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.