Cook: City cats, county canines

Cook: City cats, county canines

October 25th, 2013 by David Cook in Opinion Columns

David Cook

David Cook

Photo by Ashlee Culverhouse /Times Free Press.

Guy Bilyeu, beloved leader of the Humane Educational Society, has died.

Karen Walsh, the go-get-'em director of McKamey Animal Center, has resigned.

Both shelters are now looking for new leaders.

Perhaps this is a good time to talk about consolidation.

"This is a somewhat historic turn of events for both facilities to be in the search for an executive director at the same time," said Dr. Tai Federico, interim director and president of the Humane Society's board.

Before either or both shelters commit to new leadership, let's pause. What if both shelters -- each professional, exceptional and vital to our region -- combined forces into one nobody-does-it-better shelter?

Use the strikingly fashionable and modern McKamey building as headquarters. Erase the current borders (McKamey contracts with the city; Humane Society with Hamilton County) and open the doors to all animals within the city, county and other municipalities that wish to contract services.

This becomes ground zero, the place for drop-off triage, direct care and adoption.

Turn the Humane Society building into a learning laboratory. Educational programs originate outward from here, with heavy emphasis placed on delivering to younger generations the message about spaying and neutering.

Like a Creative Discovery Museum, the building could import and export the best animal-centric educational practices of the day.

We can adopt as many animals as we want, but we will never fix -- pun intended -- the problem of homeless and orphaned animals without massive shifts in mindset. This only happens through education, and would be a perfect tribute to Bilyeu's St. Francis-type legacy.

Hire one rock star director (take notes from the downtown library), merge staffs and set a goal of reducing the euthanasia rate to 10 percent or less, all while becoming the leading animal shelter on the East coast.

"There is an opportunity for more cooperation between the two shelters," said Federico. "What form that will take in the future remains to be seen."

Of course, it also could be a miserable idea. City and county governments often seem more quick to mark and defend territory than cooperate and consolidate (look at Erlanger and its funding struggles) so it may be best to leave best alone. The last thing we need is to consolidate and then watch as both sides slowly sneak away, leaving the other holding the financial bag.

The city currently pays $1.5 million to McKamey for its services; it's been the shelter's primary funder since 2008, when the city stopped its contract with the Humane Society as McKamey opened its doors.

In 2014, the county will fund more than $433,000 of the annual budget for the Humane Society, which -- I had no idea of this -- has been in Hamilton County since 1907.

To harness together the best of each -- ideas, practices, staff, volunteers and patrons -- and merge into one shelter could help forgive any bad blood politics or fundraising competition that may, or may not, have come to exist over recent years.

After all, animal welfare folks have Great Dane-sized hearts that are bent downward toward the needs of the least of these animals among us. It's time to soberly ask: What is best for our region's animals?

"I'm up for anything that is going to help," said Karla McKamey-Valadez, emeritus board member whose family gave $1 million toward the opening of McKamey. "We all need to be together and raise money and raise awareness. We're all on the same side."

That sounds optimistically, compassionately wonderful.

How does this sound?

The McKamey-Bilyeu Shelter for Animals.

Contact David Cook at or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.