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City of Oxford Unveils Plans for New $1 Million Animal Resource Center

After months of restructuring following widespread criticism of Oxford’s animal shelter, Mayor Robyn Tannehill and consultant Dr. Sarah Pizano revealed plans for the new Animal Resource Center, which will dedicate $1 million to renovations and community programs to improve animal care in the area, as well as salaries for shelter employees.  

“I want to point out that $1 million is not easy to come by in our city budget; as you can imagine, we don’t have $1 million just sitting around,” Mayor Tannehill said. “This million will mean that there will be other projects that will have to be eliminated, that some of our street paving projects or other things will have to wait. Capital improvements for things like the city pool that desperately needs help will have to wait. But we are committed to funding this animal resource center.” 

The center, which will be housed in the shelter’s current building and will now operate as a city department rather than under contract with a non-profit as in years past, will utilize a new framework that has been proven to improve shelter conditions and animal care across the county, according to Tannehill. These new best practices are focused primarily on building community programs and resource opportunities to keep as many animals as possible out of the shelter, preserving vital resources for those who need it most.  

“We all, empirically no matter where we live in the United States, we are facing the same challenges in animal welfare,” Pizano said. The good news is that the same solutions are effective everywhere, and that’s been such an amazing lesson for me to learn.” 

Pizano, a veterinarian with 30 years of experience in animal shelter advocacy, said the new shelter will view animal care on a wholistic scale to decrease shelter intake and long shelter stays. She is the founder of Team Shelter USA, LLC, which the City entered into contract with last month. 

“You can save twice as many animals in one shelter if you have a short length of stay versus a really long length of stay. We are working through the schematics right now, retrofits are happening that are really exciting, but it’s first and foremost to make sure that we have created humane housing and make sure that it is always balanced so we do not exceed capacity for care. This is the single most important thing in any shelter, anywhere.” 

These new policies will include the removal of stray holds that keep animals in shelter custody for long periods of time, as well as partnerships with local veterinarians to provide widespread spay and neuter access for large populations of community cats. Additionally, the city will provide Animal Peace Officers who will work to connect owners with healthcare and other resources to help pets and their owners on an individual basis.  

“It really is more about education and helping people,” Pizano said. “Of course, if there’s enforcement needed that will happen, but an animal peace officer means, ‘I’m going to see what I can do to help people.’ Of course, there is a place for punitive enforcement action, but we reserve that for true enforcement cases.”  

By mitigating intake, the new center will be able to allocate resources to improve shelter conditions to provide responsible and compassionate care to animals in need.  

“Our goal is to get them out as quickly as possible, and if they are in the shelter, we want it to be like summer camp,” Pizano said. “Enrichment is non-negotiable. They have to have a soft place to lay down. There must be proper sanitation to keep pathogens from building up There have to be things for them to do, outside their kennels as well as for cats, interactive toys in their cages or in their free-roam room, but enrichment is the most important thing to keep animals healthy. Believe it or not, the comfort we give them, the help we give them is what’s going to keep them healthier.”  

In addition to these new policies, Tannehill said the new department is dedicated to radical transparency to rebuild community trust moving forward.  

“Transparency is going to be a top priority for us,” she said. “A lot of the questions that we’ve been asked are quite honestly tied to a lack of trust, and I get that. I want to assure you that the future animal resource center will be totally different form the shelter versus what we’ve seen in the past. We are going to share data regarding intake and adoptions and fosters, we will be transparent with our policies and our procedures. We will follow all state regulations, and we welcome questions from the community and input as we move forward.” 

While there isn’t a firm timeline for the new center’s completion, Tannehill said that renovations on the current shelter space and a hunt for the center’s new director has already begun. 

Community members interested in helping with the new center are encouraged to reach out to cityhall@oxfordms.net 

By Neely Mullen | EAGLE Contributor