New era: Two tapped to lead animal shelter


Tammy Davis, left, and Cara Ledbetter will team up to run the animal shelter starting next month. Photo by Jeff Keeling

By Jeff Keeling

For an example of how much difference a mid-stream change in approach can make, look no further than the Washington County-Johnson City Animal Control Board (ACB) search for an executive director. After more than a half year filled with frustration as they searched for a replacement for the retiring Debbie Dobbs, ACB members opted in August to split the role into two positions. Within just a few weeks of that adjustment, board members had unanimous choices for both executive director (Cara Ledbetter) and operations manager (Tammy Davis).

Ledbetter and Davis didn’t know one another prior to being selected from among two and three finalists, respectively. But they seemed to be getting on well and ready to hit the ground running during a brief, informal Labor Day get-together with ACB chairman Gary McAllister.

Ledbetter will leave an eight-year run as local director of the American Cancer Society (ACS) when she comes on board Oct. 1. Davis will leave a stint of equal duration at Appalachian Animal Hospital when she starts her duties a few days earlier.

They come in to a year-old shelter on North Roan Street that is much larger and better equipped than the one Dobbs labored in for more than 20 years. Their objectives? Continue to increase adoption rates and decrease euthanasia rates, which have improved markedly since the new shelter opened. Increase collaboration with the local Humane Society, and ramp up the shelter’s volunteer base. And raise more money so the shelter can continue to better fulfill its mission.

Ledbetter will take the lead on the fundraising and volunteer front, essentially serving as the face of the animal shelter – a similar role to the one she has at ACS.

The ACS recently underwent structural changes at the national level, Ledbetter said. Those changes greatly broadened the geographic scope of her job, and while the strategy may have been a good one for ACS, it left Ledbetter open to a change.

“This is where all my local connections are, and I want to be able to make a difference locally,” she said. “That’s why I took the job eight years ago with the American Cancer Society, so therefore that’s why I’ve now taken this position. I’m very excited about working with the animal shelter and being able to make a difference on a local level here in the Johnson City area.”

Despite those changes at ACS, though, Ledbetter hadn’t considered the animal shelter opening until the ACB’s decision last month to split the job into two segments.

“When I found out there was going to be a director of operations that would run the day to day operations and I could focus solely on the fundraising aspect and oversight, then I was like, ‘okay, this completely fits my skill set with the management I’m currently doing, and the fundraising and my local connections.”

That’s where Davis comes in. When the board tapped Ledbetter for the executive director position Thursday, they also selected Davis as operations director. Davis comes to the job with a degree in animal sciences and biology (from the University of Tennessee), those eight years at the veterinary office, and more than a decade of retail management experience in between.

“I’m excited to make some changes, work closely with the Humane Society (of Washington County) and make a difference,” Davis said. “The animals are my number one priority. I want to make sure they have a safe, clean environment while they’re there at the shelter. I think it’s very important that we focus on placing the animals in a loving, forever home as quickly as possible and also, obviously, cutting down on the euthanasia rate.”

Davis said she hopes to also implement a method for doing further follow up after animals are adopted to make sure they are doing well in their adopted homes. “I think we can really make a change and that the animals and the entire community can benefit from the things that Cara and I have planned.”

Ledbetter said she will bring years of experience in volunteer recruitment and supervision to her new post. She called the ACS “a volunteer-driven organization,” with roughly 250 volunteers for every staff person. “We have to be volunteer managers, and for the last eight years I’ve learned how to motivate, how to encourage, all of those things with volunteers.”

Ledbetter also supervised eight staff and oversaw a budget at the ACS, but that budget came down from the national level with specific directives. She’ll have more decision-making authority at the shelter, and a broader degree of expense categories. But she said the current budget “is working for the amount of money that they have.

“I think Tammy and I will look at what needs to be improved and where we will move some money around to use the budget more efficiently.”

Ultimately, though, it is very much the budget that will be Ledbetter’s concern. “The whole thought behind this is that we will be able to raise enough money to make big changes, that I would be able to cover my own salary multiple times with the amount of fundraising that we have the opportunity to do at the animal shelter, because that hasn’t been done before.”

Both women said they’ll lean on existing staff to help them integrate smoothly into their roles. McAllister said the ACB is “very excited” about the pair coming to work for the shelter.

“With their enthusiasm and what they bring to the shelter, I think it’s going to be fantastic moving forward,” he said.


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