Wednesday, July 31, 2019 by Jessi Devenyns

Animal advocates call for redo of animal services officer hiring process

With a nearly $14 million budget and 15,843 animals coming through its doors last year, the Austin Animal Center has worked hard to achieve the title of the nation’s largest “no-kill” shelter.

However, animal advocates are worried that the finalist candidates for the chief animal services officer position will undo the work that has been done to attain this title.

“In our opinion, if either one of those candidates get in … that is cause for concern,” Larry Tucker, the previous chair of the Austin Animal Advisory Commission, told the Austin Monitor.

Tucker said he is not the only one who is concerned. “There are a lot of people, including Ryan Clinton (a current member of the Animal Advisory Commission), that are really wanting this process to be stopped and reevaluated.”

Another voice pushing for reconsideration of the hiring process is Dr. Ellen Jefferson, the executive director of Austin Pets Alive!, who in a blog post last week said both finalists “lack experience in organizing and operating a government facility or staff or volunteer or foster roster of this size.”

Linda Cadotte and Don Bland are the two candidates in the running to replace Kimberly McNeeley, who has been serving as interim chief animal services officer since Lee Ann Shenefiel left in January.

Bland is the executive director of the Humane Society of Central Texas while Cadotte is the director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry in Superior, Wisconsin.

Tucker told the Monitor that the candidates’ backgrounds and responses during a public question-and-answer forum raised concerns with him and other community members. During the forum, Cadotte reportedly said she would make the “hard decisions,” which according to Tucker, “is code for killing” in the animal services world.

He said Bland does not have an adequate pedigree to run a no-kill facility as large as Austin’s, as he oversees a shelter with “a high kill rate.” Last month’s euthanasia rate at the Humane Society of Central Texas was 19 percent of total intake.

Austin aims to have a 90 percent or more save rate. This was a resolution adopted in 2011 by City Council. In March of this year, City Council raised the no-kill benchmark from 90 to 95 percent.

Council Member Leslie Pool, who sponsored the increase in the no-kill benchmark, told the Monitor that when city animal advocates presented their concerns about the hiring process to her, “I found their concerns to have merit.” One of the major concerns that the community presented to her was the uncertainty of the candidates’ commitment to a 95 percent no-kill rate.

“We need a strong leader who has experience pushing the envelope upward on a no-kill rate,” said Council Member Pool.

To address those concerns, she contacted the city manager to ask that the announcement about hiring be delayed in order for animal advocates to talk through the selection with city management.

Other candidates who were identified during the process did resonate with the city’s animal advocates. Tucker pointed to Paula Powell, the interim director of Animal Services for the city of El Paso, and Lauralei Combs, who previously worked for Austin Animal Center for 17 years and was involved in the implementation of no-kill policies, as candidates who were overlooked during the process.

The city, however, seems confident in its approach to the hiring process and the candidates who have been selected. David Green, a spokesman for the city, emailed the Monitor a statement that said after a nationwide search, “The city of Austin is proud of the final two candidates and knows that both of them are seasoned public service professionals with a passion for animal care. We’re confident that the successful final candidate will lead Austin Animal Services programs and initiatives into the future.”

Photo by SteelMaster Buildings made available through a Creative Commons license.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin Animal Shelter: This shelter is the official shelter of the city of Austin, opened in 2011. It is located in East Austin on Levander Loop.

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