One year ago, Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter (FAAS) informed the City of Alameda that the public-private partnership to run the shelter was not financially sustainable.
We began formal discussions with the City Manager last April and submitted a proposal on August 10. The City Council weighed in on the issue in October, directing staff to negotiate a new agreement with FAAS that would enable it to maintain the same high level of service it currently provides the public.
Contract needs modernizing
Under its current contract with the City, FAAS must raise the lion's share of a million-dollar budget through public donations and fundraisers. The new contract proposed by FAAS covers operation costs, addresses a staffing shortage among other chronic issues, and gives the shelter room to grow along with the City of Alameda.
Now, after a year of negotiations, FAAS is running low on funds as predicted and is continuing to operate only by liquidating what is left of its reserve fund.This fund will take the shelter only through the end of March 2017. FAAS is still waiting for the City to agree to a fair contract.
FAAS will go to the City Council meeting February 7 to reiterate the urgency of resolving this matter.
How you can help
Shelter services have come a long way since FAAS assumed operations from the Alameda Police Department in 2012 and we do not want to backslide to a 30% euthanasia rate. We do not believe Alameda citizens want this to happen, either.
As the City considers its next steps in the negotiation, here's what you can do to keep Alameda pets safe. Call and email Councilmembers and write letters to the editors of Alameda's two papers. (See Talking Points, below.) Ask the City to accept FAAS's proposal and fund FAAS at the level necessary to maintain current outcomes and improve them over time.
Action Item #1: CALL OR EMAIL CITY COUNCIL MEMBERS. Contact councilmembers directly to let them know that you would like the City of Alameda to fairly fund shelter operations:
Mayor Trish Spencer, email@example.com, 510-747-4701
Vice Mayor Malia Vella, firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-747-4722
Councilmember Frank Matarrese, email@example.com, 510-747-4722
Councilmember Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft, firstname.lastname@example.org, 510-747-4745
Councilmember Jim Oddie, email@example.com, 510-747-4728
Action Item #2: WRITE LETTERS TO THE EDITOR OF THE ALAMEDA SUN AND ALAMEDA JOURNAL. Express your desire as an Alamedan that the city fund the shelter fully to maintain the current programs that send 95% of stray or homeless animals to loving homes. Keep your letter brief; shorter letters are more likely to be read and leave more space for other letters supporting FAAS. Email your letters (including your name and phone number for verification purposes) to:
A brief history of FAAS
Friends of the Alameda Animal Shelter began as a citizens’ group in 2009 founded to raise money for the veterinary care of animals living in Alameda’s animal shelter. In 2011, alarmed by news that Alameda would close the shelter and outsource animal control to another city, FAAS began talks with the City to take over shelter operations. FAAS began running the shelter in January 2012, hiring its own staff to work at 1590 Fortmann Way.
The City contract calls for FAAS to shelter and provide medical care for Alameda's stray and surrendered companion animals, find these pets new homes, and provide licensing services for the City, among other functions. The Alameda Police Department picks up strays; conducts animal cruelty investigations and impounds; provides emergency medical care when picking up injured animals; and takes wildlife calls.
As Alameda’s only animal shelter, FAAS cares for more than 1,000 stray, abandoned, injured, neglected and abused animals each year. FAAS is an “open intake” shelter, which means it accepts any companion animal from Alameda residents regardless of the pet’s health, temperament, age, or species.
How FAAS changed the animal shelter
When the City ran the shelter, it was a municipal facility. As with most municipal shelters, the emphasis was on protecting the community by taking stray animals off the streets, not necessarily on providing industry-standard care or adoption services. As a result, many pets with health or behavioral problems were deemed unadoptable and euthanized. Approximately one in four animals were destroyed.
Since assuming shelter operations, FAAS has improved how Alameda’s shelter animals are cared for, transforming the shelter from an old-fashioned pound to a humane facility recognized throughout the state for its commitment to animal welfare. A focus on reuniting lost pets with their families, working with third-party rescue groups, and preparing animals for adoption through medical and behavioral rehabilitation has resulted in an average 95% of Alameda shelter animals finding homes.
