Rita B. Huff dissolves city contract

After more than two decades of being operated as a traditional shelter, the Rita B. Huff Adoption Center opted to become a no-kill facility after the board voted to make the transition in April of this year.

The Rita B. Huff Board of Directors went before the Huntsville City Council in July to ask for an increase in funds for operating costs, specifically to include veterinarian care, medicine and animal cages. Board members asked the Council for an increase from the annual $36,000 donation to $100,000 to help alleviate the issue, but the shelter was awarded $44,900 annually.

That has led to a major change in the services Rita B. Huff offered the city.

As of last week, the shelter made the decision to dissolve its contract with the City of Huntsville. In an open letter published by the shelter’s board members, they stated that it was not financially feasible to continue the partnership.

Under a contract with the city, Rita B. Huff was responsible for taking in animals caught by the city’s animal control officer. After making the switch to no-kill, the shelter was unable to take in animals from Huntsville residents and has been at capacity, but was still responsible for taking in animals from animal control.

“After much time and consideration, we have chosen to end our contract with the City of Huntsville,” Rita B. Huff board president Misty Harrelson said. “We have never been large enough to support the volume of animals brought into our facility. After a financial analysis, we determined that it was costing us more than $18,000 per month to intake an average of 50 animals from the city’s animal control operation.

In return, the shelter was receiving $3,700 per month from the contract. This only covered expenses for 10 animals that we were receiving from animal control. We have always been at capacity, the difference was they were killing healthy animals to make space for the next animal coming in to take its place.”

According to a public letter printed in Sunday’s edition of The Huntsville Item, between 1990 and 2014, the shelter took in 110,213 animals. Out of that intake, 87,157 were euthanized and only 16,947 were adopted at a rate of 15 percent. After dissolving the contract with the city, the shelter will now look to concentrate on education and adoption efforts while undertaking more fundraising.

“Animal control is there to protect people from animals,” Rita B. Huff executive director Deborah Turner said Tuesday. “Rita B. Huff, as an organization, is here to protect animals from people.”

“We are a private, nonprofit organization that was founded with the intent to rescue animals and find them forever, loving homes,” Harrelson added. “We intend to do that by accepting animals from private citizens as intended moving forward.”

City Manager Matt Benoit says that the decision was not a surprise but came suddenly. He said the city is currently looking for alternatives.

“As a private organization, I respect their right to determine their mission, vision, goals and services they wish to provide. I wish the city wasn’t in this position at this point, but I’m resolved to move on,” Benoit said. “We’re evaluating a number of different options. Right now, we have not been successful in identifying another city, county or private organization who is willing and able to accept animals who may come in contact with animal control. That possibility is not closed, but I’m not optimistic at this point that we’ll find another place to bring stray or abandoned animals.”

Huntsville Police Chief Kevin Lunsford mirrored Benoit’s comments stating that the police department is currently evaluating options, and that it’s too early to tell how the decision will impact animal control services.

“First and foremost, Rita B. Huff is a private entity and they are free to run that as they see fit,” Lunsford said. “At this point we are still evaluating options on how we are going to deal with this situation. It is way too early in the process to see what were going to do. We are taking everything by a case-by-case basis and then making an evaluation on how we’re going to proceed.”

Currently, the shelter is receiving funds from Walker County in the amount of $2,000 per month with $1,000 guaranteed for operating costs and $1,000 allocated for low-cost spaying and neutering programs. The shelter does not have a contract with the county to take in stray animals as the county does not have an animal control program.

“We acknowledge that our new directions for our organization are not popular with everyone and are misunderstood by many,” Harrelson added. “All we can do is continue our path forward with the goal of giving our animals a chance at a better life.”