Stepping in to help a litter of injured and extremely malnourished 8-week-old puppies in recent weeks seemed like a no-brainer to Rogue River resident Kimberly Howell. It could turn out to cost her dearly.
Due to revised state regulations enacted last year for animal rescue groups, coupled with unanticipated county land-use fees for suddenly having “too many dogs,” Howell’s 3-year-old non-profit Miss Gabriel Foundation could soon face closure, steep fines or, at best, complicated land-use paperwork and associated fees.
With an admitted soft spot for sick or injured canines, Howell began her official rescue efforts in 2015 in memory of a foster dog who did not survive a long list of serious health problems.
Unofficially, Howell and her husband, Paul, had been known for fostering unwanted dogs who had run out of options. Funded largely out of their own pockets — $26,000 last year alone — their efforts grew under the non-profit foundation and their property on Ford Road became a known resource for local residents and even county officials who transferred special cases into Howell’s care.
Under new regulations approved by the state and set for adoption by the county this summer, Miss Gabriel Foundation will pay a $130 annual fee for permitting and inspection. Howell understands the permit fee, and advocates for rescue groups to be monitored, but can’t help but think the funds would be better used for weekly antibiotics and other expenses.
More threatening, however, when the addition of the puppies pushed her over a limit of nine rescue animals, she found herself facing a land-use application process that could cost at least $1,700.
She said her site went over the limit after she saw the tiny dogs covered with bite wounds and abscesses and with their ribs almost protruding through their skin. Howell couldn’t turn them away.
“I had eight rescues and six personal animals until two weeks ago when I took in the puppies,” she said. “I literally couldn’t say no when I saw they needed help. They brought my rescue total to 16 rescues and, with my six personal dogs, a total of 22, meaning I would be required to pay for a permit. I had been trying to stay under the nine.”
Howell said she had hoped for either a waiver or discount on land-use fees, but County Administrator Danny Jordan said that’s not possible. So she’s hoping a sponsor will step up.
“The puppies, just for antibiotics each week, are costing $140. We don’t get enough donations to pay for any of the medical bills,” Howell said.
“The dogs we take in show up to us bloody and naked and oozing. There are so many things to pay for that these extra fees just put another nail in the coffin. I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do it.”
Wendy Diamond, of Medford, who works with local rescue groups including the Miss Gabriel Foundation, voiced frustration with both the permit feet and, especially, the steep land-use application fee.
“How could the county possibly expect nonprofits and volunteers, already doing so much good for the community, to pay such an outlandish fee?” she asked. “And to randomly decide that a quiet home on 5.5 acres in the woods should pay extra because of their zoning?
“Such permits and application fees will prevent people from even considering starting an animal nonprofit in this county, much less existing ones for being able to stay in business,” Diamond said.
Howell said that despite the threat the fees create, she understands what was behind them. She also said county officials have been helpful and patient.
“I agree with the new law as it holds rescues accountable,” she said. “Too many rescues are doing unethical things and I believe this will bring forward the more honorable rescue groups.”
Howell said because her property is zoned woodlands, holding more than nine rescue dogs requires the $1,700 permit similar to that required of big cat sanctuaries.
Jackson County Animal Services manager Barbara Talbert said the smaller permit fee, set to take affect this summer, will help cover expenses related to inspecting and monitoring rescue efforts.
“The fee is $130 per year, the same as kennels. We were not previously charging, so the fees were focused on breeders, boarding facilities and grooming and training facilities. The rescue entities were basically existing under the radar screen so animal control agencies in Oregon weren’t really paying attention to those unless there were complaints about living conditions or barking dogs,” Talbert said.
“The focus behind the new law was to more closely look at these rescue groups. Sometimes things can get out of control and people realize they don’t have the resources to be able to give the care that they want to provide. They’re usually trying to do the right thing, but it can get out of hand.”
If there could be a silver lining to paying the looming costs, Howell said, a proper land-use permit would allow her to help more animals.
“I want to be able to have that permit so I don’t have to say no so often. We tried for a long time to keep the number of dogs under nine, but the reality is that we get a lot of dogs that might never find the right home and we want to be able to keep them with us for the years they have left,” she said.
“I guess, if push comes to shove — and I don’t want to play the system, I want to work with it — I would have to adopt some of the dogs to get back under having nine rescues. I just have to do what I have to do.”
For more about the foundation, see www.missgabriel.org.
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org.