While the City of Utica may have finalized a deal with a new animal shelter to take in and handle the stray or lost animals found on city streets, the battle between the mayor's office and Anita's Stevens Swan Humane Society seems to be ongoing.

For a long time, neither party was quick to release any public statement or give any public information on the matter, however now that their deal is essentially dead both parties have been extremely vocal. The City of Utica Mayor Michael Galime was the first to strike in the war of words.

Galime's office released a statement last week that accused the humane society, a longtime partner of the city, of "abandoning their mission of caring for dogs." Galime claims that since February 15th, 2024 any dog that was found in Utica and dropped off to the shelter, either by a private citizen or city officials, was turned away at the door. Galime also stated that this was done despite thousands of dollars of investment made to help Anita's Stevens Swan.

Well, Anita's Stevens Swan Humane Society released a statement of their own. On Thursday, June 13th, 2024 an open letter to Mayor Michael Galime was published on the shelter's website. The letter claimed Galime's statement was "false and disingenuous." In the letter, Shelter Board of Directors President Anita Vitullo writes,

The statement in your June 13 press release is false and disingenuous given what Anita’s Stevens Swan Humane Society (A-SSHS) officers have discussed with you and proposed as a responsible and humane approach to Utica’s stray animal services.

One of the claim's Vitullo pushes back on is the issue of funding. In the last two city budgets, the City of Utica allocated $250,000 to go to Anita's Stevens Swan Humane Society to help cover the costs associated with taking care of approximately 1,000 animals per year. Vitullo says that amount "falls woefully short of A-SSHS actual costs to care for the animals."

Vituallo states that in 2021 the cost for the shelter to take care of the city's animals was closer to $900,000 and almost led to the closing of the shelter. Those type of losses would be unacceptable to any organization and Vitullo was sure to emphasize that point.

In the letter to Galime, Vitullo also pushed back on his claim that Anita's "abandoned their mission to care for dogs. Vitullo writes,

...we did not abandon our mission, we lost a bid when you decided to look at other options. It was your decision not to accept ASSHS’s contract rates that were offered to all municipalities within our service region, and instead, cut the approved $250,000 budget by half. Other municipalities have accepted the ASSHS contract.

Finally, Vitullo says Galime's claim that all animals found and turned in originating from the City of Utica is patently false. Vitullo responds in her letter by stating,

...since February 19, even though our partnership has ceased, we have continued to subsidize care for the City of Utica animals, that the city of Utica has refused, including 131 cats/kittens and 16 dogs/puppies.

Vitullo also questions the entire approach being taken by the city in dealing with an ongoing problem that will never go away and that is the existence of stray animals in the city. Vitullo believes that the new approach by utilizing the services of a smaller shelter with less resources does not help the problem, but will only exacerbate it. She says the only solution to the problem is proper collaboration.

The claim is that the city's reduction in funding and reduction in animal services are a grave concern. Vitullo poses the following questions to the city.

  1. How will a smaller shelter manage the large number of animals from Utica? ASSHS has been managing 1,000 to 1,500 animals every year for the City of Utica.
  2. Is there a contingency plan for overflow with other shelters?
  3. How many dogs will potentially be euthanized due to an inadequate stray management program?
  4. Who will care for Utica resident-owned surrendered dogs and cats?
  5. Who will care for stray, sick, or injured animals found by Utica residents?

Vitullo concluded her letter by asking for professionalism and respect for the organization that has been around for over 100 years. She closes the letter by writing,

We also expect to be treated respectfully and professionally. As a 113-year-old organization and the largest lifesaving, non-profit animal shelter in Oneida County, ASSHS provides thorough and humane care for our community’s animals – a commitment that is core to our mission and was reflected in our proposal.

The ongoing saga will likely continue. Let's see how Galime responds to this letter.

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