Animal Advocates Say City and County Officials are Undermining No Kill Efforts in Pueblo, Colorado
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
No Kill advocates in Pueblo, Colorado, (who organize together at a Facebook Page called Reform Pueblo Animal Services) believed their years-long struggle for their municipal animal shelter to become No Kill was almost over when, on Monday, February 26, 2018, Pueblo City Council passed the Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA). The law has been successfully implemented under slightly different names in other communities. It will require the shelter to maintain a Live Release Rate (LRR) of 90% or higher for all animals admitted to the shelter.
When PAPA passed, it was opposed (vehemently) by the Humane Society of Pikes Peak Region (HSPPR), which currently runs Pueblo Animal Services (PAS) under a contract with the City and County. The HSSPR executive director even sent robocalls to Pueblo citizens urging them to contact City Council members to vote no on PAPA. In spite of HSPPR's opposition, PAPA passed and animal lovers celebrated. However, almost immediately, there was cause for concern.
When PAPA passed (in an apparent effort to appease HSPPR) Pueblo City Council delayed its implementation until January 1, 2019. The current HSPPR contract expires at the end of December this year. City Council effectively gave HSPPR nearly a full year of operating "business as usual" in spite of the new law. And, since that time, advocates have continued to complain about unnecessary killing at Pueblo Animal Services, which has one of the poorest save rates of any animal shelter in Colorado. Now, with the HSPPR contract end rapidly approaching, advocates are saying City and County officials are trying to give HSPPR unfair preference in the bidding process for a new contractor while also working to undermine key provisions of PAPA.
The controversy centers around an unusual and troubling Request for Proposals (RFP) to run Animal Services which was recently released by the City and County.
The complaints include the following:
RFP Language Mis-states PAPA Requirements in Support of Killing Animals
The RFP makes the following statement:
"City and County do agree that the goal of the Pueblo Animal Shelter is a save rate of 90% for healthy, non-neonatal cats and dogs received by the shelter."
This statement is troubling because PAPA does not require a "save rate" of 90% for "healthy, non-neonatal cats and dogs." It requires a 90% save rate for ALL animals. This statement in the RFP suggests a couple of things that should be concerning to animal advocates. The first is that it suggests that PAPA allows the shelter to kill treatable animals. The second is that PAPA deems neonatal animals are not healthy, and that they could be killed under PAPA. Neither thing is true.
To their credit, they did include a copy of PAPA along with the RFP. A logical person would have to wonder, however, how the City and County could expect bidders to submit PAPA-compliant proposals if the City and County don't understand it themselves.
More troubling is the fact that a successful bidder could, theoretically, begin killing animals with highly treatable conditions or even healthy young puppies and kittens and insist that this RFP gives them the legal authority for doing so.
Insufficient Time for Each Step of the Process Though both the City and County have known for a very long time (approximately 3 years) that the HSPPR contract will be over at the end of this year, they waited to put together and release the official RFP for a new contract until late in the day on September 19 this year. Furthermore, perspective bidders have until 2 PM on October 19 to complete their bids. However, advocates have said that given the lack of information (or bad information) provided in the RFP and other factors (see below), complying with the time frame will be nearly impossible. Potential bidders have been allowed to submit questions, in order to clarify or obtain information which should have been provided in the RFP. However, they have not yet been provided any answers and will not until October 2. This time frame effectively gives bidders only 12 business days in which to put together a highly complex proposal involving millions of dollars and complicated and interconnected business processes. Making the time frame more challenging is the fact that the RFP requires each bidder to submit two different proposals, one which complies with PAPA and another that does not (more on that below). This effectively doubles the work requirement for bidders. Specifically, the RFP says:
As the City of Pueblo recently passed an ordinance that adds requirements regarding Animal Shelter operation that have not yet been applied in practice, the City and County require two (2) separate proposal responses to this RFP:
A) One responding to the requirements for services under state law and the applicable ordinances and resolutions of the City of Pueblo and Pueblo County (other than the City’s 2018 Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA) Ordinance); and
B) A second proposal regarding the services offered and proposed fees to be charged under the requirements of the City’s new PAPA ordinance (attached as exhibit A).
A proposal crafted to fit each separate scenario will be required from each bidder. No proposal will be considered from a bidder that does not submit bids under both scenarios. Proposals under the new PAPA ordinance must address each additional requirement under the new ordinance, including an increase in fees that may be necessary to comply with the terms of PAPA, but may include questions that seek clarification on how the new ordinance will be applied in practice.
To be absolutely clear: In addition to doubling the work required for competing bidders, this request is - literally - seeking bidders to write proposals that do not comply with current law.
