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Longtime head of Rochester Animal Services resigns

The Rochester Animal Services Center at 184 Verona St. It's a red brick building with a blue-gray roof. A mural on it features a smiling dog wearing a bandanna and beaming cat. A person with a mixed breed dog is walking by the building.
Rebecca Rafferty
The Rochester Animal Services Center at 184 Verona St.

The city of Rochester will soon be looking for a new director of Rochester Animal Services, the department that operates the Verona Street shelter.

Chris Fitzgerald resigned earlier this week after more than 23 years in the role. During a brief phone conversation Thursday, Fitzgerald said he left the job to pursue a new opportunity.

Fitzgerald is well-known and respected in the animal welfare field, and during his time leading Rochester Animal Services, he established a spay-neuter clinic at Verona Street and positions for a veterinarian and vet techs.

But his departure follows several years of criticism from the advocacy group Voiceless of Verona Street. Some of those criticisms focus on the building, which city officials have said they’d like to replace.

Others have centered on programs launched under Fitzgerald’s tenure, including an initiative to place dogs under the shelter’s care in foster homes. Maggie Cain, a cofounder of Voiceless of Verona Street, said the effort launched without adequate support programs.

The group has also been at odds with Fitzgerald over how Rochester Animal Services handles street cats.

Verona Street uses a “community cats” model for feral, stray, and abandoned cats that it says focuses on trapping, neutering, and vaccinating them, and returning them to the outdoor homes they came from.

Voiceless of Verona Street said the city hasn't put enough resources toward the program and that the work of caring for the cats often falls to volunteer rescue groups with tight budgets. It has argued the model has left cats vulnerable and without shelter, and has created a stray cat crisis in the city.

Cain is optimistic about the shelter’s direction going forward.

"What I'm hoping is that any of the negativity can be left behind, that they can now focus on — really on the animals, on the staffing and making the shelter a better place for the animals and for the community,” Cain said. “And I really do think they're trying to do that.”

Corrected: February 29, 2024 at 7:15 PM EST
This article has been corrected to better reflect Voiceless of Verona Street's criticisms of Rochester Animal Services' "community cats" model.
Jeremy Moule is a deputy editor with WXXI News. He also covers Monroe County.