Tuesday, December 04, 2012

TOP STORY >> Cabot shelter director named

Leader staff writer

The Cabot Animal Shelter has a new director, but a familiar face. Animal control interim director Mike Wheeler was named director by the city last month. He has worked at the shelter for three years.

He replaces former director Jason Ellerbee, who was fired last month after a city investigation discovered that donation money was missing from a safe at the shelter. Ellerbee admitted to the theft, according to a Cabot police report. The funds, $192, were returned but not before an audit showed it was missing.

A new animal shelter donation account is managed by the city treasurer and city clerk’s office. All donations are set aside and used solely for the animal shelter. The funds roll over year after year.

“We’re focused on tightening the ship here and providing better customer service and support to the community. We have a great rescue coordinator who’s helping to reach out to animal rescue groups throughout the county,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler wants to revitalize the shelter’s volunteer program and provide more training for staff and animal handling. He said the animal shelter will be more involved in city events and working with more of the schools to get students involved.

“The more we educate people, the easier it will be to do our job here,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler was raised in Ward and is a 1990 Cabot High School graduate. He served four years in the Army as a military intelligence analyst in Colorado. He later became an insurance salesman in Denver for 15 years. Wheeler and his wife wanted to raise their four children in a better school district and moved to Cabot, where he began his career as an animal control officer.

“We always had animals at the farm (in Ward). It was the public service aspect of animal control that made me take the job over the others,” Wheeler said.

According to Wheeler, the shelter’s euthanasia rate in the past four years has dropped from 55-percent in 2008 to 19-percent this year.

“Our goal is to keep that moving down, while offering more services for the community,” he said.

The animal shelter has a mobile adoption unit, a public spay and neuter clinic and a food bank with pet foods for financially struggling pet owners.

Wheeler said there is a misconception about the animal shelter. He said it has two different functions.

The shelter finds animals new homes by arranging adoptions. Animal possum control provides trapping services for opossum, raccoons, skunks and feral cats.

“We clean up road kill, pick up stray and injured animals and enforce city ordinances pertaining to animals,” Wheeler said.

Residents can talk with animal control officers about problems with wild or domestic animals, instances of abuse or neglect and other concerns about animals.

The shelter phased out a shelter technician position and will have three animal control officers, a kennel technician and a director. The shelter tech was responsible for adoptions, the front desk, reception and filing paperwork. The shelter will instead have a three-person rotation to prevent officers who are on call 24 hours a day from becoming burned-out.

Wheeler said a dog park next to the shelter is still in the three-year plan as time and money allows.

“We are one of the nicest managed shelters in the state and have one of the lowest euthanasia rates in the state. Through public education and employee training we’re working to provide the best services for citizens and the city of Cabot,” Wheeler said.