For the first time in 17 years, Animal Care and Control of Fort Wayne has gone 10 months without euthanizing a cat or kitten for space. And when Amy-Jo Sites was recently called upon to present to the City Council on proposed cuts to the agency’s budget, her thoughtful presentation fully flipped the vote. Meet the dynamic force behind these important victories.
Name: Amy-Jo Sites, MPA, CAWA
Member of The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement since: 2013
Organization: Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control
Q&A With Amy-Jo Sites
The Association: What are three words to describe Fort Wayne Animal Care and Control?
Amy-Jo Sites: Adaptable, Progressive, and Professional.
The Association: What is your favorite part of your job? The most challenging?
A-J S: My favorite part of the job is providing my staff the resources they need to bring new life-saving programs to life. As the largest open-admission shelter in NE Indiana, we constantly have to pivot and adapt to the needs of the animals in our care as well as those in the community. We are striving to be an all-inclusive resource center for those we service.
Our biggest challenge, like so many other shelters, is securing the funding we need to make these changes happen. We do generate revenue for the City, but in order to ensure we aren’t pricing people out of their pets, we still have to be reasonable with our fees for services. There is a lot of red tape to get through when working for a government entity. Often times, we have to present our ideas for programming through multiple approval boards before we can begin to implement them.
The Association: You recently had a big win, scoring funding from your City Council. What’s your advice for animal welfare professionals when working with their local leaders to get things done?
A-J S: Be prepared for anything! When I am invited to the table to discuss our budget and potential cuts, I make sure to have as many stats and supportive arguments as possible. I have been very fortunate in the four years I have been Director to know what questions members of City Council will be asking. The questions are submitted along with their proposed budget cuts to our Controller’s office. I also make sure to focus on the ‘why,’ since the majority of our local leaders do not understand animal welfare, nor see it as the profession it has become in recent years. I discuss our programs and parallels to national trends that are occurring within other animal welfare agencies across the U.S.
The members of our City Council all have their own agendas, like most local leaders. Finding what their platforms are and making sure to tie in what your agency is doing has worked for us to gain their support. When I am trying to get a new position or increase our budget to accommodate new programming, I count on our supporters to reach out to their representatives so they can voice their support for the proposal. My philosophy has been the worst they can say is ‘no’. You have to be willing to put yourself out there and take the risks to get what you need for your agency to be successful.
The Association: You and your team have helped thousands of animals. Is there one who stands out, and why?
A-J S: One case that stands out to me is Prince. Prince was discovered by the Fort Wayne Police Department, weighing only 34 pounds and unable to walk or stand, simply due to lack of strength. He had been living in a dark, concrete basement and was only fed rations of canned vegetables. Our staff began to recognize signs of distress consistent with a foreign object in the digestive track. It seemed that Prince had turned to other objects to satisfy his hunger pains. He was immediately transferred for emergency surgery, where several socks and various other materials were removed from his digestive system. This type of surgery would be difficult for a healthy dog, let alone a dog who was in such a fragile state, but Prince persevered! The owner was charged with Misdemeanor Cruelty to an Animal, with a sentence of a year on home detention, restitution for the care we provided, community service and no animal ownership for 10 years.
The Association: What’s one thing keeping you healthy and resilient these days?
A-J S: I am an avid runner and overall fitness enthusiast. I make sure to exercise for at least 30 minutes every day for my sanity and peace of mind. Other than spending quality time with my husband and daughter, we also make sure to take our two Great Danes out on as many excursions to the neighboring trails and parks.
The Association: What’s one thing—industry-related or not—you learned in the past month?
A-J S: Things aren’t always the way they seem. You have to get the full story to be truly informed. There is so much negativity and half-stories being shared on a daily basis, it can be overwhelming. I have really tried to focus on the positive things in both my professional and personal life.
The Association: What’s your hidden talent?
A-J S: I don’t know if I have a hidden talent per se, but there are several things I like to do. I’m sure I wouldn’t win any contests or awards for them, but enjoy sewing, cooking, and horticulture.
The Association: How have you benefited from your involvement with The Association for Animal Welfare Advancement?
A-J S: The Association has helped me network with a variety of individuals from all over. I love the versatility The Association provides among its members. I’ve also enjoyed The Learning Center. It allows me the opportunity to see what other shelters are doing as well as the trends that are working to save more lives.
The Association: What’s your advice for an animal welfare leader in training?
A-J S: When you see something that another agency is doing, ask questions. Even if their shelter isn’t exactly like yours in operation or size, the fundamentals are still there. We are all in this together, and for the same reasons. We can’t work in a silo and be successful. You have to collaborate with others and be open to suggestions for improvements.