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City alters standards for animal behaviorist position but fills several others

Friday, November 19, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

Helping the city move forward with its no-kill animal services implementation plan and the construction of the new Levander Loop Shelter, set to open in November, 2011, staff announced this week the filling of several positions crucial to the completion of Animal Service goals and the expanding of the search to fill another.


At Tuesday’s meeting of the Council’s Public Health and Human Services Subcommittee, acting Animal Services Officer Filip Gecic told members that since their last meeting in October, staff had made progress on 11 of the 34 recommendations related to the implementation plan to increase live animal outcomes – the so-called “no-kill” ordinance. Gecic said that included the expansion of the shelter’s foster care program, the utilization of new emergency care funds, and the addition of a day of free animal sterilization services.


On the personnel side, Gecic said, the city filled four Animal Services positions this week but is still in the process of finding an animal behaviorist, the role many consider most important for reducing shelter intake and moving Austin toward no-kill status. The Council established the position in March as part of the no-kill implementation plan, but staff has found it difficult finding qualified candidates willing to take the job at its current $74,366 salary.


At last month’s subcommittee meeting, Gecic said, “Our sense is that it’s not paying enough … We have some experts in town but they were not interested in applying. It wasn’t meeting what they were making as private trainers and behaviorists.” (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 22, 2010.)


At Tuesday’s meeting, however, Gecic said that since the city reposted the position earlier this month — at the same salary — several qualified candidates have applied for the job, including a few Austinites and one internal candidate already working for the shelter.  


So, why the change? Gecic told In Fact Daily that the city had lowered the qualifications for the position. Initially, the city was demanding that applicants have a college degree in animal behaviorism; now they only need a college degree and experience and proficiency as an animal behaviorist. “We still require a college education but we’re not requiring a degree in animal behaviorism anymore because a lot of people who are good and proficient in this area take up this career later and are very good at the job, despite not having a degree in animal behavior,” Gecic said. “There are a lot of behaviorists that don’t have the degree and therefore didn’t originally qualify for the position.”


Larry Tucker, chair of the Animal Advisory Commission and vocal advocate for the no-kill implementation plan, told In Fact Daily that he trusted that the city was doing their best to find a behaviorist, regardless of the change in qualifications. “For myself, as long as they are using other mechanisms to screen and make sure they’re getting good candidates then I personally would be okay with (getting rid of the degree requirement),” he said.


Gecic said the city will begin the next round of interviews for the animal behaviorist position in early December.


As for those positions that have been filled, a city public information official confirmed Thursday that the city had hired a new lead veterinarian technician, Nancy LaHaye, who will perform in-house sterilization surgeries. The position combines two part-time vet tech positions at a salary of $60,590. Meanwhile, Megan Nehls was offered and accepted a full-time vet tech position. Her job will be to “provide additional capacity for treating injured/ill animals that are candidates for re-homing or returning to their original homes.” A part-time veterinarian position to complement this job was offered contingent on a background check.


The city also hired Michelle Dosson in an outreach capacity to help the Spay Street Program, a neighborhood intervention program that targets at-risk breeds. That job comes with a $65,000 salary. Finally, Erik Victory was hired at a salary of $39,891 to work in a customer-service capacity in the shelter’s owner surrender evaluation program. Now that the shelter no longer uses night-drop boxes and will no longer be accepting on-the-spot drop-off of owned animals, all owners considering relinquishment of a pet will be required to schedule an appointment for an evaluation of their animal.  


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