HARRISONBURG — The battle over the city’s animal sheltering services may be over, but the work has only just begun.
At least, that’s what Harrisonburg staff and council members alluded to Tuesday evening.
After nearly a year of discussions, presentations and deliberations, City Council unanimously voted not to accept Anicira Veterinary Center’s proposal to take over the city’s animal sheltering services.
The Rockingham-Harrisonburg Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has a contract with the city and Rockingham County to run an open-admission animal shelter on Old Furnace Road.
Anicira proposed a no-kill sheltering model, only euthanizing those animals that were severely injured, terminally ill or pose a threat to the community. In 2017, Anicira reported that it euthanized less than 1 percent of the animals it received.
Mayor Deanna Reed and Councilmen Richard Baugh, Ted Byrd, George Hirschmann and Chris Jones voted against contracting with Anicira and to require the SPCA to update council and staff with progress reports about every six months.
Anicira, formerly Shenandoah Valley Spay and Neuter Clinic, has criticized the SPCA’s high euthanasia rates for years, having tried to take over only the city’s sheltering services in 2010 as well.
In 2016, the SPCA’s kill rate was among the highest in the state at 51 percent.
Last year, the shelter took in 2,479, including 838 dogs and 1,562 cats, according to the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ website. About 45 percent of the 2,479 animals accepted in 2017 were euthanized, according to the department’s data.
In 2005, Anicira was founded as a spay-neuter clinic, later adding veterinary services. In May, it received state approval to operate a shelter. That same month, the center presented an unsolicited proposal through the Virginia Public-Private Education and Infrastructure Act to operate the city’s animal shelter.
Anicira staff told council they could run the shelter for $213,000 annually based on the SPCA’s 2016 intake data. The city allocated $282,379 to the SPCA for fiscal 2018.
City Manager Eric Campbell and Assistant City Attorney Wesley Russ discussed staff’s recommendation to forgo Anicira’s proposal with council. Russ said staff were concerned that, given the large intake the SPCA faces each year, Anicira would be overwhelmed with its smaller operation.
While the SPCA can hold 85 dogs and 79 cats, with 20 more crates for either species, Anicira’s proposed shelter can hold 15 dogs and 45 cats, according to a city memorandum.
Campbell said Anicira does have a large fostering program, but such programs fluctuate and can’t be relied on.
Harrisonburg already has to make monthly debt payments to pay off the SPCA facility, Russ said. In 2003, the city contributed about $500,000 to build the SPCA’s facility and continued to pay nearly $9,400 a month to pay off a $350,000 loan issued in 2006.
The SPCA’s building is about 13,800 square feet, while Anicira would offer about 3,400 square feet, he said.
“It really would be a shame to lose a facility of that size,” he said, “and all the resources and opportunities that provides.”
Campbell said Harrisonburg also needed to consider Rockingham County and how it’s animal sheltering service would be affected if the city decided to pull its funding from the SPCA.
Campbell said he plans to meet with animal service organizations to brainstorm a plan moving forward.
“I just want to make it clear, this is not an endorsement of business as usual,” he said. “I am concerned with the euthanasia rates currently at the RHSPCA.”
Jones said, given the amount of money and time the city has spent looking into its shelter, the SPCA should be held accountable with updates and reports. He also called on the SPCA and Anicira to work together to save more animals’ lives.
“How these two entities aren’t working together for the greater good of the cats and dogs that are involved in this situation,” he said, “it just baffles me.”
Cate Lemmond, president and CEO of Anicira, said after the meeting that she was pleased with the decision.
“The purpose of Anicira submitting the ... proposal was to lower the death rate,” she said.
She believes council requiring the SPCA to prepare six-month progress reports was encouraging, and wants to see an 80 percent save rate in the shelter.
Time will tell whether the two entities can work together, Lemmond said, but the discrepancy between the two entities’ philosophies and services would need to be addressed.
Lauren Watson, volunteer coordinator and humane educator for the SPCA, said the shelter’s staff must learn a little more about what city officials are looking for in the six-month benchmarks.
The SPCA is open to working with other animals advocates, she said.
“I think working together is a great idea,” Watson said. “We’ve extended a hand a few times to a couple of different groups, and we’d be willing to extend a hand again.”