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In City's Rejection of Bid, Anicira Finds Hope

On Tuesday [April 10] the Harrisonburg City Council voted unanimously to decline an animal sheltering services proposal from Anicira Veterinary Center – and expressed hope for new collaboration. WMRA’s Christopher Clymer Kurtz reports.

The Harrisonburg City Council vote was a rejection of her proposal, but Cate Lemmond, Anicira Veterinary Center’s founding president and CEO, left the meeting claiming victory.

CATE LEMMOND: We are very pleased. The whole purpose of Anicira submitting a proposal was our concern about the death rate. What we heard tonight is that City Council is also concerned, and that they’re interested in making changes, to address that issue.

More about those changes in a bit, but first, it’s been close to a year since Anicira submitted an unsolicited proposal to Harrisonburg City Council to take over the animal sheltering services for the city from the Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA. Anicira said it could provide the services for 25% less than the city currently pays the SPCA, plus operate using a “no-kill” model to significantly reduce the high euthanasia rate at the SPCA.

In their recommendation to City Council this week, city management staff expressed skepticism that Anicira’s facilities and foster network would have adequate capacity for possible influxes or legally mandated holding periods, and said Anicira’s lower fee for the services could increase in future years. They talked of the city’s previous investments in the SPCA, and said that there is “value and security” in continuing to partner with Rockingham County, which also contracts with the SPCA.

And as for Anicira’s promise of lower euthanasia rates, staff said that other localities have struggled to meet such “no-kill” goals.

Staff did affirm what they said was progress in decreasing the number of euthanasias at the SPCA, which reported that its rate is down from 5l% in 2016 to about 45% in 2017, but they also suggested that the council could consider amending the contract with the SPCA to include benchmarks and goals and periodic reports.

ERIC CAMPBELL: Although I believe this recommendation is in the best interests of the city, I just want to make it clear, this is not an endorsement of business as usual.

Eric Campbell has been the city manager since the middle of January.

CAMPBELL: I am concerned with the euthanasia rates. I do believe this is a beginning of a discussion on how do we reduce those rates.

Council member Richard Baugh said that underlying the staff’s recommendation to decline Anicira’s proposal was a lack of direction from Council to pursue a no-kill model. Plus, he said,

RICHARD BAUGH: I think really part of the undercurrent here is the city manager is telling us, he’d like some time to work on this project.

The council discussed the frequency of required reports from the SPCA, and at Baugh’s motion, unanimously approved the staff recommendation. After the meeting, City Manager Campbell said that his job is now to bring parties like the SPCA and Anicira together.

CAMPBELL: Each organization has some strong positives. The challenge is they’re not talking to each other. We have all the good parts in the community. It’s a matter of working to get them working in tandem, and I think we can get there.

That call for Anicira and the SPCA to work together surfaced repeatedly. Here’s Council Member Christopher Jones, during Tuesday evening’s council meeting:

CHRISTOPHER JONES: How these two entities aren’t working together for the greater good of the cats and dogs that are involved in this situation – it just baffles me. I understand that at some point you have different philosophies and ideologies, but at the end of the day, if you want more cats and animals to be adopted and live, you work with what you can work with, with one side, and work with what you can on the other. It shouldn’t be an either/or. 

Afterward, Council Member George Hirschmann repeated that call:

GEORGE HIRSCHMANN: Someplace there’s got to be a little more cooperation between Anicira, and there’s been very little over the years. We’ve got to make that work a little better.

The SPCA’s Jo Benjamin said she welcomes ongoing discussion with the city about the shelter’s successes and challenges – and she’s open to community help.

JO BENJAMIN: It’s a community issue, and it requires community solutions, so if Anicira and other local rescue organizations would like to work together, we’re happy to take their application. I really think there’s a lot of potential for us to work together and collaborate.

Can that happen? Again, Anicira’s Cate Lemmond:

LEMMOND: If the SPCA is able to embrace some of the philosophies, some of the policies and procedures that are consistent with the no-kill or life-saving model, absolutely. Time will tell.

With the dismissal of Anicira’s proposal, Mayor Deanna Reed pledged to pursue lower euthanasia rates through holding the SPCA accountable.

DEANNA REED: I’m going to be very diligent in making sure that the SPCA progresses the way we need them to progress, and with those six-months reports, I’m going to make sure we hold them to that. So I think there’s hope for both sides. I’m hoping that maybe they can work together.

That change, she said, would be a “winning” outcome.

Christopher Clymer Kurtz was a freelance journalist for WMRA from 2015 - 2019.
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