It’s not every day that you get offered your dream job. For 15 years, I have dedicated myself to advocating for the welfare of animals, and I’ve had the privilege of doing that work alongside a huge number of like-minded individuals in Mobile, across the state and around the country. From my early days at Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) working in their facility’s kennels to creating its first behavior and enrichment team for rescued animals and serving as president from 2016-2021 — I served in a wide variety of positions at ARF that allowed me to support animals throughout our community.
Leaving this role to become the director of the newly created Animal Services Department at the city of Mobile was bittersweet. Still, it was offset by my excitement to create a new, transformed department that is deeply connected to the community in its mission to support people and animals in our city. I want to thank Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration, the Mobile City Council and the citizens of Mobile who have expressed their support for our new department and programs.
For years, Mobile’s animal community members — myself included — have championed a new animal shelter. Replacing our small, outdated shelter is a key initiative for Mayor Stimpson’s administration. It is imperative to serve our needs now and into the future, as much has changed since the current shelter was built in 1967. Last week, the Mobile City Council approved an assessment from Team Shelter USA, which is an important first step to realizing the dream of the new shelter so many have wanted for so long.
In 2021, the City Council convened an Animal Advisory Committee to do a basic needs assessment at our current shelter, and I commend the work they’ve done. In fact, at multiple points in a recent report to the council, the advisory committee recommended the kind of needs assessment we will soon be undertaking with Team Shelter USA to get an in-depth look at current and future programming needs. This work is what primes us to go into the shelter design and engineering phase. Like any field, there are other animal sheltering groups that can provide assessments, each with their own focus and strengths.
We chose Team Shelter USA’s assessment based on numerous recommendations and because we believe they can serve our needs in the best way. In a letter to the editor in last week’s Lagniappe, the chair of the City Council’s Animal Advisory Committee suggested the city should direct the funding for this assessment toward programs right now. However, this upcoming assessment will serve as a programmatic roadmap to allow us to be informed by experts as to how we can best take our next steps as we begin to invest in a shelter people have demanded for years.
Team Shelter USA and Dr. Sara Pizano have provided comprehensive roadmaps for many other cities that have helped them serve their communities more efficiently and effectively. For Mobile, a new shelter will be a large part of that, but it’s also important that we evaluate all our programs and practices. Things like animal control, city ordinances, hiring processes, relationships with nonprofits, veterinary care, interactions with other city departments like the Mobile Police Department and 311 — all of these are key to building a better program. One rule in the animal sheltering world is that you can never build your way out of your problem. We cannot find ourselves in a situation in 10 years where we’ve already outgrown a new facility, which is why I have advocated for a holistic and independent assessment.
In the end, our staff, the council’s advisory committee and the animal community at large share the same goal — a new shelter AND a modern Animal Services Department that meets the needs of the community.
Director of Animal Services for the city of Mobile
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