Since I'm an animal lover I have been reading the negative articles about McKamey and find them appalling and ridiculous.
I was volunteering there last year when a group of people came all the way from Texas to visit the Center since they had heard such wonderful things about it and wanted to model a new animal shelter in their town after Chattanooga's. I was told that many people from shelters all over the country have visited McKamey to see first hand what a beautiful facility it is and how well it is run. I saw the Designing Spaces TV show that was filmed there and know this had to be a big honor for them to be chosen for that from shelters all over the country.
The animals are extremely well cared for and the executive director, Karen Walsh, has done a fabulous job turning things around there after a very shaky start right after the shelter was built. The people I have met who work there have great respect for Karen and the tremendous amount of hours she spends working at the center. For being the big boss I was very surprised how friendly she was to all of us and always said hi and spoke to everyone.
The people complaining must have some kind of personal vendetta against McKamey because their comments are petty, childish and without merit from what I have seen and heard there (like the other volunteer who wrote their opinion this week). They must not have ever visited any other animal shelter where the over-crowded conditions and animal care are despicable, not to mention the huge number of healthy animals many shelters put down every month without even trying to find them homes. The employees at McKamey do their very best to provide the animals in their care not only with food and shelter but with lots of love as well until they can find them a forever home, which can sometimes be months (I've known shelters that will only keep a dog a few days and then put it down for no reason). It is a very emotional job I know because every time I volunteer at a shelter it breaks my heart to see all the unwanted, and sometimes abused animals, puppies and kittens that come through the doors. This is what these people who work there experience every day and they do the very best job they can with a very emotional situation. They deserve all the support and respect we can give them because many of us could not do it.
Karen Walsh and her team do a tremendous job and earn every penny they make. Attacking her and the McKamey shelter with petty little complaints for some personal agenda they must have is unconscionable. Why are there people who want to bash a place that is making such great efforts to address the pet overpopulation problems we have here? If people were responsible pet owners we wouldn't need shelters like McKamey but we all know that will never happen and we can never get everyone to spay and neuter their dogs and cats let alone give them the love and care they need. Animals give us unconditional love and deserve a lot more than they get from many owners. It is heartbreaking and that is what these people at McKamey and other shelters have to deal with daily.
I have also met several of the board members who work with McKamey and can tell you that they are some of the nicest, most caring animal lovers I have ever met. They often stop at the shelter and bring donuts, cookies and other goodies for everyone. If they have decided that someone should not be on the board they must have a good reason. Just because a person is an animal lover doesn't make them a nice person or someone who can work with other people. I have never been on a board, but I have been on many sports teams and have seen the type of person who pulls the whole team down because of their poor attitude and because they think they know it all.
I challenge anyone to go visit the McKamey shelter and experience the friendly staff there, and even Karen herself will gladly give you a tour so you can see for yourself what is going on there. Please do not listen to the opinions of people who do not know what they are talking about and only want to cause problems there because of some silly, childish reasons. In my opinion and from other shelters I've seen McKamey is a model that should be strived for and the city of Chattanooga should be proud and honored to have such a wonderful facility with such a great staff running it. Other cities are envious of McKamey and have a right to be. Makes you wonder why they can't do what has been done here in Chattanooga. I give McKamey 5 Stars for the wonderful job they are doing.
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I, too, would like to express my sadness at editorials written by individuals who misunderstand the role and effectiveness of the McKamey Animal Center and its Director Karen Walsh. Complaints about McKamey staff not being able to find collection jars, excessive wait times to purchase retail items and delays in accepting donations stretch the imagination. Many complaints are more than misunderstandings. They are just plain false. Comments beginning with “last I heard” are always suspicious and most often times false.
Comments made about Karen Walsh’s compensation demonstrates a lack awareness of Ms. Walsh’s job responsibilities and the countless hours required to service the McKamey organization, our community and most importantly abandoned and lost animals. Ms. Walsh’s responsibilities exist seven of seven days a week.
As to Ms. Keith’s accusation that McKamey’s staff is “rude, condescending, and lack customer service skills”, my impression is just the opposite. The staff I encountered there has been happy, friendly, accommodating, and genuinely appreciative of my visit regardless of the reason. I have never waited excessively, nor did I ever feel that anyone helping me was incompetent. We had a stray animal running loose in our neighborhood, so I called McKamey. They responded quickly and professionally.
