Open Letter to Pueblo City Council
Updated: Jun 8, 2019
Dear Pueblo City Council,
I have been following the ongoing issues related to animal services in your community and want to thank you all for your thoughtful and appropriate responses to what is clearly an unacceptable situation. I was fortunate to have met some of you when I was in Pueblo in November presenting “Getting to No Kill.” And, I have great admiration for you and the difficult work you do.
As you know, I originally intended to submit a proposal as part of the RFP process but ended up declining to do so because of issues/challenges with the RFP process itself. I will tell you now that my plan was to write a proposal that would have helped you transition over to running your own animal services, without outsourcing it. Far too often what I see when I look at communities that outsource to nonprofits to do the work are the kinds of issues Pueblo has experienced in the past, or those you are experiencing now.
To successfully run a nonprofit that runs animal services requires a remarkably complex skill set that is exceptionally rare. A unique balance between passion and objectivity is key. Too many organizations focus too heavily on financial and self-interest and end up losing track of the mission (saving animals’ lives). Others have the passion and heart, but lack the business skills/abilities to really pull it off well.
It is my belief that Pueblo has just transitioned from an example of one of these to an example of the other. The fact that PAWS had never run animal control, nor had they ever run an open admission animal shelter, or even a shelter with the volume seen at your facility, could have been overcome had the PAWS Board brought in outside expertise from the onset. That is what they had said they were going to do. That is what everyone expected they were going to do. I had even found an available interim director who had experience working a highly successful transition like the one you are going through.
Unfortunately, once the City signed the contract, the PAWS Board suddenly seemed to change track. They told me they did not need an experienced interim director, that they knew what they were doing and that they could promote their former shelter manager to the director job, because they thought the director job was only a part time job anyway.
In other words: from the minute the contract was signed, it is my opinion they began setting things up to fail.
The challenges in finding a vendor to run animal services causes municipalities all over the USA to settle for poorly performing animal services, which is why I often recommend municipalities learn to run animal services themselves. These kinds of hassles can disappear if municipalities do that. Going forward, that might be an option in Pueblo.
There is another great option, however: Currently helping to clean up the mess in Pueblo is Doug Rae of Humane Society of Fremont, County. Like me, he had decided to not bid on the contract, due to various issues with the bidding process last time. But, now he and his staff are rolling up their sleeves and doing what needs to be done, because that is just the kind of organization HSFC is. Doug and HSFC have the profile of the type of organization that balances the mission/vision with the business/operational sense needed to be successful.
In my professional opinion, the PAWS Board has demonstrated in a multitude of ways that they are incapable of managing the task at hand and that the City should terminate the contract with them to run animal services. Furthermore, I recommend the City work with HSFC to oversee the transition to whatever comes next.
Most importantly, the failures at PAWS should not be viewed as a failure of No Kill. It is a failure of the leadership at PAWS. One positive thing is true: No animals have needlessly died since January. Now, the knowledge, business processes and leadership need to be put in place to make that work well and sustainably. HSFC is already starting to make that happen.
If you have any questions, let me know.