Less than two weeks ago, Montgomery County took back our shelter. When the new management, employees, and volunteers walked in on the morning of November 7th, my sources tell me that they found a truly disgusting mess waiting for them. The place was filthy. Many of the animals were sick. Records were a shambles. Supplies and equipment were nowhere to be found; much of what could be found was unusable. And the animal population was desperately overcrowded.
The MCAS team went to work. Adoption specials and aggressive social media campaigns moved hundreds of animals into new homes, which helped alleviate some of the overcrowding. Kennels were scrubbed and sanitized – no small task. Volunteers and members of the community showed up with donations. Overnight, the whole atmosphere changed from gloom, resentment, and fear to optimism and determination.
It takes a lot of optimism and determination to run a shelter that takes in over 20,000 animals per year.
There are some in our community who inexplicably believed that the outgoing management was wonderful, and others who are disgruntled because they don’t agree with the specific changes that are being made.
Two things must be acknowledged. First, no change will ever make everyone happy. Second, change of this magnitude takes some time and a lot of work. That said, I want to take the opportunity to celebrate the positive changes in progress.
Yes, it’s true that the county rehired a number of former employees, along with new people and some who had worked there under the outgoing management. We are very lucky that so many knowledgeable people wanted to help rebuild MCAS. One interesting twist in this personnel shift has been the strategic redefining of job descriptions to allow these folks to focus on doing what they’re best at. So while visitors and volunteers may see familiar faces, they are probably doing jobs that are at least somewhat different in scope from their previous incarnations.
My understanding is that the commissioners will be doing a nationwide search for a permanent shelter director. I would also expect some other positions to be added or to change description as the “new MCAS” takes shape.
(Want to know what I would like to see in a new shelter director’s resume? Check out my blog from June 24th: http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/shelter-help-wanted/)
First, the new management team, employees, and volunteers have cleaned and scrubbed and sanitized every surface in the building. The puppy crib has returned to the front office – once deemed a “no animals allowed” space. It took less than two days for the shelter to feel warm and welcoming again.
Second, employees have been taking inventory of all the broken and missing equipment. There were so many equipment problems found when the new team arrived that the shelter veterinarians have been temporarily unable to perform surgeries. For example, the refrigerators used to store vaccines and medications were not working. Employees put out the call, and the community responded. I saw multiple offers to donate refrigerators within hours of the post stating the need.
The commissioners have also acknowledged that the shelter desperately needs improved ventilation and HVAC. Per the commissioners, this work will be done over the course of the winter. The idea is that the cooler weather will allow the county to do the work without putting the animals and employees at risk from heat, which would certainly be the case during most of the year. Since the county is once again responsible for grounds keeping and facilities maintenance, the commissioners have also authorized the ordering of oak trees to help shade the shelter’s dog park.
I have been told by employees and volunteers alike that people were brought to tears by the sheer awfulness of the conditions they found in the first couple of days. And what did they do? They went to work to fix it. I have seen people brainstorming ways to help, rearranging their schedules, bringing home fosters, volunteering their time to clean or bottle feed or do laundry, and offering to donate everything from canned food to clipboards to refrigerators. Pictures have surfaced of volunteers and employees walking around with orphaned puppies snuggled inside their shirts to keep them warm, and pictures of animals in need of immediate foster are once again circulating.
Meanwhile, the first attacks on the new management hit the internet within just a couple of days of the changeover. The unifying theme seems to be that the new management hasn’t made any “real” changes. Apparently these critics expected the new management to waltz in with a magic wand and poof away disease, overcrowding, and all the other inherited problems in the blink of an eye.
Let’s talk reality here: progress is a process.
So what has been accomplished in less than two weeks?
The layers of filth have been scrubbed away.
Sick animals are being treated as best as they can be with what’s on hand.
Equipment and supplies are being ordered and will arrive soon. Some items have been donated and are already in place.
New procedures and education to prevent the spread of any illnesses are being implemented.
Animals will even be titer tested, a lifesaving “luxury” that is practically unheard of in shelter medicine.
Networking has been restored.
Goodwill and teamwork are re-emerging in the community.
It’s not perfect yet. But it’s a fantastic beginning. And with this kind of momentum, I can’t wait to see what happens next.