Pups hit the road

Mitch and Tommy from Just Us Beagles and Friends pause for a moment with Athens-Limestone Animal Shelter Director Priscilla Blenkinsopp and Cody. Cody was one of eight Athens dogs heading to New Hampshire in an effort to find him a “fur-ever” home.

The veterinarian who provides animal services to Athens and Limestone County will receive the city's portion of the raise he sought for himself and the Athens-Limestone Animal Shelter.

Athens City Council members unanimously agreed Monday to give Dr. Robert Pitman $38,000 more per year after he said he was losing thousands of dollars each month.

Pittman, who operates the privately owned Athens-Limestone Animal Shelter, recently provided numbers to the Athens City Council detailing profit versus loss for calendar year 2019. The numbers reflect Pitman took in $592,355.08 but had expenses of $663.316.40, for a loss of $70,961.32.

“(The program) is grossly underfunded,” Pitman recently told the council. “I've been losing at least $4,000 to $5,000 per month. I'm averaging $30,000 per month on just vaccines.”

He said the veterinary clinic has been subsidizing a lot of the cost, "and so has my checking account."

Pitman, who also owns and operates Limestone Veterinary Clinic, asked the City Council and County Commission to increase their appropriation to put him more in line with what shelters in other municipalities are paid. He also requested he be paid an annual salary of $50,000 per year to operate the shelter.

Pitman estimated 20% of the 3,413 animals turned in to the shelter last year were from the city of Athens, while 80% were from the county. He said the city funds his services at a rate of $144 per animal, which is based on 729 animals taken from Athens and his council appropriation of $105,000.

On Monday, the council agreed to raise the $105,000 city annual appropriation to $143,000, which is a $38,000 annual increase, said City Clerk Annette Barnes.

"We took his estimated cost of operation from a financial statement for 2019, which showed he received $663,000 with no annual salary," Barnes said Tuesday. "We took the $663,000 in operating costs last year and added the $50,000 salary request, and that gets you to $713,000."

The city based its increase off of that.

Limestone County

Pitman also seeks an increase in the county's annual appropriation. He said Limestone County pays him at a rate of $138 per animal, based on the 2,684 animals taken in from the county and his County Commission appropriation of $372,003.

By comparison, numbers provided by Pitman show the Morgan County Animal Shelter is funded at a rate of $298 per animal, while Huntsville Animal Services is funded at a rate of $240 per animal. Finally, the Florence-Lauderdale shelter receives $160 per animal from local governments.

Pitman's contract with Limestone County, which expires Sept. 30, 2021, went into effect Oct. 1, 2018. The original contract stipulates Pitman would be paid $28,571.67 per month in the first year, with an escalation cost of 8.5% each year after. That means Pitman was paid $342,860 in the first fiscal year, and will make $372,003.24 in the current fiscal year. The county will pay Pitman $403,623.60 in the third and final year of the contract.

Singles out staff, volunteers

During the council work session Monday, Pitman lauded the staff at the shelter as well as its volunteers, saying they work even very early and very late hours to find homes for shelter animals. He said they transport animals all over the Southeast in an effort to keep the population down. At the same time, he said volunteers are staffing the new thrift store, which is generating $1,000 a month for shelter needs.

Fewer animals

Pitman said there are fewer animals being turned in now than when he took over the service 16 years ago, and fewer animals are being euthanized. In calendar year 2019, of the 3,413 animals turned in from both the city and county, 2,282 were adopted or rescued and 328 were redeemed. Forty-three animal deaths were reported at the shelter, while 780 animals were euthanized.

The first year he began the service, the shelter took in 5,600 animals, and he went through 108 bottles of euthanasia. During calendar year 2019, he used 11 bottles of euthanasia.

Pitman said the shelter isn't a rescue, though the staff and volunteers do an excellent job of finding homes for the animals. The shelter, he said, is only required to keep an animal for seven days.

* Adam Smith contributed to this report.

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