By Alyssa Schnugg
Wanted: A group of people to take over animal control services and run an animal shelter.
That’s the position of the Oxford Board of Aldermen who learned Tuesday night that the Oxford-Lafayette Humane Society will not be renewing its contract with the city to provide animal control services or run the shelter on McElroy Drive as of Sept. 30.
Shortly after receiving a letter from the OLHS Board of Directors informing them of their decision, the board voted in executive session Tuesday night after the aldermen’s regular meeting to put out a Request For Proposals looking for organizations that want to take over running the shelter and providing animal control services for the city of Oxford.
“We’ll see where this takes us,” said Mayor Robyn Tannehill Wednesday afternoon. “The city is committed to providing animal control services. We won’t let that service lapse.”
The letter states that the shelter has “experienced tremendous growth” and that the staff can no longer keep up with the daily demand.
The announcement came to a surprise to Oxford and Lafayette County leaders.
Lafayette County Supervisor and board president Jeff Busby said he just learned about OLHS’s decision Tuesday night as well.
“We don’t contract with OLHS for animal control services because there’s no leash law in the county,” he said. “But our residents use the shelter and so we provide funds to the shelter each year for that service.”
Busby said he appreciates the work the OHLS has done since taking over the shelter in 1982.
“I thank them for the job they’ve done,” he said, adding that he didn’t know what caused OLHS to come to the decision to step away. “We support the city in trying to find someone else to do it and will support their decision.”
Alderman Janice Antonow was appointed to sit on the OLHS board as a liaison to the aldermen. She said a special meeting was called by OLHS Monday night to discuss OLHS’s decision.
“They are all so down right now,” Antonow said Wednesday evening. “They just can’t seem to make any progress and they keep getting more and more animals. Last week, they took in 100 animals when the students left and on Monday, they got 30 more. They decided they needed to take a different direction and focus on doing spay and neutering services.”
Antonow said OLHS board members were still unsure whether they will build a clinic, rent space or do a mobile unit, using a $600,000 postmortem donation the shelter received in 2016.
“As of today, the shelter won’t take in any animals from outside of the city and Lafayette County,” Antonow said. “It’s an overwhelming situation. They’ve had trouble keeping staff and many of the board members have been working at the shelter so they don’t have time to do fundraising.”
OLHS board member Lee Habeeb said the decision to cease operations was “difficult and sad.”
“But one we felt we had to make in order to stop the growing number of animals being dropped off at the shelter, with not nearly enough homes to adopt them,” he said. “The community keeps growing and the number of animals we were taking in was just impossible to keep up with, even with the generous support of the town, county and local donors. The team was heartbroken, but we know the best way forward is to solve the problem at its root, for the betterment of the community. And the animals, too.”
Habeeb confirmed the OLHS is moving toward creating a free/ low-cost spay and neuter service.
“With a sustained educational outreach and a 100 percent focus on the problem of overpopulation, we are confident – from studying other communities around the state – that we can successfully tackle this problem to everyone’s benefit – the citizens and the animals and without costing the taxpayers a dime,” he said.
The OLHS has had its fair share of struggles over the last year.
The shelter and several former staff and board members were at odds last year when arguments occurred between differences of opinions on how the $600,000 donation should be used. Some former board members and staff voiced concerns to the Board of Aldermen in August 2017 over the number of animals being euthanized at the shelter and a lack of transparency by the organization.
The city required OHLS to open their meetings to the public, put meeting minutes online for the public to read, update its bylaws, allow Antonow and Supervisor Chad McLarty to serve as city and county liaisons.
“And they’ve done everything we asked of them and haven’t skipped a beat,” Antonow said. “That’s not what any of this is about.”
Former OLHS board member Katie Muldoon brought some of the issues at the OLHS to the Board of Aldermen’s attention last year and now heads up Mississippi Mutts, an animal transfer organization. She said she was shocked to learn that the OLHS was giving up the shelter but she couldn’t comment as to whether MS Mutts will apply to take over the shelter and animal control services.
“We were glad to see some internal issues brought to light,” she said. “And also to have a city council that responded to those concerns. It’s a little early for us to make any decision, but it’s something we (MS Mutts) will discuss. Hopefully, something good will come of all this.”
In the meantime, Habeeb said the community can help during this time of transition for OLHS and the city.