KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At a business session Thursday for the Kansas City, Missouri, City Council, a panel made up mostly of city staff rejected KC Pet Project's proposal to take over the Animal Health and Public Safety Division, saying the shelter lacks adequate staffing and experience.
"We have full plans in place to provide enforcement and provide educational opportunities if we were to take over animal services," KC Pet Project Chief Communications Officer Tori Fugate said.
KC Pet Project, which runs the city shelter, doesn't currently provide field services, but they are training employees for such duty.
Fugate noted the shelter's staff are certified Animal Cruelty Investigators and two staff members recently underwent National Animal Control Association training.
She said KC Pet Project also is working with other cities who have privatized their animal control units, including Des Moines and Atlanta, for best practices.
If KC Pet Project eventually takes control of the city's animal control services , they anticipate being able to do everything current Animal Health officers can. But privatization doesn't come without risks.
"If they seize an animal and if a lawsuit ensued, there could be an issue around whether or not sovereign immunity applies to the agent," Assistant City Attorney Marti Means said.
As a private entity, there would be no cap for how much someone could sue KC Pet Project.
The council wanted to know if the city could be on the hook, too. Ordinances also would have to change.
The city, which said no animal control officers would be laid off if it outsources these services, issued a request for proposals in October 2018.
In addition to KC Pet Project's interest, Spay & Neuter KC submitted a proposal for more of a collaborative agreement with KCMO.
The council's concerns also extended beyond the size and experience of KC Pet Project's staff.
Fourth Amendment issues centered around sensitive search and seizure operations, the cost structure for fees and implementation of the proposal, and other paperwork or procedural issues also plague the proposal.
Fugate said she dwas surprised by the depth and intensity of Thursday's council discussion.
Councilwoman Teresa Loar, a proponent of privatization, called the panel's evaluation "garbage."
The city began considering the privatization of animal control services after a 2017 audit revealed significant problems with multiple aspects of KCMO's Animal Health and Public Safety Division.
The city said it has completed 15 of the 17 audit recommendations, but that hasn't satisfied many animal advocates who have long called for reform.
"We're tired of waiting," said Kate Quigley with Chain of Hope animal rescue group.
Quigley said groups like hers are frequently called upon to respond at homes where animal control officers haven't followed up or haven't helped an animal.
She cited a recent example of a couple who are living in a car with three dogs, which were taken away after a report to the city only to have city staff return the animals less than a week later. One dog gave birth to 10 puppies, which the owners tried selling on Facebook the next day.
Quigley and Fugate said the couple sold three of the puppie, which hadn't been weaned from their mother. Adoptions usually don't take place until puppies are closer to eight weeks old.
"We released the dogs, because we were told by the woman and her family that they were going to go back to Colorado where the animals would be under care and in a safe environment," city spokesman John Baccala said.
The city quickly realized that wasn't the case and took the dogs again, turning them over to KC Pet Project.
Baccala said the owners will never get the dogs back again.
For many, it's too little and too late.
"It is time for change," Quigley said. "People are more progressive, more compassionate, more humane-thinking, and this department hasn't kept up with that."
The privatization discussion will continue Wednesday at the City Council's Finance and Governance Committee meeting, when KC Pet Project will present its response.