With the sudden exit of Bob Citrullo, executive director of the Hamilton County Humane Society, we should step back and revisit the possibility of combining animal services to better serve the entire community. Never mind that $10 million in general tax revenue has been offered for a proposed facility that will serve only about 40 percent of the county population, an investment of half that amount could support the development of a truly comprehensive animal care campus and program that far exceeds that which will result from two essentially duplicate and competing interests.
Talking with individuals that represent both our local Humane Society and McKamey Animal Center, there seems to be no substantial reason for not combining these two efforts. Early on in the discussion, Humane Society Board Chair Tai Federico was quoted as saying, “It just wouldn’t be a comfortable fit.” Yet, no specific reason is given for why that might be the case. There are some references to real or perceived past actions or slights by individuals on staff or serving on either of the two boards that resulted in hurt feelings. And of course, there is always the unfortunate and silly ego-driven “football rivalry” between the city and county governments that drives each to needlessly duplicate something that the other already has. Yet truthfully, for decades we did have a single provider for animal services before the McKamey center was developed. In fact, McKamey was built because, at the time, the Humane Society insisted on staying with its outdated and dilapidated facility and was reluctant to go against the wishes of its then director, the late Guy Balieu. Accordingly, the McKamey Center was designed and built with the belief that one day the time would be right to recombine the services.
This is that time.
There are other factors to consider. Most important, if a new and larger facility for the Humane Society is built how then will it be staffed and supported? The new facility will most certainly require a larger operational budget, but there are no proposed plans or projections for required annual funding. When asked, one member of the county commission admitted that they have not received a business plan for the proposed new facility even though such plans are routinely required before consideration of a commitment of county funds. This is a very important point that should be addressed before any checks are written.
The McKamey Center is situated on a site that can be easily expanded. The more expensive surgical and isolation suites are already in place and trained professional veterinary personnel are already on staff. The property owned by the Humane Society (located only a stone’s throw away) could be designed and developed as a companion “park like” facility that can better fulfill the “education” purpose that is an oft-cited but, sadly, somewhat neglected purpose for both organizations.
Boards of the two organizations can be combined. Architectural designs can be redrawn and merged. Names on plaques and structures and other such extraneous issues can be accommodated. Hurt feelings can be assuaged and ridiculous rivalries can be resolved. The point is that now is the time to act before it’s too late and we find ourselves once again waiting years or decades for just such and opportunity to come around again.