Austin Pets Alive leader critical of city’s finalists to lead Austin Animal Center

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The executive director of Austin Pets Alive sharply criticized the City of Austin’s two finalists to lead the Austin Animal Center as the city’s Chief Animal Services Officer and questioned the impact that could have on Austin’s status as a “no-kill” city.

In a blog post, APA president Ellen Jefferson said Austin is “settling for candidates that, though nice, are not at the level of expertise that we should expect as the most successful city in the country.”

The City of Austin disputed that assessment.

“The City of Austin went through a nationwide search for a Chief Animal Services Officer,” a city spokesperson said. “There were several rounds of interviews with highly qualified candidates, and the final two were chosen and presented at a public Meet and Greet event.”

The two finalists are Don Bland and Linda Cadotte.

Since 2012, Bland has served as the executive director of the Humane Society of Central Texas.

Cadotte was the deputy director of the Animal Allies Humane Society in Duluth, Minnesota from 2006 to 2012. More recently, she has worked as the Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry for the city of Superior, Wisconsin.

Jefferson singled out Cadotte in particular, writing that Cadotte said she would revisit council’s implementation plan and make “hard decisions” about animals.

“In our world, ‘hard decisions’ is code for killing,” Jefferson said.

In response, Cadotte has fired back, saying her words were misinterpreted and taken out of context.

“No one from their organization came up to me after the public forum to have a further discussions about policies, express concerns, or to seek clarification on any of my responses background, experience or philosophies,” Cadotte wrote.

Cadotte also shared a desire to strengthen the partnerships the city of Austin has with other humane organizations, including Austin Pets Alive!, and a willingness to accept feedback and communicate openly with others regarding best practices for the city.

Austin as a “no-kill” city

For almost a decade now, Austin has been a “no-kill” city.  In 2010, the city council passed a plan requiring at least 90 percent of pets brought into the city’s shelter be saved.

Earlier this year, council members went further. They passed a resolution increasing the expectations of the number of animals saved from 90 percent to 95 percent after advocates and volunteers called on the city to do more to protect animals in Austin.

But Larry Tucker says right now the save rate is 93 percent, down from 98 percent last year. Tucker is a past chair of the Animal Advisory Commission and currently serves on the board for Texas Pets Alive, the political lobbying voice of Austin Pets Alive.

“We are going to be in the same position three months, six months down the road because we are going to get the wrong person,” said Tucker.

The City of Austin’s monthly reports show different numbers. According to Jennifer Olohan, the communications and media manager for the Austin Animal Center, the live release rate for June was 97.5%. May and April were 98.3%.

The City of Austin reiterated it is proud of its two finalists.

“Both of them are seasoned public service professionals with a passion for animal care.  We’re confident that the successful final candidate will lead Austin Animal Services programs and initiatives into the future.”

Jefferson said a one-point decrease is the equivalent of 150 animals dying. 

In her role as APA president, she works side by side with the Chief Animal Services Officer and the Austin Animal Center.

In 2010, Jefferson was a candidate for the city’s top animal services job. That job went instead to Abigail Smith, who was hired in March 2011. Smith worked for the city until resigning in December 2014.

Lee Ann Shenefiel held the job most recently. She stepped down in January and was replaced by Kimberley McNeely on an interim basis.

“I don’t want to say people are poaching us,” Assistant City Manager Sarah Hensley said at the time. “But I will say, we produce people that move on to other things and educate the public about why a no-kill city is so important.”

Finalists respond to Austin Pets Alive comments

Statement from Don Bland:

“I was made aware of the comments that were posted. I have, in the corporate world, managed over 2,000 people successfully, so I have management skills with large numbers of people. Working together with partners and collaborations, we were able to move Waco from a dismal 28% first month I was there to the 94% we are today. So I have experience working with others and collaborating, and if I’m selected for the position in Austin, there’s all the groups that are there that I’d want to work with and collaborate with because they’re at 98% so they’re doing something right, and why would you want to change anything? You want to just keep working toward those goals and getting better.”

Statement from Linda Cadotte:

“I’m surprised by Austin Pets Alive veterinarian’s lack of effort to clarify what I meant by what I said.  No one from their organization came up to me after the public forum to have a further discussions about policies, express concerns, or to seek clarification on any of my responses, background, experience or philosophies.  She pulled a comment, took it out of context, and interpreted it in a way that doesn’t positively serve animals.

Austin Pets Alive is a strong partner to the City of Austin.  

No kill of healthy and treatable animals would not be possible without their support and transfer of animals to their facility.

If hired for the position, I would hope Dr Jefferson and everyone else, would operate in a professional, productive, and collaborative manner.  That they would make the effort to communicateopenly and honestly, instead of wasting time trying to throw shade and ridiculing.  I hope the organization raises their expectations of their leadership to set examples of how to work towards seeking solutions, suggesting other ideas, and focusing their efforts on maximizing and improving their own operations, animal care, safety, adoptions, and other efforts to further promote team work and positive outcomes for animals.

It’s always easy to speculate and make false connections or accusations. It’s far more difficult to verify facts and ask clarifying questions. In some ways, I can understand the lack of trust of anyone new coming in. I’m not afraid to be honest, seek solutions, and try new ideas. I have very little patience for counter productive energy, tangents and time wasters.

I feel the passion for animals in Austin.  I also share the passion for our four-legged friends. 

I hope regardless of who is hired to serve the animals in the City of Austin, that Austin Pets Alive uses their passion in positive, productive ways that further promotes building and strengthening partnership and collaboration.

If offered the opportunity with the City of Austin, I’d look forward to making partnerships strong for the best outcomes for the animals.

We would need to strengthening the critical partnerships to maximize outcomes for the furry four-legged friends, not add additional stress that deters from working together.

We need people and the support of the community for the positive outcomes for animals.

Fighting within animal welfare organizations or targeting and attacking potential future employees does not set the stage for productive working environment.

The community will accomplish a great deal more through asking questions, seeking solutions, communicating openly, supporting each other, and working together.

Animal Welfare work is difficult enough.  It’s emotionally draining.  Compassion fatigue is real.

It should be of no surprise to anyone that this will be a difficult job with a plethora of difficult decisions.

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