Bisbee residents organize against animal shelter closure

By Grace Lieberman

Friends of Bisbee Animal Shelter and Bisbee residents are pushing back on the city manager’s decision to close their no-kill animal rescue. 

Bisbee’s city manager Theresa Coleman, with the backing of Mayor David Smith, fired the administrators of the town’s animal shelter effective November 30. 

According to workers at the shelter, this decision came with no notice to the city council and followed two other unilaterally created animal ordinances from Coleman that they called “regressive.” 

In June, the shelter was informed that their contract with the city would not be renewed due to the loss of sales tax income from COVID-19. They were then put on a month-to-month plan with the city and in September they were told that the procurement process for their agreement with the city was not done properly and that the city would need to release a request for proposal (RFP) for the shelter to then bid on. 

Kelly Galligan, who heads Friends of Bisbee Animal Shelter, said the RFP the city released was totally different from the organization of the shelter’s operations. The proposal only accounted for around 60 of the 517 animals rescued by the shelter through the year and only offered the legally required minimum cost per animal. The proposal also required a facility for bids when the shelter had been using the city facility and does not own it. 

Because the proposal was so different from the shelter’s reality, the group tried to ask for a flat fee again but their negotiations were considered “non responsive” as they did not respond to a specific aspect of the RFP’s demands. The shelter received a notice Oct. 28 that stated they will no longer receive funding from the city along with their last check from them. 

“They created a sand trap with this RFP, and then when we said ‘we can't really answer this properly’ they said, look we’re not responding, we won’t cooperate,” Galligan said.

A city council meeting will be held Tuesday Nov. 17 where the matter will be up for discussion and the council must vote to extend three months of emergency funding to the shelter. This meeting will also be the last before the instatement of a new mayor and once new council member.

Galligan said this was a unilateral decision made without the input of the city council and the community. She said that the shelter has immense community support and assists not only the local population but shelters and animals from nearby towns as well. 

In addition to adoptions and rescues, the shelter also operates a free public dog park, a volunteer-run retail store, a volunteer foster program as well as a program to spay and neuter stray animals to keep the stray animal population under control. Galligan said these services working together are all essential to running a no kill shelter. 

“Like a Jenga game, you can't just start pulling out the pieces without affecting the whole,” Galligan said. 

Galligan also said that the quality they have achieved with their shelter is from years of fundraising and organizing to transform a previously underfunded and strained system.

“The whole community has worked to build the shelter to where it is,” Galligan said. “So my point is that if we're going to radically change the way the shelter is run, it should be done with proper input from the community, and not just defunded unilaterally by a city manager who has never visited the animal shelter.” 

Galligan said the entire process has been confusing and until Tuesday’s council meeting, the fate of the shelter is totally unclear. 

“I feel like there's a big chunk of the story that I’m missing and I don't know what it is,” Galligan said.

Friends of Bisbee Animal Shelter is hosting a rally on Sunday in support of the shelter. The group will meet at Grassy Park and walk down Main Street, attendees are encouraged to wear face masks but also to dress up in costumes and bring signs. Galligan hopes this rally will show the city that Bisbee residents do not support the defunding.

“It's just it's just not what the community wants, and I think that will be apparent on Sunday when all the freaks put on their cat costumes and walk on Main Street,” Galligan said.

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