14 reasons for having our own animal shelter

Opinion

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Gloria Ryan, One View

Trustees will soon vote to award a contract to Animal Care League (ACL) to run the village animal shelter. This decision will dilute the mission of both the ACL and Oak Park Animal Control. This decision will hurt the animals of both ACL and animal control, plus cost the taxpayers more money.

To stop the board from making this costly and inhumane mistake, call and leave a message at 358-5784. You will be able to reach all the trustees with one message or you can leave individual messages.

Here are the reasons Oak Park needs its own home for animal control and why it is in the best interests of Animal Care League to drop the idea of adding animal control to its responsibilities.

1. Mission

The mission of Oak Park Animal Control (OPAC. differs from that of ACL. The major difference between the two is that OPAC must by law take in all stray animals and must have enough space to care for all these animals. ACL has the option of choosing the animals it accepts and, as they state, "is limited to the space we have available." ACL cannot fulfill its own mission if it takes on another parallel mission that conflicts with its own.

2. Adding to the homeless pets problem

ACL has said it will reduce the number of animals it takes from supporting shelters in order to take in OPAC animals. In order to take our animals, ACL will say "no" to animals from their supporting shelters. This practice will not only hurt the animals that need to find placement elsewhere, it damages the relationships the ACL has built with these shelters.

3. Room to grow

With a real animal shelter, we can choose a place where there is room to expand. Certainly this is true with the Pump Station/Firehouse option. At the January study session, two options for this site were presented. One option was to use the first floor only, and the second was to use both the first and second floors. The outdoor space surrounding the building would add to its value as an excellent place to exercise animals. As it is, if we go with the first floor option, there is already more space available (if you include the outdoor space. than ACL has right now.

In order to take on the responsibility of OPAC, the ACL has plans to expand its space by either acquiring more property or adding a floor onto its building. In both cases, this requires a great outlay of funds, the sum of which has yet to be determined. The ACL board has already asked the village for these funds, and the village has responded very positively. Also, there is no outdoor space now at ACL or in the immediate area for outdoor exercise.

4. Rehabilitation of special needs animals

ACL does not have a rehabilitation initiative in place. Therefore ACL does not choose difficult animals, be they medical or behavior problems. With the contract under consideration, ACL will inherit many special needs animals. The ACL does not have the expertise needed to fulfill this requirement. An OPAC facility could establish a rehab component under its own direction.

5. No euthanasia

Euthanasia will not be tolerated for other than a health or catastrophic reason. ACL euthanizes animals now at times for reasons unknown. Because they are privately held, ACL does not need to produce statistics on their animals regarding adoption, euthanasia, etc. Some reasons used by ACL could be lack of space and temperament testing failure cases.

6. Environmental issues are resolved

At the Pump Station/Firehouse, village staff confirmed at the January study session that no IEPA issues remain after initial trench is dug. However, rumors continue to be spread by those who have a bias toward awarding the ACL contract. It is in the minutes of the January study session and validated on paper in a letter from the IEPA that there are no environmental concerns here.

7. Board of trustees promise

Three members of this board were elected in 2005 on a platform that stated unequivocally: "Establish an animal shelter." A fourth trustee, who campaigned in 2005 and served on the previous board as well, has supported a permanent animal shelter 100 percent all that time. The word "establish" is important because it does not say "contract with an animal shelter." Establish was the word chosen by the platform authors because this implies a physical location that is controlled by the Village of Oak Park (VOP).

8. Partnership, not all-inclusive contract

Would ACL consider a contract with VOP without the $375K to "rehab" or "assist in buying another building" or "build up?" What if the village just buys some services from ACL and has its own home? With our own site, we own whatever we spend to acquire a site. VOP and ACL both have much to gain by partnering together. If the village contracts with ACL or any other entity, especially when it involves build-out costs, it incurs more risk.

9. End contracting out animal services

The ACL option is just another contract for animal services, a longstanding practice by VOP, which has never had oversight or quality control over these contracts in the past, one of the prime reasons VOP wanted to end this practice. Again, while ACL is a respected local agency, it is standard business practice to require oversight of an outside agency. At this time, VOP does not have the time or expertise to provide this service.

10. Vision and leadership

Vision and leadership are needed to oversee this new venture for animal control. A leader hired from outside the community with no special allegiances is needed to put all the pieces together to get the shelter established, get it running successfully and to plan the future to ensure its long-term success.

11. Money

The estimate of $165K to displace Public Works employees who are presently in the Pump Station/Firehouse has been overstated. Plus the costs of the two options at the Pump Station/Firehouse, $350K-460K also have been overstated. Multiple bids would resolve this issue when comparisons between estimates can be made. As it stands now, there are no figures to compare against.

12. Multiple, open bids

Every project or initiative in Oak Park where taxpayer money is involved should require an open bidding process and participatory planning (citizen input). Why should animal control be an exception? Why are there no other contract bidders besides ACL? Why was there only one bid taken to evaluate the Pump Station/Firehouse?

13. Cronyism and special influences

After studying all the facts, it is clear there are special influences at work here and maneuvering behind closed doors. Cronyism and back-door politics have no place in Oak Park. The new village trustees elected one year ago, who campaigned on the importance of transparency in village government, needs to be reminded by the citizens of its commitment to good government in the village of Oak Park.

14. Conflict of interest

The president and vice president of the ACL Board of Directors both served on the Animal Shelter Task Force last year. This group studied the animal shelter issue for six months and were privy to much information, including financial, from the village. These two people should recuse themselves from the proposed contract negotiations. Since they have not and have also influenced the remainder of the board of ACL, the idea of a contract at this time should be dropped due to this conflict of interest.

The solution? Secure a permanent site to build or rehab an animal care and control shelter. The village should develop a partnership with the ACL that involves the sharing of ideas and solutions but does not burden the ACL, which needs to serve animals according to its own mission. With this partnership, OPAC may at times need to secure the services of ACL's expertise in a particular area, but this should occur only in times of great need. OPAC needs to build up its own home by expanding on the knowledge animal control has built up over years of caring for our animals, a large part of which may be its relationships with many agencies in the region upon which OPAC has depended for years to adopt our Oak Park animals.

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