Today, the city of Kansas City, MO announced that it was terminating the contract with Veterinary Management Corp (owned by Dr.Wayne Steckelberg) -- who has been running the shelter for the past 2 years. The city issued a press release today (I can't find it on the city's website, but KC Dog Advocates posted on their facebook page) announcing that they will be seeking proposals for new organizations to run the shelter. An official RFP is expected to go out in the coming weeks, with proposals likely due back sometime around April 11.
The contract termination comes amid some recent controversy surrounding the shelter. On January 18th, several high-profile folks in the city, including Britton Hunter, a board member of Halfway Home Pet Adoptions (an organization that oversees the shelter management), Teresa Johnson, the Executive Director at Animal Haven, a successful No Kill shelter in the metro, and Jackson County Legislator Denny Waits, filed a formal complaint against VMC saying that they were in violation of the city contract (you can read the entire complaint here).
The complaint features a series of allegatoins with 12 specific examples of these allegations. Among the specific allegations:
1) Allowing an animal to die in its cage after being left untreated for 3 days in spite of several notifications by an employee of the dog's deteriorating health
2) Some faulty record keeping in terms of health care provided
3) A three-month old kitten that was listed as "adopted" was actually injured during surgery, left untreated, and then euthanized the next day. The family that was waiting to adopt this particular kitten had a different kitten slipped in its place.
4) A dog that entered the shelter with a large, painful tumor that was left completely untreated for 10 days at the shelter before the dog was euthanized.
All four allegations (as well as the others listed in the complaint), if true, would be in clear violation of VMC's contract with the city. All of the allegations are currently under review by the state veterinary medical board.
The city, wisely, has taken the allegations seriously and requested that Dr. Steckelberg take administrative leave (according to quotes by City Councilwoman Cindy Circo in an article written by The Pitch, this would be standard for any similar situation involving another city employee). Dr. Steckelberg refused to take his leave, so the city announced it would terminate his contract.
Dr. Steckelberg has filed a counter to these allegations; and the group has filed a response to Dr. Steckelberg's response. (I confess that this one is 82 pages long and just filed yesterday, so I have not read it yet).
However, at this point, regardles of how the official review goes, the city has opted to not renew VMC's contract and is seeking more bids.
Two years ago, the City Council decided to privatize the city's animal shelter and put the duties of running the shelter into the hands of a private group. Not only did the move save the city an estimated $175,000 a year in expenses and the hope was that it would help create more positive outcomes for the animals. And the results have proven that hope to be true.
In 2007 the city shelter, under the city's management, killed 6,769 dogs and cats. In 2008 the city killed 4,912.
In 2009, with nearly a year of managing the shelter under their belts, the folks with VMC killed 3,101 dogs and cats -- a 37% decrease in killing. The number dropped again in 2010, to 2,722 dogs and cats.
In spite of the obvious improvements that came from privatizing the shelter, there has been increasing frustration by many of the shelter volunteers and some of the staff members regarding how the shelter was being managed and quality of care animals were receiving. I think most who have been involved with the shelter, have acknowledged the improvements that have been made, but also note that a change in management was going to be necessary if the shelter were to make the next step in improvements.
In response to the allegations, VMC released the press release to the left. They're response was to "relieve volunteers of the burden of dog walking". While they weren't refusing volunteer help, they, in essence are now refusing to let volunteers handle the dogs and cats, which keeps them out of the shelter area, and thus, out of sight of all of the veterinary activities at the shelter.
I guess the thinking is, if no one sees what is going on, no one can report it.
This type of abrupt policy is in direct opposition to 1983 laws (commonly known as whistle-blower laws) that protect people who speak out from retaliaton. No longer having access to walking dogs would fall under the protections for these laws and would be seen as retaliation.
So their response to the allegations is to then potentially cause more problems for themselves and the city.
Meanwhile, the volunteers at the shelter have been working very hard over the last 20 months to help save the lives of animals. Without the vols having as much access to the animals, it will take away one of the biggest success stories for the shelter -- which was the hard work of the volunteers to help save the lives of the animals.
Without that access (and current volunteers will now have to re-apply and be interviewed to be volunteers), many animal lives will inevitably be lost in the next 7 weeks until new shelter management takes over on May 1.
The great news is that so far, I've not heard any talk from city hall about the city taking over the contract. Privatization has clearly shown itself to be a superior option to city control -- both in terms of total budget, and in animal lives saved.
Two years ago, none of the major rescue groups in the city stepped forward to bid on the contract (there were only two bids, and Dr. Steckelberg's was easily the right choice between the two) in part because the shelter situation was such a mess under the city management. The task of saving the lives of all the healthy animals at the shelter now seems achievable.
Given this, I would expect one or more of the accomplished shelter organizations in this city to step up and bid on the contract and for the city to have some good options in front of it. A well-managed shelter that embraces its volunteers, the community, and the new and innovative sheltering policies that have been used successfully in other cities (including a consistent off-site adoption program), has every reason to believe that KCMO can achieve No Kill. There are already generous volunteers and donors in place that are committed to its success.
No extra money needed. Only good leadership.
Our situation here is not much different than the situation that faced Austin, TX only a couple of years ago. And, after years of high kill rates, that open-admission shelter has now seen 3 consecutive months of 90+% save rates. Th
As the center of the Animal Health Corridor, Kansas City has an opportunity to be a case study in how a well-run animal-shelter system. Regardless of whether or not the allegations against VMC are true, expanding the search for new management for the shelter opens up an outstanding opportunity for the animals in KC, and for this city to provide a service to its taxpayers that we all can be proud of.