Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Shelter News: Progress

On Monday, June 29th, more than 50 supporters of the Montgomery County Texas Animal Shelter seated themselves in the public gallery of the County Commissioners Court to hear a presentation by our new Shelter Director Dr. Patricia Ryan asking for an exemption to a budget freeze in order to hire more kennel staff.

According to a shelter industry formula, a shelter our size, with the number of animals we have on an average day (currently 500 animals) and some other factors, ideally needs a staff of about 45 people. We currently have a staff of seven.

Dr. Ryan asked for the funding to hire 10 additional kennel staff ASAP, and requested that the county adjust the starting wage from $8.25 to $10.00 per hour in order to better compete with other shelters in the Houston area.

The commissioners unanimously approved this request, and will investigate some other solutions—including a plan that could place trustees from the county jail in the Shelter after hours to provide overnight cleaning. The volunteers, community members and other supporters were extremely pleased with the outcome.

Some people were surprised at how quickly the commissioners court agreed to the proposal. What needs to be kept in mind is the following:

1. Several dedicated and articulate community supporters spent the past several months contacting decision-makers to lay the groundwork for this request.
2. Two commissioners actually toured the Shelter and saw for themselves the dire need.
3. The new Shelter Director was the only one who made comments.
4. The public area was PACKED with supporters—it would have looked horrible to refuse such a necessary and entirely reasonable request with so many voters in the room.
5. No other court business could be easily conducted until our case was heard, so the commissioners prudently adjusted the agenda, moving our Shelter case forward so that they could clear the gallery and get on with their other business without us underfoot.

Maybe I am just cynical, but I wasn’t among the volunteers who had tears of joy in their eyes and who felt the commissioners had been generous. Certainly in these tight economic times, making a hiring decision when the county is under a budget freeze is refreshing, but in all honesty, I don’t think the men (and they were all middle aged to older white men) sitting above us were stretching all that hard to grant this request.

After all, as taxpayers we’re paying their salaries. They were just doing the job they’ve been appointed to do. It wouldn’t have been in their best interest to refuse such a basic request. Some of the volunteers sent an email afterwards urging us to “shower the commissioners with thank you cards.”

Considering that this is just a first step in a long process to bring the Shelter around to what it should be, I don’t feel we have to fawn over the commissioners. They did the right thing, and we shouldn’t expect any less. I feel that sending a bunch of thank you cards is rather like giving every 15-year-old on a youth soccer team a trophy just for showing up.

I am glad that the commissioners are paying attention because they need to. They’re going to hear more from us over the next few months.

-*-Photo courtesy of "chilli media" via Flickr, with adjustments in Photoshop.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure you have heard of Karen Pryor's book, Don't Shoot The Dog. In it she makes the case that to change undesirable human behavior one must reward the behavior you want. The reason for showering the commissioners with Thank You cards is to reward them for giving you the behavior you want.

    You want them to continue giving you the behavior you want, so give them rewards when they do. Simple.


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