Not willing to let the momentum pass, Fort Worth code compliance officials within weeks of the March release of a citizens task force report critical of the operations of the city’s animal shelter acted quickly to hire a new superintendent to oversee the facility’s day-to-day operations.
Moreover, they’ve undertaken a major staff reorganization at the shelter, are in the midst of hiring a consultant to conduct a survey of shelter employees, and the facility at 4900 Martin St. is now open seven days a week — all recommendations made in the 54-page report.
But, the report had other suggestions and now six weeks into the job, Alan C. Davis, the shelter’s new manager, is tackling them. Improving staff communication and morale is at the top. Although the report found the shelter doing a good job of caring for the animals and praised its high, live release rate through adoption, maintaining that rate is another of his goals.
Davis was among four finalists culled from dozens of potential candidates and interviewed for the position, which was left vacant by the December resignation of the last manager. Davis started May 23, just eight weeks after the City Council heard from the task force it put together to address escalating community concerns, some surrounding alleged mismanagement at the shelter.
Davis is one of three superintendents at the shelter; the other two are over customer service and field operations.
The report, which took five months to complete, Davis said, didn’t scare him away. He’s faced studies like this before in his 35 years in the industry, he said.
Rather, Davis said he embraces the report, which was most critical of internal employee communication and customer services.
“Everybody has to work together,” Davis said. “The goal is for us to be successful.”
For now, any hiring and reorganizing at the animal shelter is being done within existing resources. The city manager and council will review a fiscal 2017 budget in August and among it will likely be a $1.1 million request to bring shelter staffing and services to what was recommended in the task force report. It currently operates on a $3.4 million budget.
That could be challenging as the city continues to face tight budget constraints. The shelter will be competing for monies with other city departments also with a wish list — and a mayor and city council that want a lean operation. Animal control falls under the purview of code compliance.
Nonetheless, the report quelled the misinformation that had been circulating on social media about the shelter, but it also pointed to its strengths and weaknesses, said Assistant City Manager Fernando Costa.
“We knew we had a problem and the task force helped us to understand the problem better,” Costa said. “Part of the problem was entirely attributable to our own operation.”
Fort Worth has a busy shelter. In fiscal 2015, animal control impounded 16,816 animals, among its highest in recent years. Of those, 12,413 left the shelter through adoption, to other rescue operations or were returned to their owners.
Years of experience
Davis comes to Fort Worth from Newport News, Va., Animal Services Division, a regional shelter, where he served as superintendent in charge of field operations. He started in the industry as an animal control officer in Pittsburgh, Penn. in 1976 and has held several top positions at shelters across the county, the longest being director of the Broward County Animal Care and Regulation in Fort Lauderdale for 19 years.
While in Florida, he served on a committee that created a state license plate that raises money to help Florida residents spay and neuter their pets in an effort to reduce the state’s pet population.
Davis “stood out” among the potential candidates, said Tim Morton, assistant director of code compliance over animal welfare and a shelter veterinarian.
“When we got to the interview process, it just solidified he was the right guy for Fort Worth and this job,” Morton said. “Alan had what we thought was the experience, the personality, the presentation and everything that just was right for Fort Worth and the shelter.”
Davis said he is impressed with Fort Worth’s attitude about wanting to improve the shelter and its openness with information about the facility, and that he’s up for the challenge.
“All these jobs are a challenge. You have to work with the system, you have to work with the government, you have to work with the citizens,” he said. “But it’s an opportunity to improve, to do better, to interact with the community to increase the care of the animals you’re entrusted with. The people who are critics, I ask them to help us.”
Davis said he initially planned to do some painting and other cosmetic changes to the facility, but those will be put on hold until after the completion early next year of the shelter’s expansion approved by citizens in the 2014 bond election.
The City Council recently approved a $1.1 million contract with RKM General Contractors for the renovation and expansion of the Chuck Silcox Animal Care and Control Facility, named for the former councilman who died in 2008.
The nearly $1.5 million project includes the addition of 100 kennels and enhanced quarantine/segregation capabilities, among other things.