limited resources they have. I don't believe people are educated enough about them and rush to judgement over the fact that they don't find homes for EVERY animal. At least they are there to give good care for neglected animals, and I am sure other shelters in the Valley are the same way. I don't believe it's an "out of sight out of mind situation" as Bethlehem actual is not set up to give this type of care.


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