From the start of his tenure at Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, new Administrator Doug Rae has not been one to hide his emotions. At his first board meeting, he told the story of his dog Casey, the reason he got into the animal welfare business. Casey's death still affects him so deeply, he tears up thinking about it.
Rae is a no-nonsense New Englander who doesn't sugarcoat the unpleasant truth. Leading a recent tour of the city shelter, he included a stop in the euthanasia room and adjoining holding area, where bodies were piled in trash bags. "We're killing 60 percent of the animals that come through here," he said.
Though his goal is to save 80 to 85 percent, he shook his head, admitting, "We're not close." Eventually he envisions putting down only animals that are too ill or aggressive to place.
"My vision is nothing special," he said. "It's just doing right by the animals. I see the eyes of my dogs and my cat out there on the floor."
Rae has improved kennel conditions during the few months he's been on the job. His emphasis on customer service is taking hold in the staff. Most significantly, he courageously rolled back a ban on adopting out good-natured pit bulls.
But it will take more than incremental change to fully transform the place. Rae has begun hiring in an effort to get up to full staff, and he sees hope on the horizon, despite the grinding pace of bureaucracy. With adoption counselors, a behaviorist and a rescue/foster liaison among the new positions, the facility should soon be making huge strides.
Key to its success will be Rae's own passion, representing a 180-degree turn from business as usual in animal sheltering. "Historically, [IACC] tried to find reasons to kill animals to save space," he said. "We're looking for reasons to save animals."
Jerry Bippus, IACC's operations manager, said it had been a long wait for someone like Rae at the helm. "We have the right guy in the position," he declared.
Previous shelters Rae headed up in Maryland and Philadelphia had 86 percent and 72 percent save rates. With fewer animals and a larger budget in Indy, "I see no reason why we can't do that here," he said, "and do it better than anyplace I've ever been before."
Until then, Rae will not be satisfied. The photo of Casey on his desk is a reminder of what still needs to be done.