Huntington town officials are weighing the pros and cons of a change of leadership at Grateful Paw Cat Shelter, but some volunteers fear their minds are already made up.
The town board voted 4-1 to schedule a public hearing on Little Shelter Animal Rescue taking over operation of the town-owned cat shelter for Dec. 13 at 7 p.m. at town hall.
Little Shelter was one of two organizations who responded to the Oct. 3 town’s request for proposals (RFP) by those looking to operate the shelter. The RFP is for a five-year contract to operate the cat shelter starting January 2018, undertaking the responsibilities of taking in and caring for any stray and displaced cats; emergency pickup of stray cats in the town; operating a trap, neuter and release program for feral cats; and facilitating cat adoptions by residents.
David Ceely, executive director of Little Shelter, believes his nonprofit’s experience as an independent no-kill shelter makes the company qualified for the job.
“We handle a lot of the emergencies, particularly the cat emergencies in Huntington already,” he said. “We think that facility has so much more potential. We would like to maximize the potential that facility has and represent the Town of Huntington.”
While Little Shelter has never had a formal business agreement with the town, according to Ceely, the nonprofit has informally worked to pull dogs from its town shelter to alleviate overcrowding and help prevent euthanasia due to lack of space.
The other application was submitted Nov. 3 by League of Animal Protection of Huntington, according to its president Debbie Larkin, who has run the nonprofit shelter for more than 40 years.
“I’d like to hope every council member and the departing supervisor had the chance to read through the proposals carefully,” Larkin said. “I hope that this response to the RFP was not an exercise in futility for us and their minds were already made up.”
The two responses were reviewed by a five-person panel comprised of representatives from the town attorney’s office and Department of Public Safety, according to town spokesman A.J.Carter. The applications were evaluated based on criteria outlined in the RFP: proof of not-for-profit 501(c)(3) status in good standing; sufficient employees/volunteers to operate the facility; plans for emergency cat pickup; adoption applicant criteria; breakdown of medical services provided for adopted cats; and submission of the past two years of shelter records and IRS 990 tax filings showing a not-for-profit status. Based on these criteria, the panel found Little Shelter to be the “successful, responsive and responsible proposer.”
Councilwoman Tracey Edwards (R) was the only board member who voted against scheduling a public hearing on Little Shelter taking control of the cat shelter come January. Edwards said she is in favor of the town signing a contract with LAP.
“We were going to award the contract before to the [League of Animal Protection],” she said. “Now that they got their 501(c)(3) status back retroactively, I think it would have only been fair to give it back to them.”
Town officials first solicited bids from any organization interested in running the cat shelter earlier this spring, after it came to light in April that the LAP had lost its not-for-profit status with the IRS in 2015 but never notified the town. Huntington Attorney Cindy Mangano said the town became aware of this breach of the contractual agreement when drawing up a new document, as the previous agreement expired in December 2016.
At the June 13 town board meeting, council members voted to give LAP an extension until Nov. 30 to regain its not-for-profit status and halting the current RFP process.
The organization’s attorney and accountant were able to get its 501(c)(3) status reinstated by the IRS within five weeks, according to Larkin, and retroactively applied to the date it was lost.
LAP’s president and several of its volunteers called on town officials to make an executive order to immediately approve the contractual agreement previously drawn up this spring at the Aug. 15 board meeting, which would extend the organization’s operation of the cat shelter.
Instead, Supervisor Frank Petrone (R) insisted the town was legally obligated to move forward with the RFP process, otherwise fearing it could run the risk of another interested party taking them into court over the matter.