IT WORKS IN SAN FRANCISCO–– WHAT ABOUT MILWAUKEE?
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 1996:
Humane Society executive director Victoria
Wellens isn’t worried about the flak she’s
catching for giving up 19 animal control
contracts over the next year and a half. She’s
been shot at since she was hired in 1994.
Formerly executive director of the
Chistophe Memorial YMCA in Waukesha,
Wellens inherited a dilapidated shelter, a
building fund that wasn’t growing fast
enough to build much soon, a falling adoption
rate, plunging donations, a demoralized
staff, and perhaps the most militant cadre of
critics between New York and San
Francisco–– despite overall intake, adoption,
and euthanasia statistics that couldn’t
have been closer to the U.S. norms.
Like San Francisco SPCA executive
director Richard Avanzino, who was
hired in 1976, Wellens came with no background
in humane work. Like Avanzino,
she therefore came without preconceptions––
and again like Avanzino, decided after study
that the direction WHS has taken since it got
into animal control work in 1939 is selfdefeating,
identifying the organization with
killing animals instead of saving them.
Unlike Avanzino, who likes to run
ideas up the flagpole to see who salutes,
Wellens works quietly. Ripped in the media
by Kay Mannes of the Wisconsin Animal
Protection Society on the one hand last summer,
challenged by Animal Lobby president
Cindy Schultz’ formation of the Wisconsin
SPCA on the other, Wellens mostly took the
heat––and researched other directions.
Schultz announced with fanfare
that the WSPCA would by January 1 of this
year open the first of a projected chain of nokill
shelters to serve the greater Milwaukee
area. That didn’t happen, but Schultz was in
the headlines when two Gordon setters
allegedly left outdoors in unfit weather vanished
from Whitefish Bay residents Rebecca
and Gregory Smith’s yard on January 17.
Schultz and others had complained about the
dogs’ situation to police and WHS, and were
apparently suspected by the Smiths of knowing
what became of them.
“If somebody stole them, good,”
Schultz responded to the Milwaukee Journal.
“But we didn’t take their dogs.”
Wellens meanwhile in October
informed Milwaukee and the 18 other communities
contracting with WHS for animal
control service that the contracts expiring
between now and 1997 will be the last WHS
intends to take.
“WHS is now funded by two distinct
sources,” Wellens told ANIMAL
PEOPLE. “Municipalities pay us to provide
government-mandated animal control services,
and service fees and philanthropic
contributions fund our animal welfare programs.
Over the years, WHS has saved
Milwaukee County taxpayers millions of
dollars, but our animal control contracts
have consistently underfunded the animal
control services we provide. As a result, we
have been forced to use private contributions
to underwrite publicly mandated services,
leading to an inadequate reserve fund for
building a much-needed new facility. The
time has come to separate the governmentmandated
and funded animal control services
from the privately supported animal welfare,
adoption, outreach, and education service
The split won’t come overnight.
Contracting cities were given a 24-month
timeline for forming their own agencies,
assisted by WHS. Wellens anticipates an
ongoing partnership with the new agencies,
through which WHS would––much like the
SF/SPCA––focus on low-cost neutering and
other programs to lower animal control
intakes and euthanasias, as well as working
to increase adoptions.
By giving up animal control,
Wellens hopes WHS can follow the
SF/SPCA in euthanizing only animals who
suffer from irrecoverable medical conditions.
Eventually Wellens hopes to emulate the
Adoption Pact introduced by the SF/SPCA
in April 1994, which guarantees placement
of any healthy animal picked up by San
Francisco animal control. If the animal control
holding period expires without placement,
the animal is transferred to the
Already, Wellens says, WHS
doesn’t euthanize animals simply for being
“surplus,” and has tripled veterinary services
to avoid euthanizing animals who may suffer
from curable problems. But Wellens is careful
of using words which might be misunderstood.
“‘Adoptable’ definitions are highly
politically and emotionally charged,” she
notes, adding, “We’re trying to depoliticize
‘no-kill,’ because it shouldn’t mean that one
kind of shelter is good and another is bad.
Realistically, some animals have to be euthanized.
Right now we’re just saying we’re
optimistic that in the future humane societies
can place much less emphasis on euthanasia.
We should be looking in that direction.”
So far, there are few clues as to
how the 19 Milwaukee County municipalities
plan to organize animal control. “The
key players,” speculated Milwaukee Journal
staffer Alan Borsuk in March, “are likely to
be local officials who will be strongly concerned
about cost and competing priorities,”
who will probably try to fund the new services
by raising licensing compliance, now
estimated at 8%.
Intergovernmental pound budget
committee chair Jim Ryan told Borsuk that
from his perspective, “The animal rights
groups believe this is an opportunity to further
their agenda. The level of care they
want animals to receive is not universally
accepted by our constituents.”