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Animal Shelter Privatization Success in Kansas City

Leonard Gilroy
February 9, 2010, 1:54pm

Last year I reported that Kansas City was privatizing its animal shelter to achieve three important goals: lower costs, increase pet adoptions and reduce the number of pets euthanized. Nearly one year in, the Kansas City Star checks in on the privatization, and it's obvious that there's been tremendous success in achieving each of those goals:

At the Kansas City animal shelter, perhaps nothing shows the transformation more starkly than this: The gas costs for the crematoriums have plummeted.

Kansas City used to spend more than $100,000 each year euthanizing and disposing of as many as 5,000 homeless cats and dogs. Now, the shelter at 4400 Raytown Road spends less than half that amount. In December, the shelter euthanized only 11 adoptable dogs.

From the facility’s appearance to the staff’s passion for putting animals in adoptive homes, almost everything has changed since veterinarian R. Wayne Steckelberg took over the shelter’s management from the city March 1. [...]

In the switch, there were unexpected complications involving everything from the phone and computer systems to the number of farm animals the shelter gets.

The results have made it worthwhile. "This is a great, great first step," said Councilwoman Cindy Circo, who last year led the effort to privatize the shelter, hoping to decrease costs, increase adoptions and reduce the killing of unwanted pets. [...]

From March 1 to Dec. 31, the shelter took in 6,700 animals, down from 7,027 in the same period in 2008 and down from more than 10,000 from the same period in 2006. The shelter increased adoptions from about 100 per month in 2008 to more than 300 per month by the end of 2009, and it has returned more impounded animals to their owners.

Steckelberg said that some animals are too old or sick to be adopted and must be put to sleep. Still, the euthanasia rate for all animals at the shelter dropped 30 percent in March through December, compared with the same period in 2008. The adoption rate of suitable dogs reached 95 percent in December, but the adoption rate for suitable cats — about 65 percent — remains a challenge.

Read the whole piece for more details on what seems to be shaping up as a great privatization success. King County, Washington has taken similar steps.

Local policymakers elsewhere should question the wisdom of hiring public employees (with attached public pensions and OPEB benefit obligations) to operate animal shelters when private companies and nonprofits have proven that they can perform this task at a higher level of service and at a lower cost.


Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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