This evening I attended a meeting for the staff and volunteers of MCAS to discuss the possible privatization of the shelter.  The speaker was Constable Tim Holifield, under whose purview MCAS currently falls.

I learned a few facts I’d like to share.

Since 2005, the spay/neuter clinic at the shelter has performed 22,000 sterilizations. Only 22 animals have died of surgical complications. That’s a mortality rate of one tenth of one percent. Other area low cost spay/neuter clnics run around 3 percent, which means for the same number of surgeries, they would have lost 660 animals. That tells me that the vets at MCAS are doing a damn fine job.

Here’s another shocker. After salaries and restricted line items like electricity, the shelter is left with a whopping $66,000 for the year.  Out of that, they feed over 20,000 animals, purchase equipment and cleaning supplies, and try to fund medications and vaccines.  That would be why they depend so heavily on donations and volunteers. The average amount most shelters spend per capita (local population) is $8.  MCAS only has $2.77. 

Really makes you appreciate how much they do with so little.

Constable Tim Holifield and his wife Amy Holifield are the principals behind Care Corporation, one of two outfits bidding for the management rights to MCAS.  Holifield is not planning to run for Constable when his current term expires, so that he is free to manage the shelter for Care Corporation, should they be awarded the contract.

In my previous column, I addressed my serious concerns about the very secretive American Pet Association.

Now I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned about Care Corporation and the privatization process.

Essentially, Care Corporation exists as a for-profit entity.  It would serve as the personnel management contractor for the shelter, which would put Care Corporation in charge of the day to day operations of the shelter. 

Basically, as Holifield explained it, the existence of a for-profit entity is necessary in order to secure the lines of credit required for the shelter management to function.  If awarded the bid, all current employees would be able to keep their jobs.  Pay would be at least equal to their existing pay.  Benefits would be comparable if not better than what they have now.

For example, Holifield explained to us that under the existing county plan, shelter employees have to meet an annual deductible PER PERSON on their health insurance of $1,000.  He also mentioned that many shelter employees make around $10 an hour.  By my math, the current deductible for just one person in the household equals 100 hours of work.  Holifield is looking at offering an HMO plan under which the copays and deductibles would be more accessible.

Would privatization benefit the animals?

I think so. And here’s how, assuming that the contract goes to a company that understands our needs here in Montgomery County.

  • Employees would get better pay, hours, and working conditions, which equals improved morale and more motivated performance.
  • It would be possible to reward outstanding employee performance.
  • Happier, more motivated employees should result in a higher standard of animal care, a more pleasant shelter environment, and increased adoption rates.
  • More immediate action would be possible when the shelter needs supplies, equipment, or even personnel changes.
  • More flexibility in terms of operating hours and scheduling would be possible.
  • Shelter management would have the freedom to implement innovative programs for the benefit of the animals.
  • A whole lot of bureaucratic nonsense could be eradicated.

I walked away from this meeting convinced that privatization is indeed a solid option for the shelter.

Tim Holifield has spent six years steadily trying to improve conditions at the shelter.  Since he knew little about shelter management when the shelter was put under the governance of his precinct six years ago, he had a steep learning curve to climb.  He’s worked hard to learn about animal welfare.  I know with absolute certainty that it is much, much better than it was before his arrival.  It has improved even more drastically since he hired Minda Harris as director.

I liked a lot of what Tim Holifield had to say tonight. I like his ongoing dedication to learning more about animal welfare, and I really like the progress that the shelter has made under his leadership.  I appreciate that he offered us a lot of organizational transparency with facts and figures to back it up.

I would much rather have a transparent local organization that understands the needs of our community and MCAS, than a secretive, supercilious, nationwide organization with delusions of self-importance and a bad case of paranoia.

I went into this meeting unsure of whether I would support Care Corporation’s privatization bid.  I came out on Team Holifield, because I believe they are the best option for MCAS.

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