The shelter has 12 dogs on site right now, including this girl.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — City officials are mum on why they opted to terminate the contract with the Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter.
But Sonsini Board President Krista Wroldson-Miller says the nonprofit will not close and will continue operations — it is just a question of where.
"Sonsini as an animal shelter is going to continue, whether that is here or someplace else. We're going to keep doing what we do. We're the only no-kill facility for at least 100 miles so we are going to continue to do this," Wroldson-Miller said on Monday.
On Feb. 28, shelter officials received notification that the city would be ending its contract with the organization to take care of stray dogs picked up by Animal Control. Wroldson-Miller said the city contract is a small part of what the organization does, and that it takes in about a half-dozen dogs per month. Most of the organization's work is involved with re-homing surrenders.
"We only have to reserve two kennels for them. That tells you their volume. The contract said we have to reserve two kennels for the city and that's what we've always done. Otherwise, the rest of them fill up. We've had contracts with Dalton. We have a contract with Lanesborough. The one in Dalton we have submitted to be renewed," Wroldson-Miller said.
"There is more than just the shelter part of it. The animal shelter part of it is very limited."
But the Pittsfield contract came with basing the operations in a city-owned building in the Downing Industrial Business Park. Last month, the city ordered Sonsini to vacate the premises.
Wroldson-Miller said it isn't feasible for the organization to vacate the home its been in for 13 years in just 30 days. There are a dozen dogs there, nearly all of them owned by Sonsini, three cats, chickens and a chicken coop, appliances, supplies, furnishing, and two storage sheds of property owned by Sonsini that would need to be moved. And right now, the group doesn't have somewhere else to move.
She said the organization reached out to city solicitor immediately after receiving a notice to work out a transition plan, knowing it would take much longer to vacate. And the organization believed it would be granted extra time for a transition.
"We spent the entire month thinking we had time. And then they showed up Friday afternoon — Joe [Chague] and Capt. [John] Mullin — and said we want the keys. I can't do that. Most of the animals here are the property of Sonsini, they are not city strays," Wroldson-Miller said.
The Police Department showed up on site Friday, asking for the organization to turn over the keys. But, staff refused to do so and has continued running the shelter as it has been. It reopened for normal operating hours the very next day.
Sonsini has been looking for a suitable property to move to and has also put in an offer to purchase the building from the city.
"We'd love to buy the building. We did the floors. We did the painting. We re-did all of the kennels outside, the big structure out back. It was an empty garage when they gave it to us," Wroldson-Miller said.
She estimates that the organization spent more than $100,000 on the building over the years, based on the assumption that it would continue to be there. This is currently the sixth year of a 10-year contract the organization reached with the city through a public bidding process.
"We've done extensive work to the building," she said.
The city refuses to provide any insight on why, or even who, decided to terminate the contract. Director of Administrative Services Roberta McCulloch-Dews said the mayor's office cannot comment on the situation, citing it being a "legal matter." Nor have city officials provided information on what it plans to do with stray dogs now that the contract has ended.
The contract does give the city an out under a "termination for convenience" clause, which states that "the city may terminate this agreement or individual services at any time upon giving at least thirty days prior written notice thereof to the city purchasing agent."
The contract also includes that "the city will provide the shelter to the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter Inc. for the use and purposes stated in this agreement. The city will maintain the structure and property in good repair ..."
Sonsini was being paid between $48,700 and $60,300 per year throughout the contract, which extended to 2022.
Wroldson-Miller said her organization has fulfilled its part of the contract and she doesn't know why the city terminated it seemingly out of the blue.
"There has to be a public purpose and so far we don't see what that is either because they have no plans. They came here Friday to take the keys and they didn't even have dog food with them. I don't know what they were going to do with the strays that are here," Wroldson-Miller said.
Rumors circulating on Facebook suggest the termination of the contract was in an effort to oust Wroldson-Miller and Treasurer Judith Trumble from leadership.
Though we cannot confirm the authenticity, iBerkshires was sent a screenshot of an alleged conversation between a member of the Animal Control Commission and the former shelter director back in December saying she had met with the mayor and that "they need to talk to lawyers but will pull financials" and "the goal is just to remove Krista and Judy."
"I don't think the court is the right place for a leadership dispute but we had been locked out of the building and knew the animals weren't being taken care of," Wroldson-Miller said.
Sonsini has spent an estimated $100,000 on projects at the facility.
The courts ordered the injunction in November, placing Wroldson-Miller and Trumble in charge of the shelter as the case seeks to determine whether or not the votes from the other board members were done legally.
The pair came back into leadership in November. Since then a new shelter manager has been put in place and in March a new board voted in.
Wroldson-Miller said the organization has made offers to the former board members to settle the case but that is still ongoing. She hopes to see that dispute be settled soon.
As for the contract with the city, Wroldson-Miller said she still hasn't been provided with a reason for the termination. She hopes to schedule a meeting with city officials to sort it all out.
"We had no idea that this was coming. It just puts us in a very bad spot," she said.
Sonsini has slowed its operations when it comes to the surrendering of animals, though it will still accept some in desperate situations. And it has been trying to re-home the dogs and cats currently at the shelter, but often that can be difficult.
"We've been trying to get them homes but some of them are tough placements," Wroldson-Miller said.
The organization has "quite a substantial amount of money in the bank" to move to another location if needed. But Wroldson-Miller hopes the organization will be allowed to purchase the building it resides in now. But either way, she is looking for both a resolution and time, if needed.
"To rebuild a shelter, even if we work night and day, will take months because we will still have to take care of the animals," Wroldson-Miller said.
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