Dave Pauli and Wendy Hergenraeder had a personal stake in the Eastern Montana Humane Society in Baker.
Several years ago, they helped construct the building that would house dogs at the Baker shelter.
Three weeks ago, they helped shut the shelter down, assisting Fallon County sheriff’s deputies in seizing 63 dogs and 30 cats that county that officials said were living in dirty, dangerous conditions.
Hergenraeder was a volunteer for the Humane Society of the United States when she was helping to build the shelter. By the time of the raid on July 13, she was the Montana state director for the HSUS.
Pauli, for many years the Northern Rockies regional director for the HSUS, took a newly created post in June, working as the society’s senior director for wildlife response.
Pauli said the situation in Baker was frustrating on many levels. The HSUS was not affiliated with the Baker shelter, but it did what it could to help get the shelter off the ground, he said.
Counting a $10,000 grant and in-kind contributions — including the construction work he and Hergenraeder did — the HSUS provided about $20,000 for the shelter, Pauli said. The Humane Society is sometimes criticized for helping to shut down shelters, rather than giving them money for improvements, but Pauli said the HSUS did all it reasonably could for the Eastern Montana Humane Society.
The HSUS doesn’t outright run pet shelters, he said, because the only thing that keeps them going is a group of dedicated local volunteers and local donations. People are sometimes confused when shelters not affiliated with the HSUS use “humane society” in their names, but Pauli said the name is not copyrighted.
Pauli said Lisa Crow, the director of the Baker shelter, consistently ignored offers of advice and assistance from the HSUS. And though she did allow the HSUS to find homes for nine dogs a couple of years ago, she refused to let any cats go when the society recently offered to take 30 of them off her hands.
Pauli said the board of directors for the Baker shelter could never decide whether it wanted the shelter to be mainly an adoption center or a long-term sanctuary, and eventually it became a de facto sanctuary. As such, even if the separate trailer house used for cats had been in good shape, the shelter would have had room for about 12 dogs and 20 cats, not the more 100 animals it housed, Hergenraeder said.
Pauli said the HSUS got more involved than usual in the Baker shelter because it was the only one between Miles City and the Dakotas.
“We really wanted to see a functional humane society in Eastern Montana,” he said.
A few weeks before the Baker shelter was shut down, it was inspected by Hergenraeder and a Miles City veterinarian representing the state Board of Veterinary Medicine.
Generally speaking, Pauli said, if a facility fails to meet minimum standards on as few as three items on a checklist that includes more than 20 categories, the inspectors could recommend closure. In Baker, he said, the shelter probably didn’t meet minimum standards in a single category.
The good news was that the shelter board of directors agreed to relinquish control of the dogs and cats to the county. Without that agreement, the county would have had to file charges against the shelter and then hold the animals as evidence until the case was closed.
As it was, Hergenraeder said, the HSUS and other agencies initially moved all 103 dogs and cats to the Fallon County fairgrounds, and within two days of the shelter closure, all the animals were on the road, being transported to four shelters, one in Bozeman and the others in Kansas and Colorado. Some of animals have already been adopted out of those shelters.
Fallon County Attorney Rich Batterman said last month that he was unlikely to press a charge of animal cruelty against the Baker shelter. He said this week that the matter was still being investigated and a decision on what action to take, if any, would probably be made within a couple of weeks.