Shelter Politics: The Tuesday Night Meeting

Last night I attended an open meeting of the Alden Bridge Village Association. Rumor had it that a group of volunteers (mostly inactive, from my observation) opposed to Constable Holifield, Care Corporation, and the current administration of the Montgomery County Animal Shelter were going to attempt to sway the commissioners against the privatization bid from Care Corporation.

At the beginning of the meeting, Debbie Haas made some brief remarks in which she quite correctly acknowledged all the progress the shelter has made over the last several years, and then went on to say that there is still room for improvement.

Next, the commissioners spoke. Commissioner Ed Chance appears to be very much a supporter of Constable Holifield, as well as of privatization of the shelter. One bit of interesting information – the commissioners plan to appoint a new shelter advisory board, since the existing one appears to be defunct.

The volunteer contingent was largely derailed by the meeting’s focus on road construction and traffic issues, but near the end of the question and answer period with the commissioners, Marcia Piotter addressed the commissioners. She criticized the shelter’s save rate and downplayed the improvements made over the last several years. She also requested a private meeting with the commissioners.

Ms. Piotter was followed by Anne Leakey, wife of Steve Leakey, the President of the Alden Bridge Village Association. Pres. Leakey attempted to stop the public comments after Ms. Piotter spoke, in the interests of time management, but Mrs. Leakey spoke over him and took the floor. 

Mrs. Leakey is clearly no supporter of the current management or of Constable Holifield. She claims that during her time as a shelter volunteer several years ago, the volunteers managed to get the euthanasia rate down to roughly 30%, and that the rate has now come back up. (Constable Holifield has previously told me that this is largely due to a change in reporting methodology that was skewing the stats favorably for a time.) Mrs. Leakey and Ms. Piotter both implied strongly that the success of the volunteer programs was IN SPITE OF the current management. They also seem believe that MCAS is inflating their save stats.

These ladies made it very clear that they distrust the reported statistics of MCAS and feel that the current management is both anti-volunteer and not managing the resources they have effectively. They also believe that privatization (in the hands of a for profit entity) will lead to a higher euthanasia rate.

They are WRONG.

We would all love to see a 100% save rate, but the reality is that over TWENTY THOUSAND ANIMALS came through the shelter last year. The county’s population has grown 55% from the year 2000 to the year 2010, for a current population of 455,746 people, per the 2010 census.  The animal population has grown just as fast, but the shelter budget has not kept pace. If we estimate that the average household includes 4 people, at least one in every 5 households in the county would have to adopt an animal EVERY YEAR in order to achieve a 100% save rate. Yes, that’s an over-simplification, but you get the idea.

Let me remind you:

Most tax-supported animal shelters get $8 per capita. MCAS only gets $2.77. After they pay restricted line items (salaries, insurance, utilities), they have only $66,000 per year to pay for food, cleaning supplies, equipment, medication, and other miscellaneous expenses for over TWENTY THOUSAND ANIMALS. 

The shelter is heavily dependent on volunteers – the ones that actually do hands-on work in the shelter. Here’s just a sampling of what volunteers do in the shelter every day:

  • Clean runs and cages
  • Take photos of animals
  • Foster animals
  • Bathe animals
  • Walk animals
  • Run adoption events
  • Deal with the public
  • Organize donations
  • Spend their own money to donate supplies

I’m one of those volunteers, in a small way. I take pictures of adoptable animals, and I walk dogs. When I can, I donate food and supplies, or organize donations from other sources. I know from personal experience that the shelter management welcomes suggestions from active volunteers who truly comprehend how the shelter works. Volunteers carry tremendous responsibility and are very appreciated by the management.

Certainly the shelter is not perfect. No shelter is. But they do the best they can with what they have. As I’ve said before, I think privatization will enable the shelter to make progress, because we will not be limited to the pathetically insufficient $2.77 per capita, nor will we be subject to the painfully slow and restrictive county bureaucracy.

The group of inactive volunteers who are so bitterly criticizing the shelter are certainly entitled to their opinion. But it’s hard for me to put a lot of stock in the opinions of people whom I have never seen at the shelter. If they aren’t there, how do they know? I don’t think they are particularly well-informed about the current day-to-day state of affairs at the shelter. I disagree with their position; I’ll take my lead from the people who are in the trenches every day, up to their elbows in dog hair and dirt, trying to get every dog or cat they can out alive.

