Walk into the kennel area at Greenhill Humane Society and you are struck by two things: First, the hopefulness and worry on the furry faces of dogs, from Chihuahuas to huskies, looking for forever homes, and second, the loudness of the barking and yelping echoing off the cement walls.
The kennels at First Avenue Shelter, the public shelter run by Greenhill, are no better off. The county shelter was built in the ’70s, and Greenhill’s kennels were constructed in the 1950s, according to Greenhill Executive Director Cary Lieberman. Both are loud and not conducive to happy, calm dogs that will attract forever homes.
Both kennels run by Greenhill — one private, one public — are in need of being replaced, and funds are needed to replace them. And that is causing some controversy among animal advocates. Greenhill took over running the First Avenue Shelter (formerly Lane County Animal Services), which houses animals for the cities of Eugene and Springfield as well as Lane County, in the summer of 2012.
Lieberman says that four years ago, Greenhill hired Animal Arts, the same firm the county used in a 2005 study to look at its own kennel because, he says, the firm was familiar with its community and its needs. The cost for a new kennel at Greenhill at that time was estimated at $8 million, not including the land, which Greenhill already owns.
Greenhill sits on 20 acres west of Eugene. Its most recent large renovation was a new cattery, front office and care area in 2000.
Lane County had looked into a new shelter in 2005 and again in 2010, at a cost of about $6 million, but the plan never came to fruition. Last month, 11 long-time First Avenue volunteers signed onto a letter again calling for a new shelter, citing problems from weather issues to overcrowding.
First Avenue volunteer Misha English spoke about the shelter before the Eugene City Council March 9. She said in her public comments that “the county, along with the cities of Springfield and Eugene, may soon be asked to consider a proposal whereby the First Avenue Shelter is merged with Greenhill shelter into a new shelter built on Greenhill’s private land.” She said, “I believe that this plan would be ill-advised” and cited concerns such as the question of who would own the building and whether taxpayers would be asked to pad the contract with extra “administrative monies” to offset the cost of the new building.
English also said to the City Council that “the option of a public shelter needs to be fully vetted and the process should be transparent.”
Lane County Spokesman Trevor Steele says the county is continuing to increase its transparency, and when another contract is finalized with Greenhill, it will be publically available, as the last contract was. He adds that the contract with Greenhill has allowed for “economies of scale” and made things more efficient.
Steele says that as much as the county wants to help its “four-legged friends and wants to make sure they are well cared for and wants to make sure animal services is still working,” the county doesn’t have the money for capital improvements to the shelter.
He says if Greenhill wants to expand its own shelter “that’s really Greenhill’s thing. It’s not our property. We are not involved if a contractor expands its own facility on its own property.”
Lieberman says when Greenhill previously looked into building a new shelter, it was only able to identify $3 million in funds, far less than the $10-$12 million it now estimates it would cost for a new shelter that would meet the community’s needs. He says, “I’m not sure there is the money to build two shelters in this community.” He says he also would be concerned about the city and county spending money to build a new shelter but then not having the money to operate it.
Another issue critics have is that while Greenhill has the land for expansion, the humane society is several miles from the city center, where the unhoused and those who lack transportation would have difficulty accessing public animal services. Lieberman says Greenhill hopes to be innovative and perhaps look into options such a vans or shuttles.
Lieberman says that at this point there is no “serious conversation” about a new shelter, but ideally that will happen in the next two years because “we need it and First Avenue Shelter needs it.”
Greenhill critics, No Kill Lane County, recently engaged the nonprofit in a legal battle over public records. The Lane County District Attorney’s Office ruled, “Greenhill/First Avenue is a private entity that is the functional equivalent of a public body to the extent that Greenhill/First Avenue contracts with local governments to provide ‘animal sheltering’ services.”
Lieberman, who has maintained that the shelter is transparent, says Greenhill is in discussions with counsel over appealing the ruling as it sets a precedent for other nonprofits engaged in contracts with public agencies.