If you’re looking for the perfect man, they say, the best approach is to start from scratch and raise him yourself.
That’s sort of what longtime area animal welfare activist Jonathan “Jack” Cooper, newly-named director of Bradley County’s fledgling shelter, is hoping to do in his new position.
The 10-year veteran animal shelter worker – who once remarked that trying to care for all the animals who wind up in shelters can be “kind of like Sisyphus, trying over and over to roll a huge rock up a hill and never succeeding” – said he’s excited about the chance to create a new shelter.
The best part, he said, is that he’ll be working with other people who have the same goal: teaming up with Bradley County to create an up-to-date shelter designed to provide cats and dogs with the care they need and, at the same time, working to find the animals loving new homes.
“The (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) SPCA incorporated as a nonprofit on Sept. 2, 2013, for the express purpose of offering Bradley County a nonprofit managed alternative for animal control services,” he explained. “We applied for our 501c3 in November and expect our determination letter soon. Until then, we are operating as a tax exempt project of Dixie Dogs and Cats (Dixie Day Spay Clinic).”
SPCA, Mr. Cooper said, is “composed of members of several disparate but related organizations such as Dixie Dogs and Cats, Dixie Pet Underground, Cleveland for a NO KILL City and East Ridge Animal Services . . . proposed to offer progressive animal sheltering services as well as emergency animal control and assistance with cruelty investigations.”
Reaching their joint goal will take lots of work, he said, “but we’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen.”
For Mr. Cooper, no stranger to adopting innovative strategies to help shelter animals, “whatever it takes” can cover a lot of ground.
In 2006, not long after he went to work at East Ridge Animal Shelter, for example, he realized that if he was going to have any luck at catching all the dogs he had to chase, he was going to need some serious cardio training.
In his spare time, he started running.
Before long, he was hooked. He rain his first marathon in March 2007, did a spring marathon a month later and – over the next three years – completed five half Ironmans, bunches of triathlons, and ran five more marathons.
In 2010, he decided he was ready for an Ironman and signed up for a charity slot in Louisville. His goal: to raise money to spay and neuter dogs and cats at the East Ridge Shelter.
An Ironman triathlon is a one-day endurance event, comprised of a 2.4- mile open water swim, 112-mile bicycle race, and 26.2-mile marathon – all of which must be completed in under 17 hours. Mr. Cooper, despite a serious bike crash that left both him and his bike seriously injured, finished that competition in 16 hours and 29 minutes.
The wreck, rather than discouraging him, made him more determined. He was back in Louisville a year later, raising money to spay and neuter as many as possible of the animals in his care.
To date, he has completed four Ironmans and, of course, he’s planning to do more.
He approaches other adversities in the same determined fashion.
Last October, for example, a health crisis led to Mr. Cooper and his wife Sara being arrested in North Chattanooga after a police officer found the couple lying on the ground, bloody and bruised.
Widely publicized, the incident led to his suspension and eventual resignation from East Ridge Animal Shelter.
Rather than slink away quietly, however, the Coopers – after seeking the needed medical help -- went to court fighting. Eventually, after officials understood what really happened during the incident, all charges against the couple were dismissed.
That done, Mr. Cooper said, it’s time to get back to what he best loves doing: "whatever it takes" to improve the lives of unwanted, sometimes abused shelter animals.
He can’t think of a better way to tackle that, he added, than helping the new Bradley County shelter get up and running.
Beth Foster will serve as development/communications director.
“We are excited to add two seasoned, experienced animal welfare professionals as our first staff positions,” SPCA Board President Betti Gravelle said. “Both Jack and Beth have shown tremendous leadership in the No Kill movement with their activism and work in past years. They have also been involved in forming the organization since its very beginnings. We as a board have complete confidence that they will lead the SPCA to be a successful organization that improves conditions for animals in our community.”
Mr. Cooper, who will report to the board and be responsible for overseeing the shelter and animal control, led the East Ridge shelter to become the first No Kill, open admission, municipal shelter in Tennessee, it was stated.
In addition to his work at East Ridge, Mr. Cooper worked at Animal Clinic Inc. as a veterinary assistant and as shelter supervisor at the Humane Education Society in Chattanooga. He is a nationally certified animal control officer and a certified animal cruelty investigator through the University of Missouri-Columbia Law Enforcement Training Institute. His other certifications include Basic Agricultural Emergency Responder, Basic Wildlife Rehabilitation and Animal Euthanasia Technician. He is part of the USDA National Animal Health Emergency Response Corps, Hamilton County Disaster Animal Response Team, the National Animal Control Association and Animal Control Association of Tennessee.
Ms. Foster, who will report to the board and be responsible for communications, fundraising and grant writing, worked as an award-winning newspaper editor and reporter for 15 years. Most recently she founded and directed the animal rescue organization Dixie Pet Underground. A lead organizer for Cleveland for a No Kill City, that organization went on to reduce the kill rate at Cleveland Animal Control to less than 5 percent. Foster has Bachelor of Arts degrees in journalism, English and political science.
Continuing in her journalism career, Ms. Foster is currently a writer with Demand Studios, writing primarily about animals, culture and politics. She is involved in social justice and animal rights activism and organizing. She currently serves as Tennessee State Lead for Animals Vote, and is on the board of directors for Cleveland for a No Kill City and Chattanooga Organized for Action. She is an active participant in Occupy Chattanooga and Mercy Junction ministry; and has worked in trap-neuter-return programs for feral cats, as a veterinary assistant, and as a volunteer at multiple spay/neuter clinics/programs.
Mr. Cooper will be paid a base salary of $30,000 annually.Ms. Foster will be paid a base salary of $6,000 annually with the potential of reaching a $30,000 salary with an incentive package for meeting fundraising/grant writing goals.