The improvements that FAAS has made to shelter animal care are considered industry standard -- all incoming animals receive vaccinations and flea treatment, complete medical and behavioral assessments, and daily socialization and exercise. In addition, FAAS has created a Pet Food Pantry for low-income families, special funds to provide medical and behavioral rehabilitation for animals that need it, a training program for new pet owners, and a Humane Education Program to teach school children about responsible pet ownership and bite prevention.
Local coverage: East Bay Times and KRON. Also see Board Member John Lipp's opinion piece in the Alameda Journal.
Please use these facts to inform your communications with City officials but remember that any personal positive shelter experiences that you can share will make the most impact.
Summary: FAAS is endeavoring to negotiate a new City contract for services that will provide sustainable funding and an opportunity for the shelter to grow. In August 2016, FAAS submitted to the City a proposed budget of $1.375 million.
Prior to FAAS's contract with the City, the Alameda Animal Shelter was run by the Alameda Police Department with a budget of $995,000 and the shelter animal kill rate was approximately 25-30%, or one in four of all animals that entered the shelter.
The City provided minimal medical care to animals when it ran the shelter. There were no flea treatments, vaccinations or other measures considered standard today.
When the City ran the shelter, the volunteer program was much smaller than it is now and there were no programs such as Pet Food Pantry to help low-income families feed their pets. There was no on-staff veterinary technician or animal behavior expert to promote health and successful adoptions. There was minimal community outreach or education.
When FAAS first contracted with the City, in 2011, its annual contract for $300,000 was based on service delivery equivalent to the way the City ran the shelter in the past, including the minimal medical care and high kill rate. That level of service is not acceptable by today's standards, nor is it acceptable to FAAS nor, we think, to the citizens of Alameda.
FAAS has transformed the shelter from an old-fashioned "pound" into a quality animal shelter program despite being housed in an outdated, dilapidated cinderblock building that the city has failed to properly maintain per our contract.
Since taking over the shelter, FAAS has maintained an average 95% live release rate – the number of animals that are reunited with their families, adopted or transferred to rescue groups.
FAAS provides not only regular medical care, vaccinations, flea treatments, parvovirus shots and rabies shots but also extraordinary medical care through community fundraising.
FAAS has built up the volunteer program to more than 150 dedicated individuals who socialize and exercise animals, foster underage and sick animals, staff mobile adoption events, clean kennels, lead workshops and much more.
FAAS's humane education program teaches Alameda students about bite prevention and responsible pet ownership.
FAAS has been able to make these dramatic improvements despite inadequate city funding due to some one-time windfall donations and the dedication of staff. These funding sources, including staff overtime, are not sustainable.
A public-private partnership between FAAS and the City is the most efficient way to provide quality animal shelter services. As a nonprofit, FAAS can leverage public dollars with private fundraising to provide enhanced services that the city is not obligated to provide. Also, a nonprofit is not bound by labor agreements that can dramatically increase staffing costs. Finally, a nonprofit is more able to incorporate the work of volunteers into its operations.
The proposed contract is not a "Cadillac" funding request. It covers essential services that the City is obligated by law to provide the citizens of Alameda and a level of care that is standard in the shelter industry and expected by the community.
FAAS is not asking the City to fund enhanced services such as The Angel Fund (emergency medical fund) or Sasha Fund (for canine training). FAAS will continue to raise its own funds to cover enhanced services.
FAAS needs to increase staffing to meet reasonable, minimal industry standards.
Costs for basic operations have increased dramatically in the last four years, while in-kind and monetary sources of funding for the shelter have been reduced. Some of FAAS's administrative services that were once donated now must be paid for. Medical care, neuter surgeries, medications and personnel health insurance are growing at approximately 10% annually, well above the consumer price index (CPI).
FAAS has met or exceeded its fundraising goals for each of the last four years, in effect subsidizing the City's under-contribution to the costs of its animal shelter.
The City of Alameda has not met two of its contract obligations: 1) capital improvements to the shelter slated in the City's 2015 and 2016 budgets, and 2) animal control services.
Lack of adequate funding will trim FAAS's operations and return the shelter to a "dog pound" level of service. Only a fully funded shelter can offer services that shelter animals deserve both legally and morally.
Thank you to all of our volunteers, active supporters and everyone in Alameda and beyond who have made donations of time and money to FAAS, adopted pets from FAAS, and shown their support in myriad other ways. We appreciate you more than you can know.
"The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated."
- Mahatma Gandhi