I’m disappointed that these disaffected former volunteers cannot see how much better the shelter is under this management, because I remember what it used to be like. I don’t want to see them take down a good administration that truly cares about the wellbeing of the animals.

Let’s make sure that doesn’t happen.


  1. shannon says

    Cathi, I attempted to post my response directly to your blog, but your comments features does not seem to be working properly. So I’ll post it here:

    First, I don’t mind being quoted, but as a professional writer, my work is copyrighted. If you’re going to quote me, please put it in quotes and cite the source.

    Second, I think you’ve missed the point entirely. No one is questioning what initiatives anyone may be involved in ELSEWHERE in the county. But if you are going to present yourselves to the commissioners as volunteers “who have spent hundreds of hours” in the shelter, which is how Debbie Haas introduced the group you were part of that evening, I do have a problem with that. Because you don’t. Carrie Heide, who was sitting next to me, DOES. I spend as much time there as I can. I could name half a dozen others who spent massive amounts of time there. But I’ve never seen you, Anne, or Marcia at the shelter, so I stand by my observation that you may not have a good understanding of what actually goes on there right now.

    Third, there has been tremendous transparency. Anyone who currently volunteers at the shelter – along with any member of the public who asks – can see all the stats for the shelter. Constable Holifield sat down with the volunteers recently (Anne Leakey was present, although she arrived quite late and missed a portion of the meeting). He answered every question we had in considerable detail.

    As to the euthanasia rate, once again, the shelter is working with a MUCH smaller budget than comparable facilities. You tell me. When the county only allows the shelter so much money, and the shelter has a finite number of cages and runs, what exactly are they supposed to do? Minda, the staff, and the volunteers work their butts off to save as many as they can, including quite a few animals that I personally know of which in any other shelter (including most ostensibly no-kill facilities) would have been put down. (Feta, Chicken, and Hope come to mind.) They constantly promote adoption, spay/neuter, and responsible pet ownership. They are extremely rescue-friendly, as well.

    You are entirely correct that we should all work together. That is precisely my point. I think it was harmful and wrong, if not flat-out underhanded, for a group of volunteers who don’t come to the shelter to circumvent shelter management and criticize the shelter in a public forum. As someone who has seen the shelter improve and evolve under the leadership of Minda Harris and Tim Holifield, I will continue to support them.

  2. BillieJean says

    BRAVO and well said Cathy! Agree 100% with all you said. I am “inactive”, but I do provide significant contributions to 2 rescue groups. And we know all the stuff I did when Dr. Ryan was around – website development, landscaping outside, vol hub implementation, brochures, thousands and thousands of dollars of donations, events etc etc. Does it really matter who is active or inactive?

    Shannon is saying the same thing that people said when LaJean was around, and when Dr. Ryan was around. MCAS is the way it is because of budget. It’s an excuse for poor performance.

    Just curious – are the kennel cards/inventory still an issue. Go into the kennels, and look at the kennel cards of owner turn ins. Is there information about the pet? Probably not. So, is that acceptable? Is it acceptable that most of the kennel cards are screwed up, missing information, have crappy pictures? This is been the same problem for YEARS.

    So, the citizens of the county, inactive or not want a leader that will make a significant difference in saving lives and educating our ignorant public. I think it’s great that people are standing up and questioning if Tim is that leader. Afterall, he has been the constant since the beginning, and has had many years to make it an A+ place.

    PS. How’s that parking lot drainage issue that’s been there forever?

