April 12, 2002 Though government funding for the territory's three animal shelters was appropriated by the Legislature last October, and declared to have been received by the shelters in February, it remains elusive, bogged down in a bureaucratic wonderland.
Meantime, the agencies are struggling to get by on private donations, fund-raising activities and limited grants. None of the agencies has received a dime from the present administration. They received funding last year but Humane Society of St. Thomas manager Hubert Brumant said those funds were appropriated in 1999, under Gov. Roy Schneider's administration.
The Legislature appropriated $160,000 in the FY 2002 budget more than four months ago to fund the three shelters — $75,000 each for the St. Thomas and St. Croix shelters and $10,000 for the St. John Animal Center.
As nearly as the Source could determine Friday, the Humane Society of St. Thomas' contract is at the attorney general's office; the St. Croix shelter's contract is on the governor's desk; and the St. John Animal Center's contract is at Property and Procurement awaiting the witnessing of a signature. Property and Procurement contract specialist Clare Trotman had the St. John contract on her desk Friday afternoon where it had that day received its final signature. "I will send it to the attorney general's office Monday morning," she said Friday.
In response to inquiries made Friday morning, James A. O'Bryan, Government House spokesman, said Friday afternoon that the St. Thomas shelter contract was "on the governor's desk."
"We were promised the funds in December, and then told we would get them in January for sure," Brumant said Friday. "I just wish we wouldn't have to go through this."
In a release dated Feb. 8, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull quoted Agriculture Commissioner Henry Schuster as saying the funds had been released to all three shelters.
"Not yet," Schuster said a few days later.
"The problem is with the contract between the shelters and the Agriculture Department," he said at the time. "The contract is with Property and Procurement right now, and the governor's office is trying to get them to hurry it up."
From P & P, where its attorneys examine them, the contracts then go to the attorney general for legal sufficiency, then to the governor for signature and back to Schuster.
When asked about the status of the contracts Thursday, Attorney General Iver Stridiron said they had been in his office since March 27. "I'm going to talk to my lawyers and get them (the contracts) out of here right away," he said.
Schuster said in February, "It (the process) could be done in a week," but he didn't sound optimistic about that prospect.
A long process
Returning the contracts to Schuster's desk is not the final hurdle. "After we get the contracts back," Karen Chapman, Schuster's executive assistant, said Friday, "We send in a request to Finance to cut the check."
Chapman said she didn't know if the funds would be allotted in one lump sum or in partial payments.
Mary Edwards, director of the St. Croix shelter, appeared resigned. "We renegotiated our contract. As far as I know, all the signatures and prerequisites are there. The last I heard, it (the contract) had gone to the governor's office and is sitting on his desk awaiting signature. I think we'll get it in quarterly payments, but at least we have a chance of getting some of this money." Chapman confirmed that the St. Croix contract is on the governor's desk.
Edwards said the government needs an office of animal control. "I've said this for a long time," she said Friday. "When we have stopped doing pickup of stray animals, the Agriculture Department tried to take it over, but they are not prepared or equipped to do that."
"We said we'd stop doing pickups, but we've continued to do emergencies because nobody else is doing this work," she said. Edwards works with a staff of eight employees who are paid out of private donations, fund-raising events, cookbook sales and some grants.
Brumant said in February that he was aware of wild dogs running loose in one sector of the island, but there was nothing he could do about it. "It's terrible, but my hands are tied," Brumant said. "I had to lay off the person who is on the road. Once I get the check, we'll employ somebody on the road full time."
Betty Gerhardt, treasurer of the Animal Care Center of St. John, was excited Friday afternoon. "We got a call from Property and Procurement yesterday to come witness one signature," she said, "and then the contract will be ready to go to the attorney general's office."
But Gerhardt's enthusiasm was limited. "This has been going on so long," she lamented. "On Feb. 22, we were asked to Fedex the contract to Agriculture's St. Croix office it had to be Fedexed – and then we heard nothing."
The St. John center is strictly volunteer, also subsisting on donations and fund-raisers. Gerhardt is looking forward to the island's second "Wagapolloza," a unique fund-raising dog show dreamed up by Jan Donnelly of Jolly Dog shops in Coral Bay. Last year the event raised $18,000 for the St. John shelter.
The show differs markedly from its more sophisticated counterparts in other climes. Any dog can enter; the only requirement is the registration fee. Gerhardt described last year's event as "probably the funniest thing I've seen in my life." Registration fees, T-shirts, hats, food and entrance fees raised the $18,000.
This year, Gerhardt said, "We want to contact our schools go in and tell them about the animal-care center, and ask them to participate in essay and drawing contests. This way they'll learn about caring for animals, and we will give prizes and donate supplies, whatever they need, to the schools."
Gerhardt said they will contact the Guy Benjamin Elementary and Julius Sprauve schools as well as the private Coral Bay and Pine Peace Schools. Anyone interested can contact Donally at 693-5333 or 693-5900, Gerhardt said.