By CORRIE PELC, Valley Community Newspapers writer
Gina Knepp is one busy woman. A City of Sacramento employee for the last 25 years, she is public information officer for the Department of General Services, division manager of Sacramento City 311, and, since July 2011, the acting Animal Care Services manager for the City of Sacramento Animal Care Services.
Not coming from a shelter management background, Knepp has been busy making some “unconventional” changes to how Animal Care Services operates.
“One of the philosophical shifts for us is (focusing) on the people in Sacramento – we have to look at our community as the solution to our problem,” she says. “We have to take an approach in running our shelter like a business and recognizing that it’s the people that are going to do the adoptions, it’s the people who run the rescue groups that are going to partner with us to pull animals here so they leave with a heartbeat.”
‘Leave with a heartbeat’
Having animals “leave with a heartbeat” is one of Knepp’s constant messages to her staff in managing their animal population and keeping a steady flow of adopted animals out the front door.
“I’m really proud of the fact that our adoptions have risen and the number of animals that we are sending out to rescue groups is going up,” Knepp adds. “We’re working feverishly to improve every single aspect of what we do here.”
To help with this philosophy, Knepp is having all her staff undergo behavior evaluation training and has volunteer professional photographers taking what she calls “glamor shots” of adoptable animals, which she says has been a huge boon to their pet adoptions.
To help new adopters keep their animals, Knepp is starting to give each new family a free book on taking a pet home for the first time, plus the shelter has started providing information in Spanish. The shelter just started a program offering free ID tags and collars and free microchipping for lost pets.
“My goal is A: reducing intake, and B: if I get your animal I really want to get it back to you,” Knepp adds.
Knepp has even been helping the homeless population in Sacramento by taking care of their pets free-of-charge if they find themselves jailed or hospitalized, including vaccinations, altering and microchipping.
“If you’re homeless, your dog is your companion, your friend, your family – that’s all you’ve got,” she explains. “We all come from different walks of life, but the love of our animals is universal.”
Next for Knepp
Right now Knepp is working to achieve a 75 percent leave-live rate for the Shelter by August.
“The highest that I’ve gone, that was about two weeks ago, was 57.7 (percent),” she says. “Right now I’m at 49.6 (percent). Historically, it’s been much lower and I want to get to 75 percent.”
Call for volunteers
Additionally Knepp would like to have 200 active volunteers at Animal Care Services by this time next year.
“I think the most important component of successful sheltering and getting animals out alive is your volunteer program – it’s the people in the community who come in here to augment what staff do,” she says. And she is working on grant opportunities to expand the shelter’s current surgical capacities to spay and neuter adopted animals so they can go home with their new owners sooner.
However, Knepp is quick to point out that when it comes down to it, it’s not about how much money you have, but how much passion that makes the difference.
“It’s not about the dollars and it’s not about the number of people that work here. It’s about do you have passion to essentially do whatever it takes to get these animals adopted,” she explains. “Six years ago when there was money and more staff, their statistics weren’t better. So I really do believe it’s a shift in thinking that, ‘Yes, we can do this.’”