At a recent meeting of the Montgomery County commissioners, the decision was made to accept Care Corp.’s bid to privatize the Montgomery County Animal Shelter.
First, I want to congratulate the Holifield family. I think highly of Tim Holifield, and I am very pleased that his tremendous gamble is paying off.
What gamble? Constable Holifield made a public choice not to run for re-election, in order to be part of the privatization bid. Had it been rejected, he would, in fact, have been out of a job. He could have played it safe and left things as they were. He chose to take a big personal chance in order to do what he thinks is best for the animals coming through MCAS.
The current shelter director, Minda Harris, and every current shelter volunteer with whom I’ve spoken are strong supporters of this move to privatize the shelter. We are thrilled that the county commissioners listened to what the director and the volunteers want. It means that we can now work toward making MCAS competitive with other really good facilities and programs.
One very controversial topic was addressed at this meeting – the shelter clinic. Many local vets spoke out against it; they are openly afraid that the shelter clinic is robbing them of income, and they apparently fear that privatization will allow the clinic to compete directly with them for market share.
Out of all the veterinarians who attended the commissioners’ meeting, I’m told that only one came forward to acknowledge that many of the fears expressed by the local veterinary community were obviously unfounded and based on misinformation. That one vet took the time to talk with Constable Holifield and MCAS director Minda Harris to find out more, and as a result of that conversation, he offered to donate a certain amount of free veterinary services each year. I consider that a huge step in the right direction.
That one vet did what I wish many more would. He recognized that he had been given incorrect information, he made the effort to get correct information, and then he stepped up and offered to help.
Right now, the shelter clinic offers very basic services – spay, neuter, vaccines, treatments of simple illnesses – to fosters, animals currently in the shelter, and recently adopted pets. Some services are also available to the public. (The people who come to the shelter clinic generally cannot afford traditional vet care, so the market overlap is negligible.) Their equipment is so limited that they cannot even ex-ray animals with suspected fractures. It is my personal hope that privatization will make it possible for them to do more.
So what does privatization mean to us? A couple of key points stand out to me.
First, the shelter will be able to hire part-time employees, which they cannot under county administration. There simply is no money to do so, and any attempt to hire anyone for anything has to go through the ponderous civil service quagmire. Those part-time employees will improve customer service and enable the shelter to extend their current hours. They will also be able to handle more of the basic service needs of the shelter and the animals, so that volunteers can focus on adoptions and other enhanced services.
Second, the shelter will have more access to grants. That’s huge. There is a lot of grant money available for animal welfare organizations, but right now MCAS can’t get any of it. Why? Because when MCAS applies for a grant, in the line that asks about annual budget, they have to put in the total budget for the ENTIRE COUNTY. Obviously, even though MCAS only has access to a fraction of that amount, the mere presence of that large number on the application disqualifies the shelter from receiving grants. Grant money can pay for a lot of projects and services that the shelter could otherwise not afford.
The combination of more money and more administrative flexibility means that the shelter can actually focus on meeting the needs of the animals. Employees won’t be governed by the county’s civil service rules. Employees who perform exceptionally well will be able to earn bonuses; employees who don’t meet expectations can be replaced. Those two facts alone should inspire excellent job performance, which translates into better conditions, better adoption rates, a better working environment, and more lives saved as a result.
Privatization will take effect within six months or less…I can’t wait to see what Constable Holifield and Minda Harris can do.