By Sarah Colson
Last week, Debbie Dobbs, director of the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Center announced her retirement as of Jan. 14, 2016. With more than 22 years of experience in that position and with a newly opened shelter as of June 27, the Animal Control Board wasted no time convening a meeting last Saturday to discuss next steps.
“Debbie did a lot over the years,” said County Commissioner and ACB member Joe Grandy in an interview with News & Neighbor prior to the meeting. “She directed the capacity of that shelter in an amazing way. Now today, to take it to the next level, I think the shelter director is going to need to have fundraising skills because there are always additional needs for the shelter.”
Some of those additional needs, according to Grandy, will involve going out into the community to lead events aimed at lowering euthanasia rates, largely events advocating spaying and neutering and the newer phenomena of fostering animals.
“Before the new shelter, 70 percent were just euthanized because there wasn’t an outlet to deal with their numbers,” Grandy said. “Where we are today, with efforts by the humane society, a lot of these animals that would have been killed just because they didn’t have the space, are finding homes and families. The whole feel of the building is community-oriented. That’s what I think the community expects from the shelter.”
While that all sounds great, Grandy said that in order to ensure those positive things continue to happen, the board is going to need more people than the animal shelter is able to employ. Grandy said he hopes the board will consider hiring someone experienced in fundraising to offset those costs. Top priority at the moment, however, and the main agenda of Saturday’s meeting was to specify exactly what type of director the board will hire.
“First, we do need to have an understanding of what realistically we can afford to pay a new director,” Mayor Ralph Van Brocklin said. “You’ve got to understand that before you start bringing people in.”
The question was raised next whether to hire someone whose primary concern would be fundraising, or whose primary concern would be the daily operations of a shelter of this capacity. The former shelter only had 20 kennels. Today’s has 148.
“In an ideal world, with the way this organization has grown, we need a business manager,” City Manager Pete Peterson said, “somebody that can manage, supervise, raise money, coordinate people, handle public relations. I say often, I don’t need a firefighter to be a fire chief. I need someone who can run a $13 million business; it’s the same way with the police department, same way with the animal shelter. You really need a businessperson if you can afford it.”
Still, for Dobbs, a major concern with that business plan is the lack of experience the board may get from a director who has never worked in an animal shelter.
“I think with the staff that you have here right now and the experience of some of the staff members, they would help that person with the non-experience,” she said. “Still, I would like to see someone in here that has either veterinary experience or veterinary tech experience so they’ll understand what goes on here.”
While there are some on staff to help with any lack of experience the new director might have, Dobbs pointed out that the senior animal control officer, who reports directly to her will also be retiring soon. When Van Brocklin asked what would need to be done as far as staffing goes in order to ensure the support of the new director, Dobbs said one of the most important pieces will be a competitive salary to “keep the good people” where they are.
Considering salaries at the shelter and within the ACB are based on the size of the community, Van Brocklin said their salaries so far are “reasonably ball park.”
Another consideration the board discussed was the uniqueness of the relationship between the shelter and the ACB.
“Most municipalities are separate,” Dobbs said. “The animal control law enforcement end of it usually works under the sheriff’s department or the police department. Our organization since 1985 has been unique because we’re together.”
The new director, then, will need a foot in both worlds. Peterson suggested that a director with sharp business management skills will be ideal considering two organizations working as one.
“At other shelters, the director is doing everything from shoveling fertilizer, to signing payroll, to cutting ribbons,” he said. “I think it’s pretty common from what I’ve seen that the directors have really been operations people, it’s like an operating officer. We may be out there on the leading edge with the business model we’re sitting here talking about this morning. But you get the right person in here that can work the community, work the volunteers, they can generate enough money to offset, perhaps, any additional positions we may need.”
In the meantime, the board will be working hard in the next two weeks on a job description draft. They will reconvene on Nov. 9 to set in stone any job description details. After that, they will advertise the position and as Grandy put it, “see what we get.”
As for Dobbs, the board said she will be missed and the love and compassion she has for the animals is evidenced through her 14-year long efforts of opening up the new shelter.
“She’s worked tirelessly to make this new facility a reality,” Grandy said. “She has been an incredible asset in managing the animals of Washington County.”