Human Interest

After a dogged search, the cat’s out of the bag as the Humane Society of Sedona hired its newest executive director.

Austin Gates took over the role Monday, July 18. She took the job after working as vice president and director of the San Diego Humane Society’s Oceanside, Calif., campus.

Gates said she pursued the position to get to a smaller town, one with less traffic, as well as fewer animals in the shelter, so that she could focus more on individual potential pets and community events.

Gates has an extensive career in animal-care management. She has her bachelor’s degree in organizational management. She was the executive director of a then-new shelter in the state of Washington for 10 years, handling 3,000 animals a year — more than Sedona’s average — and handled animal care programs and fundraising and other financial aspects. She then worked for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals as the director of animal relocation and the national manager of the spay and neuter project before leaving for her California job. While there, she handled more than 60 employees, a $3 million budget and 6,000 animals a year.

One of the things Gates said she’s most proud of was her work in a community cats program.

“I was fortunate that they were very progressive and willing to try new and innovative programs,” she said.

In the past, many cats were being euthanized due to overcrowding.

“I was able to start a program where they were adopted out to barn homes and we started doing shelter, neuter, return.”

In addition, she helped create a more customer-friendly adoption system that increased average rates.

While she said that she hasn’t had a chance to come up with any specifics for programs in Sedona yet, she was looking forward to meeting one-on-one with all the volunteers and staff to get their input.

Gates said she couldn’t imagine working at any other job and noted that coming to Sedona is “adding a beautiful backdrop” to a fulfilling career.

With dogs and cats as the main animals coming into the shelter, Gates was pressed to state whether she was a cat or dog person.

“I spent half of my life being a dog person, then the other half — kind of professionally — as a cat person,” she said.

She noted cats are at the most risk of being euthanized and that due to new innovative programs, it is an exciting time to work with them.

She owns two dogs and three cats.

“So, I guess if you go by the numbers, I guess I’m a cat person,” she admitted.

Solidifying Leadership

The Humane Society of Sedona has had problems filling the executive director position. Board President Paul Claus said that there were leadership issues that arose after the more mom-and-pop-style management that founded the society left.

“I don’t believe the top management was doing the job we hoped they would do in the past,” he said, “but that’s the past.”

Two directors have left after short tenures, Suzanne Fuqua and, most recently, Mark Thompson.

“It’s really hard to take an organization that was run by one person for 25 years,” he said. “It looks like it is a simple thing to manage, but it’s actually quite complex.”

In previous tenures, volunteers and lower-level staff had expressed discontent, but Claus is convinced they will be impressed with Gates.
“Communication is one of the things we missed in the past,” he said.


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