DNR: Council Hears Anicira Shelter Presentation

HARRISONBURG — City Council heard the first of two presentations for claim to the city's animal sheltering and adoption services Tuesday evening.
Cate Lemmond, Anicira's founder, president and CEO, spoke before the commission and dozens of supporters about her nonprofit veterinary center and how it would operate if council decided to accept its unsolicited proposal to take over the city's sheltering services.

The Rockingham-Harrisonburg SPCA has the current contract with the city and county, but Anicira is only asking to provide services to the city. The SPCA will make its presentation during council's Aug. 22 meeting.

In 2016, an independent consultant hired by the city and Rockingham County issued a report on the SCPA's shelter. Among its findings, the consultant raised concerns about the shelter's high euthanasia rates compared with other animal shelters in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services showed the SPCA's overall euthanasia rate was 53 percent in 2015 compared with the statewide average of 33 percent.

As part of SPCA's contract, it operates an open-admission facility on Old Furnace Road. That means it must take in all animals that are brought to the shelter. The SPCA will euthanize animals it has trouble adopting.

Anicira has proposed a plan to be an open-admission, no-kill shelter, meaning it would only euthanize animals that were critically injured, terminally ill or posed a threat to the community, Lemmond said. As a result, Anicira euthanizes about 10 percent of its animals.

Lemmond said Anicira could cover the city's services for 5 percent less than its current contract with the SPCA. According to the proposal, the organization could serve the city for $266,910 a year to start. The city budgeted $271,879 to pay the SPCA in fiscal 2017 and $282,379 for fiscal 2018.

"The shelter envisioned by Anicira will be a place of security and comfort," Lemmond said, "and not only for the animals, but also for our community knowing the animals are safe and they're going to be saved and they're not going to be killed."

Anicira turns to other methods to avoid overcrowding, according to Lemmond, such as sending animals to other shelters that may have more room or better ability to find them a home and using foster homes in the area.

"Animals do not have to die in the shelter," Lemmond said. "There's a time-tested, proven solution that has worked in thousands of communities across the country."

Since opening in Harrisonburg as a spay and neuter clinic in 2005, Anicira has performed more than 150,000 spay and neuter surgeries, Lemmond told council. More than 12,000 pets are served a year and the center has provided more than $1.25 million of subsidized and pro bono services to community pets in need since the center was founded.

The center also partners with more than 90 animal welfare organizations to help find homes for pets. The shelter takes in animals from southwest Virginia, where shelters have less resources, and sends some pets to other no-kill shelters both in and out of the state, Lemmond said.

Some areas have a high demand for pets but less supply, giving animals a better chance at being adopted.

Anicira also collects and distributes 3,000 pounds of food a month to local pet owners who may not be able to feed their animals, usually due to unforeseen circumstances such as job loss or illness, she said.

"We know Harrisonburg has been putting down animals for a long time, and we understand that change is difficult," Lemmond said, "but we know that now is the time to switch to a progressive, life-saving model so our community can experience a respect for animals."

Councilman Chris Jones said Anicira would need to be prepared for growth, given that the city continues to grow, if council were to accept its proposal.

Jones also said council is hearing from Anicira because it submitted a proposal to take over the sheltering services.

But this does not mean the council is accepting Anicira's proposal.

"I don't want anybody in the public or on record to misunderstand that we are entering some cultural or philosophical debate," Jones said. "We have a proposal, we spent money on the evaluation, we have to hear from both things. Now if there's a community debate right now, that's fine, but that's not what's on the table at this very moment, at least in my opinion."

If council does choose to accept Anicira's proposal, the SPCA would continue serving the city into 2018. The contract requires a year's notice before termination.


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