AUSTIN (KXAN) — The city of Austin confirmed that Lee Ann Shenefiel, the city’s interim chief animal services officer, will leave her position at Austin Animal Center effective Feb. 1.
The city has already begun a search for a permanent replacement for Shenefiel, who will soon begin work for a nonprofit. Candidates are expected to be selected and flown in for interviews within the next few months, the city manager’s office said.
Kimberley McNeely, the acting director of Austin’s Parks and Recreation Department, will take over as interim chief of animal services after Shenefiel’s departure.
Filling McNeely’s role at the Parks Department will be Sarah Hensley who is currently Austin’s interim assistant city manager.
Hensley acknowledged that here has been a lot of turnover in the past decade both among leadership and staff at AAC.
“I don’t want to say people are poaching us, 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,” she said.
She noted that the job of running the shelter can be both emotionally and professionally taxing.
“I think part of it, it may not be a job someone stays in forever and ever and ever because of the pressure,” Hensley added.
She said that the city is committed to maintaining their no-kill policy at the shelter, but admitted that the current AAC facility was not built as a no-kill shelter. This has made it difficult to fit all of the animals that have come in since 2011 when the no-kill policy began and challenging for the staff figuring out how to accommodate them, Henseley said.
She added that the city is already pulling together the profile for the person they will hire for this position.
“It has to really be someone who is passionate about working with people and with animals, that’s really what its about,” she said. “And a good leader and a good communicator.”
David Lundstedt, the chair of the Austin Animal Advisory Commission, explained that the shelter director is one of the city leadership positions that takes an extensive amount of time and recruiting to find the right person for.
“People love their animals in Austin and people want to see every animal that goes into the shelter come out alive and get a forever home, so it’s very very important stuff,” he said.
Lundstedt has been on the commission for more than ten years. He said he was saddened to hear Shenefiel would be leaving.
“We have achieved the highest live outcome rate for dogs and cats in the history of Austin under her leadership,” he explained, sharing that according to AAC’s numbers for the past six months, live outcome rate (that’s the rate of animals who do not have to be killed) has been between 98 and 99 percent.
Lundstedt has been involved with the process of interviewing previous candidates for the shelter director position, he hopes that advisory commission members are included in the process again this time.
“It’s a pretty extensive process, pretty thorough and I’m hoping that the new city manager will stick to that plan and do the same thing,” he said.
The city manager’s office says they hope to have a new Chief Animal Services Officer in place by early April.
“As long as they adhere to the proven practices we’ve been doing for 10 years, then I think no kill will thrive in Austin,” he said of the whomever the city selects for this position.
“It’s really important and often thankless job,” explained Katie Jarl, another member of the Animal Advisory Commission.
“And for that, we thank [Shenefiel] for her service,” Jarl said.
“In many ways the way that she’s been treated hasn’t always been fair and I hope that the community as a whole understands that its important to treat people and animals with kindness,” Jarl continued.