The county will soon be looking for a permanent director for its animal shelter.
County manager Ed Causey said the current interim director Lori Baxter, who has served in the position for the past four months, has not submitted any formal notice and not indicated that she has any intentions to leave. However, Causey said he anticipates an item on the Sampson County Board of Commissioners’ Nov. 5 meeting requesting that the director’s position be advertised.
He lauded Baxter on the job she has done and said it is his hope that she will apply for the permanent position, if the board authorizes advertising for a permanent director.
“We’re planning to put that on the agenda. The goal is to make everything go smoothly, no matter what we end up doing,” said Causey. “I’m hoping Ms. Baxter will be interested in the permanent position. We’ve had the interim position much longer than I ever anticipated. I knew there was no hope (of Baxter staying) to start with, but I haven’t given up on that. I think she’s done a world of good out there.”
Baxter was named the county’s interim animal shelter director at the end of June.
She served as animal services manager for Robeson County and animal control enforcement officer in both Cumberland and Guilford counties prior to taking the job in Sampson. Just days before she was named as interim director, the shelter’s hours were adjusted to 1 to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, a “necessary” change so proper cleaning could be done, and an online presence soon after Baxter took the job.
Days after she formally accepted the job, a new Facebook page for the animal shelter was established and that page has since received over 2,800 likes as of Wednesday. The shelter’s page, which receives constant updates, similarly boasts an exposure to more than 900,000 people, including fans and their friends.
That exposure has led to a spike in adoptions, whether they be from individuals in Sampson and surrounding counties or groups of animals reserved for rescue organizations local and out-of-state.
Since Baxter took the job, hundreds of dogs and cats have been adopted out, including 150 over a six-week span that trumped the total number adopted in all of 2011. That number has risen significantly since, with 30 animals adopted out on a single day earlier this month. That day, Oct. 15, occurred on the Monday following the shelter’s participation in the previous weekend’s Court Square Street Fair, at which adoptable cats and dogs were on display and prospective owners could fill out paperwork to adopt them — and pick them up Monday.
The success of the shelter has come despite obstacles and growing pains, Causey noted, notably staffing issues and employee illness and accompanying absences that Baxter was forced to deal with at the beginning of her interim tenure.
“We had never given her an even slate to work with,” said Causey. “I don’t see how we’ve accomplished some of the things we have out there.”
The transition has also not come without some growing pains and obstacles, as well as some scrutiny.
Baxter, in a Facebook post Oct. 15 — that same day the shelter saw a big day in adoptions — said she was “sick to death of people who pretend to be all about the animals while kicking the ones who really are making a difference.” Sparking speculation of an impending departure, she continued, “I think the end of the year shall see a change in my life … one that doesn’t include an animal shelter.”
Causey said Baxter has spoken to him about frustrations she has had with some of her “contacts,” but felt they were able to talk through some of the problems. The county manager said he has found that when talking about an animal shelter and its operations, which encompass the lives of cats and dogs, their health and well-being — and in some cases, their euthanization — can be an intensely emotional topic that receives gut reactions and responses.
Many times, he said, it takes cooler heads to prevail. “A lot of these things are solvable,” Causey noted.
The county manager said Baxter has made a big difference since she was hired in June, and has even been able to educate and enlighten Causey on some of the shelter’s operations, while ushering in a time during which the shelter’s adoptable animals have been as publicized as they ever have been.
“I think she’s done a great job,” Causey said. “Do we have our fair share of issues that come up from time to time? Absolutely. Have we got a ways to go? Absolutely. It will probably take a good year to get the operation where it needs to be.”
Once the board authorizes the job be advertised, Causey said such ads will immediately be published.
“We would immediately advertise the position with the goal of having a permanent selection done before Christmas,” said Causey. “I think I’d like to get a permanent director in before we do too much so they can be able to have their say and put their stamp on things.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.