Mat-Su shelter contemplates fee increase, new cat rescue policy

Zaz Hollander
Bill Roth

PALMER -- The Mat-Su Borough's animal shelter may raise adoption fees for the first time in 10 years.

The borough is proposing a 12.5 percent fee increase, according to shelter director Carol Vardeman. The borough is also considering a new policy that would give shelter officials the authority to give sick cats to rescue groups for free.

The borough currently charges $82 to adopt a dog or $67 for a cat, unless they're already spayed or neutered before arriving at the shelter, in which case the price is $20 or $15.

Under the proposed consolidated fee structure, it would cost $135 to adopt a dog and $117 to adopt a cat. But the prices would drop after 14 business days -- to $89 and $75, respectively -- and then again after 28 days to $19 and $17.

Want to adopt a goat or sheep? It will cost $50 instead of $40 if the new fees get approved. Ferrets would be $30 but other animals 15 pounds and under would drop $15 to $5 -- a great deal for Walter the white rat, a resident at the shelter since Christmas Day.

The increases reflect the cost of inflation, borough officials say.

The last time the Mat-Su increased fees at the shelter was 2004, Vardeman said.

Another proposal would eliminate a $5 fee people pay when they give up animals at the shelter, and instead ask for a donation.

The increased fees and a change in rescue policies are on the borough Assembly agenda under "unfinished business" at its Tuesday night meeting.

Several cat rescuers criticized shelter practices during testimony in January. They said they were paying too much to rescue sick cats that might otherwise have to be put down. The shelter often houses more quarantined sick cats than healthy, adoptable felines -- a problem rescue groups have long complained about.

Rescuers say they're basically subsidizing this public service: They pay an adoption fee just like everybody else and nurse any sick cats back to health before adopting them out, often for a fee lower than the borough's.

Talkeetna-based Clear Creek Cat Rescue fostered more than 360 cats last year, many of them from the Mat-Su shelter.

Clear Creek operates on $25,000 to $35,000 in annual donations from around the state, according to rescue coordinator Judy Price. The nonprofit spent $12,000 in shelter adoption fees in 2012.

The borough shelter's budget is a little more than $2 million.

"I don't mind paying a rescue fee but if they are going to euthanize a cat in two days if we don't take it, to charge us $67 for that cat when it would cost them to euthanize it doesn't make any sense," Price said.

Borough code bans the adoption of animals with an infectious or contagious disease. But shelter officials can approve the rescue of "an animal or unclaimed animal that would otherwise be euthanized" if the rescuer agrees to provide medical care.

Sometimes the shelter relies on rescuers "to quickly move cats with upper respiratory infections out of the shelter to avoid infecting the healthy cat population," according to a memo that accompanied the proposed changes. "The rescue groups have requested that these sick cats be free of charge as the rescue of these animals is assisting in the health of the shelter."

The proposal would give the shelter director or other managers the ability to waive those fees.

The borough Assembly meeting will start at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Assembly Chambers, 350 E. Dahlia Ave. in Palmer.

Reach Zaz Hollander at or 257-4317.