Members of Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s executive team are excited about upcoming changes to the city’s animal shelter, even as the department undergoes a transformation.
The shelter was recently separated from the Mobile Police Department (MPD) and placed under the city’s administrative services department.
Under the new management structure, the shelter was given a budget of just over $1 million, plus another $230,000 in capital funding to improve facilities, Executive Director of Administrative Services Joe Snowden said. Under MPD leadership, Snowden said, a small amount of money like that could be used up quickly; moving to another department gives the shelter a more firm foundation on which to build.
“That money gets lost in the MPD,” Snowden said. “This will allow us to plan three years in advance, maybe even five years in advance.”
In an interview with Lagniappe, Snowden and Director of Programs and Project Management Jenn Greene both said they are excited about the new direction of animal services for the city.
In addition to the more isolated budget, Greene said, animal services will follow best practices of other shelters and look for grants from national organizations to help reinforce the spending plan.
“There are opportunities for grants from national organizations,” she said. “They are extremely excited about what we’ve done with the shelter over the last six weeks.”
The first move was to hire a new shelter director and the city has done that by bringing on Alison Rellinger, who will start Nov. 6. Rellinger has an extensive animal rescue background, Greene said. The new shelter director has worked in animal rescue and shelter for a decade. She has been the president of the Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) since 2016.
In 2012, Rellinger joined the ARF Board of Directors and has served in a wide variety of roles with the organization from kennel lead to the organizer of special events such as Woofstock.
“She’s done a lot of work with different programs, including behavioral programs,” Greene said. “We’re really excited to have her come on.”
Rellinger has a master’s degree in marine biology from the University of South Alabama and the Dauphin Island Sea Lab. She is near completion on a doctoral degree as well, Snowden said. While pursuing her latest degree, Rellinger has been teaching biology at the Alabama School of Math and Science.
With Rellinger’s help, the city will turn its shelter model into an animal services model, Greene said. The “more modern approach” to sheltering will see the city partner more with nonprofit organizations and individuals to provide additional resources in several areas, including an attempt to keep owners from surrendering pets to the shelter to help keep shelter occupation down.
“Sometimes when people want to surrender pets it’s due to a lack of resources,” Greene said. “We want to work with owners to see what can be done. We want to evaluate the needs of the person and work with them.”
Greene called the model a “more holistic view” on sheltering and a “good way” to reduce shelter intake.
“A lot of people don’t want to surrender a pet, but they feel like it’s the only way,” she added. “What if we had a lifeline for them?”
Partnering with local animal rescues will help get animals housed or cared for more easily.
“One of the most important things we can do is develop relationships with rescue groups,” she said. “Those rescue partners know the needs of the shelter animals.”
Greene said the county’s animal shelter already has relationships with some of the local groups and the city’s shelter wants to follow their lead in that regard.
“Those kinds of relationships are going to be key,” Greene said. “We’re looking forward to that.”
The shelter has also contracted with veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Wilder to conduct weekly visits there and help the department with certain protocols, including euthanasia processes, Greene said. Wilder will also help the shelter stock proper medical supplies while the city looks to complete a request for proposals process to contract with a veterinarian on a more permanent basis.
The shelter is looking to have a more forward-facing staff, which can help with visitors, as well as go out on calls, Snowden said. In addition to shelter staff and kennel techs, the department is looking for eight new animal control officers and an office manager, he said.
“It will allow more interaction with the public and allow the officers more access in the field,” Snowden said.
Under MPD, animal control officers were sworn officers, but now they will be municipal enforcement officers who can write tickets.
These moves also mean animal control is closer to Stimpson’s office, as both Snowden and Greene report to Stimpson.
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