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Taking the Reins

City Council names a new director for the Memphis Animal Shelter.

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After MORE THAN a year of searching, the city has finally settled on a new director for the Memphis Animal Shelter. The regional director of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), Phil Snyder of Naperville, Illinois, will take the reins on October 4th, and he says quite a few changes and improvements are in order for the shelter. One of the first things to be changed: his title.

"I know my position has been called the manager of the Animal Shelter. I requested that we change it to [manager of] Memphis Animal Services. The shelter is very important, but animal services and care mean so much more," said Snyder. "It's very important that the animals are treated properly, because they're a part of our families."

Snyder's appointment was announced at a City Council meeting Tuesday. The city has been searching for a new director since former director Ken Childress resigned in May 2003. Childress left Memphis to work for a shelter in San Bernardino, California.

Keenon McCloy, the city's public services director, said Snyder was "head and shoulders above any other candidate" for the position. His appointment came after the position was reposted last spring.

Snyder has worked with the HSUS for 15 years. As regional director, he was responsible for overseeing humane societies in Illinois, Wisconsin, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. He's been an executive director at three local humane societies and has experience working with animal shelters.

"With his administrative experience with HSUS, he's done extensive training and shelter evaluations. He's made policy director recommendations. He's an expert on animal behavior, and he's done cruelty investigations," said McCloy.

Linking animal cruelty with human violence is an issue Snyder wants to work on when he arrives in Memphis. He says he'd like to team Animal Services with organizations that confront human abuse to educate the public on how animal cruelty can lead to violence against people.

Snyder said he'd also like to do more outreach to educate the public on animals and disaster preparedness. He once headed the North Carolina Search and Rescue team and has served as a steering committee member for animal response teams.

"We'll be taking the lead with animals and disasters," said Snyder. "Animals need to be included in your planning, not only domestic animals but all the animals in your community."

Also on the list of needed improvements are policies on euthanasia and separating adoptable animals from ones that are not intended for adoption. Several citizens have recently complained to the city that the shelter euthanizes animals before their alloted three days are up.

"We need to do a better job of identifying which animals are eligible for adoption and which are not," said McCloy. "Some animals just aren't eligible, but the public perception is they're being put down too soon. Every policy and procedure we have is going to be evaluated."

McCloy said that Animal Services will reconstitute a citizen board for the shelter. The city's charter recognizes such a board, but the last one disbanded in the 1980s. It will allow citizens more say about shelter policies and procedures.

McCloy also announced at the council meeting that a site has been picked for the new shelter. She couldn't name the exact location, due to ongoing negotiations. The city has budgeted $1,080,000 for 10 acres. There's still no word on when the shelter will be completed, but Askew Nixon Ferguson has been chosen as the lead architect.

Snyder said he intends to retrain all the staff at the shelter as well as implement new programs and services. The new shelter will be more adoption-focused. According to McCloy, people coming to adopt will enter through a different door than people coming to retrieve a lost pet. McCloy said this caters to people's emotional needs.

The shelter will also have quarantined areas for sick animals. Air in these areas will be recirculated to avoid the spread of disease.

"One of the problems with keeping a shelter like ours is that it's very difficult to keep everything disinfected," said McCloy. "Getting as much fresh air as possible into the new shelter will help reduce the spread of distemper and airborne illness."

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