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Animal lovers express disapproval over City Council’s decision to end contract with Cheyenne Animal Shelter

In a newsletter to the community last week, Mayor Patrick Collins wrote that CAS's rising financial requests from the city is the main reason the council is cutting ties.

Dr. Tessha Winsch, medical director for the Cheyenne Animal Shelter, during the council's March 13 meeting / Zoom Screenshot.

CHEYENNE, Wyo. — Local animal lovers are not happy about the Cheyenne Cty Council’s recent decision to discontinue its contract with the Cheyenne Animal Shelter for the next fiscal year.

In a newsletter to the community last week, Mayor Patrick Collins wrote that CAS’s rising financial requests from the city are the main reason the council is cutting ties.

The current contract pays the CAS $800,000 per year to serve as the city and Laramie County’s designated open intake shelter, according to a March 9 Facebook post by CAS.

With rising inflation and employment expenses, providing these services costs an excess of $1.3 million. 

The governing body decided the CAS’s request would not be an “appropriate expenditures of tax dollars,” Collins wrote.

The city plans to develop its own metro-animal shelter with a medical director on staff and other full-time employees. That shelter would operate at a lower cost than budgeted by the CAS, according to Collins’s letter.

The contract expires June 30 and the shelter will provide services as normal until then. The item will be discussed at the Finance Committee’s March 20 meeting and brought before the council for action on March 27.

For more than an hour on Monday, CAS shelter staff and concerned residents implored the council to reconsider.

Emilee Intlekofer, executive director of Black Dog Animal Rescue, asked the council how it plans to provide stray animals at the metro-shelter with basic comfort and care.

She also wonders what her staff will do if the rescue center fills up with animals the CAS cannot provide for.

“What should my organization tell your constituents when they call in tears or stand in our lobby berating my staff out of frustration because they need to surrender a pet,” she said during the meeting. “I don’t believe that any of you would intentionally want an animal to suffer. … The stance you’ve taken suggests otherwise.”

Cheyenne resident Chelsey Fletcher said she worked for 15 years in animal welfare services, including shelter management. Operating a shelter is challenging work, Fletcher said, and the community will be negatively impacted if the city fails to do so.

“The work is tremendously challenging, not just from the financial side, which is always hard, but it’s a huge emotional toll on your staff and community when you can’t meet those demands,” she said during the meeting.

Residents also wanted to know how the city would tackle animal hoarding cases without the CAS.

In April 2022, Cheyenne animal control officers rescued 64 dogs, a “handful” of cats and 13 miscellaneous birds from an “unsafe situation” and transported them to the CAS, according to a city news release.

Bethany Jacob, a volunteer at CAS and a foster dog parent, said the city can’t manage a similar case without the shelter’s assistance, and vice versa.

“I believe if the city pulls funding, the city [and the CAS] will not be able to handle hoarding situations like this,” she said.

As a resident and taxpayer, Jacob said she is “happy” to have her tax dollars go toward the CAS.

Finally, Dr. Tessha Winsch, medical director for the animal shelter, said CAS staff work hard to maintain the shelter and always manage to “come through” for the animals and community. Their work, she said, can’t be replicated by a metro-shelter.

“Starting in a new building means leaving behind accumulated knowledge and support and momentum that we have built towards improving animal welfare in the community,” she said. “It’s a huge step back and a waste of resources.”

After the public comments, Councilmember Richard Johnson said he was upset at how the CAS and concerned residents responded to the news.

Johnson, who serves on the Cheyenne Animal Shelter Board, said people try to make the city and the shelter “villains of each other,” which creates a “hostile work environment.”

“I want everybody to put their ego aside so we can actually focus on our jobs as City Council and as an animal shelter board and actually protect what we actually all care about, and that is the animals,” he said during the meeting. “The animals aren’t the ones talking about financial impacts on the city and the shelter; it’s human beings, and I think we forget that.”

Councilmember Ken Esquibel said he wished residents would channel their energy and care for maintaining the animal shelter contract into advocating for other social issues.

Esquibel specifically referred to the recent Legislative session, where he noticed “a tenth of the number of people in the room” urging lawmakers to expand on health and family services.

“It kind of comes in my mind that we are more passionate about animals then we are of people,” he said during the meeting.