LYNDHURST — Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center continues to buckle under the stress of endless animals and limited staff. In the most recent and alternative effort to save the shelter, citizens want to make sure it's done right.
Waynesboro issued a Request For Proposals on Oct. 19 to begin the process of scoping out a contractor that would assume responsibility of the shelter, including:
Tracking all animal intake
annual state inspections
recruiting and training staff
implementing volunteer services programs
community education programs
The decision to bid out the shelter comes after years of staffing issues and challenges with high volumes of animals, problems that former Director Hannah Richardson spoke candidly about when she was working with the shelter over the summer.
In July, the shelter was working at half staff and searching for more people to apply, with the support of the Waynesboro City Council and City Manager. Currently, the shelter is working with three full-time workers and seven part-time staff.
One of the reasons the shelter has been at such high capacity is due to their policy that the shelter cannot turn away animals and are obligated to take in strays, Richardson said in the summer. The shelter will help animals that need medication, amputations and around-the-clock care.
It's an emotionally demanding job to work with any animal facility, but according to Amy Hammer, a former shelter worker who posted her experience with the shelter on Facebook, the animal center boasts one of the best save rates in the state, and she wanted residents to know what was at stake.
"I ran the shelter when it opened until a director could be hired. They first told me that I was not allowed to adopt out animals. I could get them into rescues or put them down. There were no vaccines, no wormer and only vet care to prevent the worst suffering until an animal could be euthanized," Hammer, a former Animal Control Officer, wrote publicly on Facebook. "It was hell."
But things have changed, she said. The shelter gained its footing. Within its near-decade of existence, the shelter has managed to maintain a high save rate, despite its consistent challenges through the years.
"SVASC staff accomplished this amazing save rate with a building that is too small, a work week that is too long and a paycheck far less than what they are worth," Hammer said on Facebook. "They cannot keep a director because the pay is too low for a position that is so mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting. I think that’s why SAW has become frustrated and just wants to give this job to someone else."
During the most recent state inspection from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services' division of Animal & Food Industry Services, the inspector reported there were no significant findings of noncompliance, despite the staffing situation struggling through the summer.
"The success of the shelter and its service to the animals in the community is worthy of recognition. The employees and volunteers at the shelter should be honored for their success and dedicated service," Waynesboro City Manager Michael Hamp said. "The various rescue, support and advocacy groups in the area are recognized as well. Their contributions and support through the years have been essential to the success of the shelter. "
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Hamp also serves as a figure of authority for the shelter, along with Augusta County Administrator Timothy Fitzgerald and Staunton City Manager Steve Rosenberg. He added that the request for proposals is a means of providing adequate and qualified staff to the shelter operations, especially during such a challenging labor market.
While the Request for Proposals could offer a viable solution for the shelter's management issues, it depends who applies.
Within the request form, the City of Waynesboro details the responsibilities of the contractor if they assume management of the shelter. It also includes the 2022 budget for the shelter, and the 2021 expenses and revenues.
Proposal applicants will be scored and evaluated in five categories to deem whether they would make a good fit for taking over the shelter, including:
Experience operating animal shelters (25 pts)
Knowledge and understanding of the requirements of the City and Commonwealth of VA code (15 pts)
Operational Model and methodology (25 pts)
Qualifications of personnel assigned to shelter and experience (15 pts)
Demonstrated ability to meet scope requirements (20 pts)
Proposals will be accepted until 2 p.m. on December 1, 2021 before officials will close the bidding window and assess the applicants. Waynesboro anticipates completing the proposal evaluations by the week of Dec. 13.
Advocates for the shelter in the community, including Hammer, are encouraging citizens to speak with their local governments to ensure the proper contractor is chosen to continue the legacy and high save rate of the shelter.
"Council members may not realize the scope of how this could affect everyone," Hammer said in her call for action to the community. "This contract could very well take away what we have worked for the last decade and cost the lives of thousands of animals in the future! We expect the animals in our community to be saved and cared for no matter who is running the shelter!"
For more information about the Shenandoah Valley Animal Services Center, visit https://svasc.net/.
— Alison Cutler (she/her) is the Government Watchdog Reporter at The News Leader. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona and graduated from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. Contact Alison at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter at @alisonjc2.
This article originally appeared on Staunton News Leader: Waynesboro's next steps to save Shenandoah's local animal shelter