March 23, 2023
Ithaca, NY | 40°F


Changes in SPCA funding may end no-kill policy

Low funding for the Tompkins County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) for its animal control services could force the county to hire a municipal shelter that will not practice the association’s “no-kill” policy.
Abigail Smith, executive director of the Tompkins County SPCA, said the county pays $1.76 per capita per year for its services under its contract — less than half of the national average of $4.00 to $6.00. Smith said the SPCA is demanding the board increase its payment for its services from $21,700 a year to $41,400 a year.

Ithaca College sophomore Callie Tresser volunteers with cats yesterday at the Tompkins County SPCA. Tresser is a cat socializer at the center. Max Steinmetz

“Five years ago, the SPCA had funds in its reserves, and, considering the humane treatment of all animals in its mission, we covered the gap,” Smith said, “But I discovered that luxury doesn’t exist. The reserves are gone.”

Since 1987, the SPCA has provided animal control services for the 10 municipalities within Tompkins County under its no-kill policy, which has served as a model for other anti-euthanization SPCAs like those in San Francisco and Philadelphia, Smith said.

If funding demands are not met, Smith said, the SPCA’s contract will be dropped and it will no longer provide animal control services to Tompkins County.

Ithaca College sophomore Callie Tresser, a cat socializer at the SPCA, said dropping the contracts would be a mistake. As it stands now, Tresser says there aren’t enough funds to provide food and resources to all the cats with which she works.

“The fact that [the board isn’t] giving more money [to the cause] is awful and it’s not right,” Tresser said.

Smith said the SPCA’s national mission is the prevention of cruelty to animals. The organization’s objectives include ending overpopulation and providing humane education for the public. Smith said even if the contracts with the county are dropped, the SPCA, which currently takes in about 752 cats and 400 to 500 dogs each year, will continue to serve these primary functions.

Smith said if the municipalities, including Ithaca, Lansing and Dryden, do not comply with the SPCA’s proposed budget, a new vendor will have to provide the animal control function for Tompkins County. This could mean

euthanizing the animals after a standard holding period of five to 30 days. There are few alternatives for the county that will provide animal control services under a no-kill policy, Smith said.

“If the county decides to drop the contracts, they would be eliminating that no-kill policy [that protects these strays],” Smith said. “I can’t imagine [the community wanting that].”

Cathy Valentino, town supervisor of Ithaca, said she thinks if the board decides not to continue the contract with the SPCA, other vendors would work similarly to the SPCA model.

“I think some of the [animal control vendors] that I know are very conscientious about working very hard … for the pets,” Valentino said.

Ithaca College senior Elise Huston, who interned at the SPCA last summer, said she is concerned opening a contract with a new shelter would infringe upon animal rights.

“This could have an … effect on the [entire] community,” Huston said. “I hope that [students] would come forward and speak up for the animals.”

Valentino, who currently works on a subcommittee of the Tompkins County Council of Governments, which represents the municipalities, dedicated to

resolving the issue, said the SPCA’s funding increase would lead to a 2.5 percent rise in city property taxes, which she said might be too high for taxpayers.

William Burbank, a town board member, said the board could cover the costs easily with its fund balance, which is set aside for emergencies like these. He said it would not dramatically alter taxes.

“The [2.5 percent figure] doesn’t make sense,” Burbank said. “If we had to raise taxes, it would be a 1.9 percent increase in property tax … [but] we could raise it from other sources.”

The board’s budget has to be finalized by Nov. 20. Valentino said the committee has proposed a six-month extension to the SPCA but the organization has not complied. Burbank is “confident” that the budget will be configured appropriately before the deadline.

Valentino, who has received letters from community members in support of the SPCA, said the board wants to stick with the SPCA’s services, but it is the board’s responsibility to research other options.

“[We want to try to stay with the SPCA] because of the quality they give us and the reputation they have throughout the nation,” Valentino said regarding the esteemed no-kill policy. “They are an important part of the fabric of our community.”

Though Smith said she is optimistic the issue will be resolved by the start of the new year, she said she is still trying to make community members aware of the animal rights at risk if the SPCA animal control contract is dropped.

“I want [the community members] to know that [the SPCA] did everything we could to try and maintain these contracts and to continue to provide these services,” she said. “I want everyone in the community to have the opportunity to tell their town governments what they want and how they feel.”