Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

Saving Fido: A Case in the Privatization of Local Animal Control Services

Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

Saving Fido: A Case in the Privatization of Local Animal Control Services

Article excerpt


Over the past twenty years, public/private partnerships have been a growing method for delivery of local government services, particularly in the area of utilities. Such partnerships frequently succeed in measures of service quality, cost containment and innovative service provision. This case reviews the strengths and limitations of partnering when a third partner, a nonprofit entity, is added to the partnership mix and when the locus of service moves beyond traditional municipal government services. Through a multi-sectoring partnership dedicated to municipal animal control services, the elements of and impediments to successful partnering are studied. Despite early success of the partnership in increasing pet adoptions and decreasing animal euthanasia, the partnership studied in this case ultimately failed. The contributing factors to the partnership's demise are identified and include inattention to strong contractual obligations, mutual accountability, and mission and goal alignment, as well as limited communication and an ambiguous governance structure. Lessons for future multi-sectoral partnering arrangements are offered.

Keywords: privatization, multi-sector partnering, local government services, animal control, public/private partnerships


In municipal markets across the U.S., collaborative community approaches to address the problem of stray and homeless animals are being tested. Pilot programs have been attempted which team public, private and nonprofit players in the interest of meeting citizen expectations for humane, yet cost-effective animal control methods and improving outcomes for animals. Anecdotal evidence indicates the early promise of such approaches. Judged by measures of animal adoption and euthanasia, such partnerships have performed better than traditional government models of response to animal control (Gilroy, 2010).

This article examines the strengths and limitations of multi-sector partnering in delivering municipal government services through the experiences of one such collaborative program operating in a mid-western city with a population of approximately 500,000. In 2009, in the midst of an economic downturn, the city made a decision to privatize its municipal animal shelter. After a three-month bidding process, the City Council approved an ordinance that called for paying a private sector firm $101,333 a year with five, one-year renewal options to operate its beleaguered facility and operation (Lambert, 2009).

The shelter reopened its doors under a new name and combined its public mandate of animal control, with private sector veterinary management expertise and the resources and capacities of an associated nonprofit organization. This partnership of public, private and nonprofit entities, was created on the belief that combining of resources, expertise, and personnel was not only a viable concept, but offered the potential for a dramatic improvement in government response to the public interest concern of controlling and caring for stray and homeless animal populations. However, balancing the various interests and orientations of the three sectors in carrying out the shelter's mission presented an array of complications and tensions. The challenges the partners have faced in attempting to resolve conflicting methods and missions is instructive to other multi-sector partnerships addressing a variety of public interest concerns.

The literature is replete with studies examining the forms, functions and outcomes of governmental privatization (Johnson and Walzer, 2000; Sclar, 2000; Savas, 2000, Warner and Hebdon, 2001). According to Brooks (2004, p. 467), "The term privatization is generally associated with private sector production of services previously produced by a government unit. The most common reason cited for privatizing services is to reduce the size and cost of government." Brooks cites common applications in privatization of governmental services as involving "airport operations, data processing, fleet or vehicle maintenance, hospitals, parking lots or garages, public safety or corrections, residential solid waste collection and/or disposal, transit or transportation, water and wastewater utilities, and vehicle towing or storage. …

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