PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The city of Pittsfield is apparently giving up its attempts to run an animal shelter on its own but a request for proposals to take over the care of strays has only elicited one bid.
The city issued an RFP for animal sheltering earlier this month. The proposals were due on Monday and the Berkshire Humane Society was the only one to respond. Pittsfield officials are mum on what the organization has proposed or what the city is looking for in such a contract.
Mayor Linda Tyer's administration booted the Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter from city-owned property earlier this spring and terminated the non-profit's contract to care for stray animals. Animal control had taken over the shelter's operation.
Now, eight months after issuing the notice to end the contract, the city has again requested a vendor to submit proposals to handle the sheltering.
"The city of Pittsfield is seeking responsive and responsible proposals for open admission animal shelter services for three years. In an effort to simplify and streamline the adoption process, it is the city's intent to allow the successful proposer to issue dog licenses at their facility. The city of Pittsfield houses approximately 120 dogs annually, the majority of which are claimed by their owners within one day," reads the issued RFP.
"Although not required, respondents with grant writing experience to partner with the city in obtaining funding to ensure the safe humane treatment of city animals is preferred. Also being licensed for quarantine and isolation by the Department of Agriculture would be favorable."
Tyer's office offered little comment other than that the Humane Society's proposal is under review and no decision has been made.
The Purchasing Department refused iBerkshires' attempt to read the proposal submitted by the Humane Society, claiming it was exempt from public records laws. iBerkshires contends that according to state law, the proposal is public once it is opened or the deadline to submit proposals has passed, both of which have occurred.
The Friends of Eleanor Sonsini Animal Shelter had cared for stray dogs picked up by animal control officers for more than a dozen years before it was forced out of operating in the city's shelter in Downing Industrial Park. Sonsini, which had been riven by infighting last year, has since moved to new quarters on Crane Avenue.
The administration repeatedly refused comment on the decision to terminate Sonsini's contract at the time and still has not provided an explanation as to why the city made the move.
Since then the city put its animal control officer in charge of caring for strays and sought to organize a volunteer group to assist. It hired an additional part-time employee to work evenings and care for the dogs being held the shelter until they could be reunited with their owners or taken to the Berkshire Humane Society for adoption.
But, sometime in mid-September, that employee left and Animal Control Officer Joseph Chague was back as the only animal control officer.
"We are back kind of where we were before," Chague told the Animal Control Commission on Oct. 3.
He reported that there wasn't much for a pool of candidates applying for the part-time job. However, he did say there was a group of volunteers who have been helping at the location.
"The volunteers have stepped up and they go until 9:30, 10 o'clock at night," he said.
In the wake of Sonsini's ousting, the shelter came under tremendous scrutiny. In August, a group of volunteers helping to move Sonsini's property out of the Downing Industrial Park location had sharply criticized the condition of the property. That included City Councilors Christopher Connell and Kevin Morandi.
Those scrutinizing the shelter argued that the property was neglected and that stray dogs were not taken care of properly. The allegations include that the outdoor space was overgrown with weeds and infested with bugs. The volunteers reported that the animals were not being brought outside and that no animal control officer had stopped in all day to check on dogs being sheltered there.
Tyer later took to Facebook refuting the claims calling them "false accusations."
The mayor wrote that the animal control officer goes to the shelter two to three times a day to clean, feed, water, and exercise the animals.
"Since the city assumed management of the shelter in May, a total of 32 dogs have been impounded. Dogs come into our custody either as strays or lost dogs. The animal shelter does not accept surrenders or conduct adoptions. Among this number, here's a more detailed breakout of their time spent at the shelter: 13 dogs have spent less than 24 hours, 11 dogs less than 48 hours, 3 dogs stayed two days and 1 dog stayed for three days. Four dogs stayed for seven days and were then transferred to the Berkshire Humane Society," the mayor wrote.
"Regardless of the duration of time spent at the shelter, all dogs are appropriately and thoughtfully cared for. State law requires that the City of Pittsfield have an animal shelter and we are conducting our shelter in accordance with state law. To further underscore the latter point, in the wake of the recent accusations, the animal control officer reached out to the state's Department of Agricultural Resources, which has jurisdiction over shelters and quality controls, to visit the city's shelter for their own reference. However, in recognition of the animal control officer's longstanding commitment to the animals in the City of Pittsfield, the state noted that they would not be conducting a visit of the shelter."
Those in the Purchasing Department say a decision on the Berkshire Humane Society's proposal will be made public by the end of the week, which is less than the city would legally have to comply with a public records request.
Tyer said three people are considering the proposal during an internal review process.
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