I now serve on the City’s Animal Control Board, but did not know Ms. Walsh before our meetings began at the beginning of the year. Over the past nine months I have been privileged to work alongside Ms. Walsh at meetings. I can vouch for the fact that she is extremely knowledgeable about all things animal related both in this city and around the country. Her life is dedicated to the welfare of animals in our city. She is passionate, professional, well-spoken, and highly respected in the community and by our board. She has been an invaluable asset to the board and we would have been at an extreme disadvantage had we not had access to her wealth of knowledge and experience. As the director of McKamey, she is responsible for their vet clinic, animal adoption, animal rescue, animal control, and animal education. As a non-profit, she is also responsible for fund raising. Her compensation is commiserate with her responsibilities and on par with other local non-profits.
The facts speak best. During her tenure, Ms. Walsh worked hand in hand with its dedicated Board to take McKamey from a huge deficit to operating solidly in the black. Under her direction, Chattanooga has gone from an 80% euthanasia rate to a live release rate that is now 70 percent which is well above the national average and amazing considering that McKamey takes in over 8000 animals a year. (These facts can be found on the website and by looking up McKamey’s 990 report on Guidestar.) She has made McKamey a nationally recognized facility that is now used to train other facilities around the country. The governor appointed her to the State Veterinary Board. She is the regional director for Animal Care and Control. She is a regional and national speaker on animal control issues. The Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce voted McKamey as The Non-Profit of the Year. The Better Business Bureau gave McKamey the Torch Award for marketplace ethics. McKamey’s board is totally supportive of Walsh. All of these things are a direct result of Ms. Walsh’s leadership and are no fluke. All of this was done by Walsh while operating with the very same budget that was allocated to animal control under the past humane society years ago. That information is on the internet too!
As a nationally recognized leader in her field, Chattanooga is lucky to have Ms. Walsh at the helm. This “witch hunt” against her is a disgrace and we, as a city, should be ashamed. Any strong leader in a demanding position that interacts with hundreds of people every year, will encounter a handful of people who will disagree with them. Fortunately, the vast majority of Chattanoogans are proud to claim Ms. Walsh as “one of our own”.
P.S. To those of you who would like to see Chattanooga save even more animals at McKamey…Are you willing to donate the money necessary to make this happen? While some shelters can expend thousands of dollars on a few critically ill animals, presently McKamey does not have that luxury. They are too busy pushing against a tide of irresponsible pet owners. One thing I have learned while on the Animal Control Board is that McKamey deals with extremely complex issues on a day-to-day basis. It has a community responsibility as a public safety entity to protect the public from potentially dangerous animals, deal with tragic cases of hoarding, illness and neglect which, in some cases, cannot be saved. That being said, the team at McKamey, their board and Walsh included, all have an extreme passion, love for, and dedication to every single animal, and citizen, in this city.
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Let's be honest, the center simply has a bad reputation within the community. It began from requiring bachelors degrees for service techs (aka - dog catchers). Criminal Justice is preferred according to their website. If you go back and read through forums, you will notice a trend of disdain because of animal control call requests being repeatedly ignored. I just experienced this first hand with a heavily pregnant kitty roaming a parking lot. Apparently the owners and managers of this complex have been calling for over two weeks and have yet to receive a response. But does McKamey want the public to step in and assist? Heavens no. Their policy is one of "stray dogs and companion animals should never be picked up by citizens and that the stray animals are better roaming around."
The downward trend of their reputation continues with staff of the center belittling the HES and their operations. Let's not forget Heritage Park, where you pay to play and witness canine segregation and handler harassment constantly. Of course, the media firestorm that hit last year as the center wrongly euthanized a family pet should not be forgotten. What about when they overstepped their bounds and unlawfully seized animals from the Pet Company? Now don't take me wrong. I abhor pet stores with business models like the Pet Company. But appropriate action was not followed. Just recently, McKamey made the news at their attempt to raise annual permit fees from $50 to $100 for restaurants that allow leashed companions. Thank goodness Chris Anderson stepped in and reminded the council that contract support cannot raise fees that will be directly received by the vendor. I can also attest to the broken adoption system at McKamey. A co-worker of mine recently took a day to visit the center with hopes of finding a new furry friend. He tells me he was met with rudeness and contention. After an hour and half wait and not one viewing, he left the facility. He was able to visit another local agency and adopted a new family member without incident.
There are a lot of missed opportunities for this facility. Their mission statement is "To enhance the lives of companion animals and people by encouraging a culture of responsibility and compassion." However, I have serious doubts about the board's conviction and adherence to their own bylaws and therefore employee buy-in. I have tried to support this center, as not all they do is negative. But time and time again they have proven to me why a business that begins as a $1 million tax write-off cannot have the well-being of the animals at heart.