As tight as the proposal development period is, the transition period, should a new contractor be selected, is even worse. According to the timeline outlined in the RFP, a contractor will be selected the week of Thanksgiving. That effectively gives a new contractor one month in order to hire and train the staff, purchase and install equipment, everything from medical equipment and supplies to animal control vehicles and more. One organization that is bidding but that did not want to be named, for obvious reasons, told us that very often specialized vehicles, like those used in animal control, or other things like veterinary equipment often have a more than 30 period from order to delivery, suggesting that it might not be feasible for a new bidder to be ready to take over animal services on January 1, 2019. This is made much worse by some of the other components of the RFP that are mentioned below.
The Millions Give-Away
The controversial RFP specifically states that everything in the Pueblo Animal Services shelter is owned by HSPPR. Specifically, the RFP reads:
"All equipment currently in the building (other than ordinary building fixtures) is owned by the current Animal Shelter provider and will not be part of the facilities made available to the vendor(s) awarded the contract(s) that follows this Request for Proposals (RFP)."
This statement seems inconsistent with the current contract, which says HSPPR only gets to keep equipment paid for with their own money. PAS financial reports document significant donations and expenditures for capital equipment. It would be illegal to convert assets donated to PAS into assets of HSPPR. Such donations are typically referred to as "restricted" or "dedicated" donations and using them for some other purpose elsewhere without the donor's permission is prohibited.
The apparent giving away of these PAS assets to HSPPR could amount to millions of dollars in supplies and equipment, paid for with donations intended to be used for animals at Pueblo Animal Services, not only violates the intended purpose of the donations, it seems fiscally irresponsible for the County and City. It also dramatically complicates the transition process to a new contractor. To-date, bidders on the contract have yet to get any answer from the City or County regarding what "fixtures" will be in the building should HSPPR be replaced.
HSPPR Being Uncooperative
To address concerns about the RFP timeline City and County officials have reportedly asked HSPPR if they would be willing to - temporarily - extend their contract to allow for a more realistic transition period. City officials have said HSPPR has refused to cooperate with this request. This fact alone should tell Pueblo officials that HSPPR has no real commitment to the City and County, in spite of the millions of dollars they have been paid over the years. That fact alone should disqualify them for consideration in this RFP process.
City Officials Openly Attacking PAPA
In a stunning display of ignorance and cynicism, City Councilman Bob Schilling has been attacking PAPA based on the false assumption that it is going to cost the City and County more money. Naturally, the time to have made that argument would have been before PAPA passed in February, not 7 months later. Nonetheless, Schilling went on a bit of a tirade against PAPA (even though it has yet to go into effect) at the September 24 Pueblo City Council meeting (watch video below), during which he repeatedly insisted that PAPA was going to require the City and County to "write a blank check" for PAPA. He repeatedly said, "I'm not going to write a blank check for PAPA." Our response back to Schilling: No one has asked you to. You should, therefore, stop implying that they have. Where PAPA has been implemented elsewhere, it has cost the shelters no additional money and no one has yet to ask for additional money in Pueblo, much less a "blank check."
Video of Bob Schilling at Pueblo City Council on Sept 24, 2018 - Story continues below
Advocates Speaking Out Again
In the face of all of this, and with various local elections going on, animal advocates have been getting vocal again. They have been writing letters to the editor of the local paper, they have been leveraging local media, and they have been showing up and speaking at City Council and County Board meetings. Their collective message is clear. Angela Taylor of Reform Pueblo Animal Services said it well speaking to Pueblo City Council on September 24 (video below). Taylor began her remarks by saying:
"The fight to pass [the] Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA) was won. But it was much harder than it needed to be. How hard is it to pass a law that says our animal services contractor should save every healthy or treatable pet? The great citizens of Pueblo got it passed, with some supportive City Council Members. The County has been another story."
Video of Angela Taylor at Pueblo City Council on Sept 24, 2018 - Story continues below
Taylor went on to recount some of the complaints mentioned in this blog before ending by saying:
"You don't get to do that, elected officials. You work for me. And, I will be forced to come to your office to explain how Representative Democracy works. You represent us, or we vote for someone else."
Other advocates in and around Pueblo have been similarly exasperated by how broken the process has been. Some have suggested it is so broken that language in the RPF itself seems to have been written, not by the County or City, but by HSPPR itself.
In any event, advocates are organizing again in Pueblo, even though they thought their work was almost over. “When PAPA passed, we thought we were mostly done with this. But, it looks like we have to keep it up until it is in effect and an agency willing to save all animals that can be saved is running the shelter,” said Davyd Smith of No Kill Colorado.
The Pueblo Mayoral race is heating up, with animal advocates lining up strongly behind City Council President Chris Nicoll, who introduced and helped to ensure the passage of PAPA. We will continue to follow this story as it unfolds. To the Pueblo advocates: Animal lovers across the nation are watching you and you are inspiring them. You have been thoughtful, organized, passionate, professional and knowledgeable. You have moved the ball to the 2 yard line. We are all rooting for you and the animals in Pueblo.