  3. Nancy Nelson says

    I am going to chime in here, I have not made a decision yet if I am for or against the privatization of the shelter yet, I am still forming my own opinion. I will say I am extremely disappointed by the former volunteers who have such a hatred for the shelter. Hate is a strong word but they are unwilling to see any good that has happened at the shelter and are so focused on what they conceive as the bad, even though they have not been up there is quite some time. So lets address some issues, the kennel cards, yes they have comments on them, if we can get that info from the stupid former owners. Parking lot drainage, they attempted to fix, we will have to see if it worked if it ever rains. Bigger issues than kennel cards and a wet parking lot, animal care. Do either of you ladies realize how many vets are treating animals at MCAS? REAL VETS not vet techs? Dr. Ryan thought vet techs were as good as the real things but they were not and was one of the reasons I almost quite fostering. There are vets there that will see and treat sick fosters, recent adoptions and you can get your pet checked before you even walk out the door with it just to make sure it is ok. This is HUGE… Add in they now actually have medicine to treat the animals and don’t seem to run out as they used to. They are are spaying and neutering 7 days a week. Again a huge improvement. Most of this hatred and shelter bashing goes to the save rate, I have been there and seen the dogs make that walk and honestly I cried. It is a horrible gut wrenching thing to witness. I personally don’t think there is one employee in the shelter who wants a dog or cat to be put down if it can be saved. What is the solution? Don’t give me the No Kill crap, I read it and I don’t agree with it. It is fundamentally flawed. To state there is not an animal over population problem is incorrect. If the shelter decided today, not to EU another animal, where do you suppose they house them? Where to you get the additional staff to adequately care for them. Where do you find the money in the budget to continue the current level of care for food and medicines? These are actual questions so please feel free to give me your actual solutions. Anyone can pound their chest and say their is a problem, not many can offer clear cut solutions. To say the budget is not an issue is wrong. If you want to see more changes at the shelter then the shelter needs the resources to make those changes and it is a cruel fact that money is what it would take. The shelter is already overcrowded, they are exceeding the max capacity. They have been very creative on how they fit them all in, but a life in a crate in no life. How do we get the public to stop buying and start adopting? How do we get the county to adequately fund the shelter? Have either of you gone to the county and asked for more money for the shelter? I am a realistic person and I would love for every animal to be saved but until the IQ of the population of Montgomery Co improves I don’t see that happening overnight. Be for or against the privatization and debate the good or bad of that, but don’t attack the staff or say they are not volunteer friendly because that is not the case. They are very willing to let volunteers offer opinions and offer solutions to problems and implement our suggestions. Do I like everything I see, not always, but I do know that unless I have a solution then don’t bitch about it..

  4. teri drennan says

    I have been a recue group and shelter volunteer for several years and have seen some horrific examples of animal shelters. I have not decided on the privatization matter and just hope that it will be just what is best for the animals. Hate the politics!

    I have pulled 78 dogs from animal shelters all over the greater Houston area in the last 4 years. So, I think I have some idea of what shelters have more heart than others. I have seen things that I still can’t believe people are capable of doing and it just gets worse.

    I would like to speak about MCAS. When I was first pulling from there you could walk in to the stray hold kennels and the smell of the bloody parvo diarhea would hit you in the face. Puppies laying in it and very sick. I met a very caring lady that was working there by the name of Minda Harris. I learned she started as a volunteer and then gave up a nice cushy lucrative job and a big cut in pay to work with the animals instead. I am not sure of what her title was at that time, but she called me and other rescue groups as soon as a dog came in that we could help. She would even try to keep them in a safe place from all the germs if we were coming straight over to get them. When she became acting manager I noticed constant improvements every time I picked up a dog. There are employees there that care about the animals and now under Minda they can help make the changes. I have pulled at many shelters and have never met the mangers/directors. They are away in their offices with the doors closed and keeping the stats away from the public. With Minda it has been an open door policy and she will tell you anything you want to know. She doesn’t wear business suits and heels like the other directors because she is running around like crazy taking pics of new dogs and putting out pleas on facebook and just helping take care of the animals she loves. She is one dirty gal!! I have such respect of what she does and truly wish all of the shelters had a director of her caliber.

    The volunteers at MCAS are the best I have come across on my shelter travels. You can only have the best if the manager is inviting and wants this help. Shelters like HCPHES don’t welcome volunteers, they do not want them to see what is going on and thinks it would be too much work. Very unfriendly to rescue groups also and won’t even call one before they euthanize. I think when you go to a shelter and see lots of hard working volunteers it says alot about the shelter and its management.

    I decided to volunteer this past Sunday for the first time at MCAS. I went to help in the grooming room and a volunteer was bathing fleas off of a litter of puppies that had come in. They were so anemic their gums were white and skinny with huge bellies full of worms. I took one down to Minda’s open office and showed the puppy to her and another great volunteer and next thing I knew the volunteer was down there giving worm treatments and B12 shots to that new litter. I was shocked and so happy to see that.

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