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City to Undergo Reorganization at Tulsa Animal Shelter; Animal Welfare Management Function to Remain with the City, Including New Partnerships with Non-Profits

This article was archived on 7/18/2020

In February this year, the City issued a Request for Competitive Sealed Proposals (CSP) for management of the City’s Animal Shelter (separate from animal control field operations and law enforcement, which must remain City functions). A panel was established to examine the proposals. 

The CSP process garnered substantive responses from three organizations, including the City’s Tulsa Animal Welfare (TAW) team – Brandywine Valley SPCA and Humane Society of Tulsa. All proposals were scrutinized by the panel and each proposal was compared to a benchmarking analysis of 11 animal shelters around the country, which was developed by a team from the Irani Center for the Creation of Economic Wealth at OU-Tulsa. The analysis also included insights drawn from 15 interviews with animal welfare and shelter professionals.

Ultimately, the City’s Animal Welfare staff developed a clear path moving forward that would overhaul the current structure at Animal Welfare while identifying processes that would lead to stronger management with better shelter operations.

“This process opened the door to an impactful and deliberate future for animal welfare in Tulsa,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. “The City will maintain shelter management but partner with non-profits and improve operations while keeping Animal Welfare functions under one umbrella for a unified response in shelter management and field operations. This approach will end the way we have done business before and empower and support City staff to lead the long-term success and the development of a world-class animal welfare system.”

“We are very pleased that the employees were able to elect representatives from among themselves to work with City Management to put a proposal together to keep Animal Welfare operated by the City of Tulsa,” Josh Hall, President of AFSCME Local 1180 Tulsa, who worked on the proposal with City staff said. “We identified many changes that need to take place and believe that under the leadership of the City that Animal Welfare has its brightest days ahead of it.”

“We appreciated the City’s candor with regard to the challenges TAW faced and were heartened to see the thoroughness with which they approached the process. While it was a difficult decision, we felt success was most likely and the animals in our community would be best served, by the City retaining management and developing formal MOU’s with local, private nonprofits,” Mindy Tiner, Executive Director of the Tulsa SPCA said. “As a result, we chose not to submit a bid and instead submitted a letter explaining our position and reasoning. We therefore were thrilled to hear the City reached a similar conclusion. The situation at TAW has been the subject of much debate in our community for a long time and in many ways, it would have been easier to hand the problem off to someone else.  We appreciate the City of Tulsa’s courage to make what we feel is the right choice even if it wasn’t the easiest choice.  We are not only committed to being an active partner in the coming months and years but excited for the future of animal welfare in our community.” 

The following three critical elements will be implemented by the City of Tulsa Animal Welfare team, which comes directly from their proposal:

Management: It is unanimous that strong and consistent leadership in shelter management is the most critical element for the success of the Animal Shelter. The staff proposal calls for “a complete organizational change” and new leadership that is “inclusive, transparent and accountable.” The City will cast a wide net to find the very best person for the currently vacant job of shelter manager, who has proven management experience.

Subcontracts with partner agencies: Community partnerships are critical to the viability of Animal Shelter for certain specialized functions. This approach will help relieve some of the pressure on TAW presented by intake of more than 10,000 animals per year, allowing the City to better focus on the necessary work of animal control, cruelty investigation, law enforcement, and open access shelter management. We will develop partnerships with local, private non-profits, for example, to transfer a number of adoptable dogs and cats from Tulsa Animal Welfare each week, perform spay and neuter surgeries, and provide diversion and community engagement assistance.

Facilities: Inadequate facilities are at the heart of the persistent challenges at TAW. Staff has presented a smart approach that would incorporate City-owned land immediately south of the shelter in the design footprint by building a new adoption center with customer parking and administrative offices, which would allow the existing facility to be rehabilitated and focused on field intake, new kennels, and the clinic. The staff also proposes to make the entire facility more customer friendly and inviting, with relatively modest investments in signage, public art, dog walking trails, etc. The City will begin the design process immediately, with $554,552 in funds on-hand and a pre-existing design contract with GH2. There is also potential to raise private money to supplement City funding, particularly for a new adoption center and amenities such as public art and dog trails. The Animal Welfare Commission will develop a fundraising strategy to leverage the $4.8M public investment.