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Colorado: Pueblo Animal Services Declines City Council Request to Work with No Kill Advocates, Attac

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

No Kill advocates have heard it ad nauseam. "No Kill is divisive," they are told. "No Kill advocates are mean," shelters claim, while pushing away offers of help for the animals they are killing.

The most recent case in point is Pueblo Animal Services (PAS), which is operated by the Humane Society of Pikes Peak Region (HSPPR) under a contract with the City of Pueblo, Colorado. According to State records, HSPPR and PAS are two of the poorest performing animal shelters in the State, and No Kill advocates have been politely, professionally but passionately and consistently calling for reforms at PAS. Until recently, the advocates have been attacked, not just by PAS, but also by Pueblo City Council member Lori Winner, who wrote an op-ed published in the Pueblo Chieftain saying that No Kill advocates had "no clue," implying that they did not know what they were talking about. She wrote a series of statements that were false or overtly misleading about the shelter and the field of animal sheltering in general. Shortly thereafter Reform Pueblo Animal Services member and PAS volunteer, Shanna Farmer, wrote a response to Winner's piece. Unlike Winner, Farmer was thoughtful, polite and professional.

PAS responded by terminating Farmer as a volunteer, a move that was an overt violation of Farmer's First Amendment rights, and one that drew heavy criticism from many people, including at least one other City Council member who wrote a press release asking PAS to reinstate Farmer's volunteer status. The outcry that has followed has continued to cast PAS and HSPPR in a bad light and nearly all of that has been brought on by leadership at PAS and HSPPR themselves. At the October 10, 2017 Pueblo City Council Meeting, things got even worse for PAS and HSPPR. Once again, as a result of their own doing.

Prior to the meeting and amidst the public debate between PAS and Reform PAS, Pueblo City Council had requested that the two groups work cooperatively together to bring about positive change. As a result, a meeting between PAS and Reform PAS did take place. Reportedly, PAS asked Reform PAS to take on two key items: 1) A bottle baby program for neonatal (unweaned) kittens and 2) A rescue partnership program. Reform PAS agreed to take on these efforts and were reporting on them at the October 10 City Council meeting.

The first to present was Lisa Buccambuso, Reform PAS member and Executive Director for a low-cost spay/neuter clinic and no kill shelter in the area. She presented a bottle baby program that she put together for PAS, based on a program she operates from her own organization. She informed the City Council that she is providing electronic copies of all of the program materials to PAS so they can make any changes to the program they would like. She also offered to provide any training needed to get the program up and running.

Next, Shanna Farmer presented about her efforts to meet with PAS regarding the establishment of a rescue partnership program. She explained to the Council that putting the program together would have required meeting with PAS leadership about their policies regarding rescue partners. PAS declined to meet. After trying to meet with them multiple times, PAS continued to refuse to meet.

Farmer told the Council, "So, I replied a third time and asked for [a meeting] and said 'we really want to have dialog with you so we create programs that are mutually beneficial to all of us.' Two days later I received another email declining an actual, face-to-face meeting."

Watch the two presentations to Pueblo City Council in the following video:

It is worth pointing out that the City of Pueblo contracts with the nonprofit HSPPR to operate the shelter for two primary reasons: 1) As a nonprofit, it is easier for HSPPR to raise funds to develop and implement programs that fulfill the animal welfare component of the shelter's mission and 2) As a nonprofit devoted to animal welfare, the leadership at HSPPR are supposed to be subject matter experts who have the ability to develop and implement these programs on their own.

To-date, PAS under the leadership of HSPPR has failed on both of these counts. And, even though they are an agency to which the City of Pueblo pays more than $1 million per year, PAS is pushing responsibility for development of these programs to other area nonprofits that are not being paid by the City. Additionally, they are not cooperating with those other groups that are doing their work for them.

As bad as that is, it gets even worse, because during this same period during which leadership at PAS and HSPPR have been directed to work constructively with Reform PAS, PAS sent out a mass mailing to their membership chastising Reform PAS for their advocacy.

In the opening paragraph of a letter asking for funds and other support, PAS wrote, "Unfortunately, the recent circulation of some inaccurate information from a group called Reform PAS may have cast a shadow on the important ongoing work at PAS." We received a copy of one of the letters that was forwarded to us. It had been mailed to a former PAS member who has been deceased for more than 4 years.

As is typically the case in communities across the USA, No Kill advocates in Pueblo have been working hard to remain positive, constructive and continue offering knowledge, guidance, assistance and support. They have done so in a positive and professional way. At the same time, "leadership" at PAS and HSPPR have spread misinformation, have behaved in childish and irresponsible ways and have closed the doors on offers of help and support from multiple sources. If there were any questions remaining about why HSPPR and PAS are two of the poorest performing animal shelters in Colorado, there should no longer be any doubt that it is a failure of leadership.

We strongly urge the City Council of Pueblo to begin holding HSPPR accountable for their actions. We recommend re-negotiating the contract with PAS to include specific, measurable performance improvements, including consequences for failure to meet them. It is our opinion that PAS has been getting too much money with too little oversight for too long. The result is their leadership thinking they can do just about anything, including not complying with a request from the City Council to work constructively with No Kill advocates to bring about needed reforms.

At the end of the Reform PAS presentation, City Council member Steve Nawrocki praised them for their positive and constructive approach and added that he couldn't imagine how programs such as these could be implemented without sitting down. In saying this, he articulated what everyone clearly understands: PAS and HSPPR leadership are the primary obstacle to increased lifesaving in Pueblo.

It is past time for Pueblo City Council to hold PAS and HSPPR accountable for their obstruction of progress.

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