By Jacqueline Vaughn
A crowd of animal welfare activists, local residents, public officials, and potential adopters fought wind and dust to attend the grand opening of High Country Humane’s facility in Flagstaff on Saturday, April 13. The event was the culmination of a long road that began in 2004 with the opening of Second Chance Center for Animals, the closing of that facility in 2017, and the awarding of a 5 year contract to Paw Placement of Northern Arizona in October 2018 to open as High Country Humane in January 2019. Under the contract with Coconino County and the City of Flagstaff, High Country Humane took over the contract to provide animal shelter services for both government entities. The contract previously had been awarded to the Coconino Humane Association.
In its new incarnation, High Country Humane is operating in the $2.1 million building used by Second Chance on Highway 89 in east Flagstaff. The facility had sat empty for more than a year and a half, and has been spruced up considerably since it closed. New paint and improvements to the 10 acre site and its 20,000 square foot building have given the organization not only a new look but also a new start. Steve Conrad, hired as executive director for High Country Humane, calls the group’s initial operations “a time of transition.” When the facility officially opened for business under the new contract on January 2, 2019, all stray and owner-surrendered animals within the city and county rapidly began arriving. Conrad says that in its first four months, the organization was extremely busy responding to winter weather challenges (including 44 inches of snow from a single storm) and a team of new and returning staff members and volunteers. During that quarter, the facility took in 600 animals, returning 140 of them too their owners, placing 90 in foster homes, adopting 228 into new homes, and transferring 31 others to rescues throughout Arizona.
There are 17 members of the High Country Humane staff, including veterinarian Dr. Carly Bennett, Stacy DaBolt, Director of Animal Care and Operations, and two veterinary technicians. The organization’s goal, Conrad says, is to grow from just providing veterinary services to the facility’s own animals. He hopes to open a low cost animal clinic by the end of 2019. In addition, they hope to add outdoor kennels to the current configuration of indoor kennels. High Country Humane also operates a pet food pantry on the fourth Saturday of each month, and is expanding its Foster Heroes program.
Building a new staff from the ground up has been one of the challenges facing the group’s Board of Directors. Conrad is new to the animal welfare world, but not to Flagstaff, having lived here six years. He has a business degree from Northern Arizona University, and has worked with various non-profit groups, including the Boys and Girls Club and Habitat for Humanity. “Animals are my passion and always have been. Now my passion is a full time job as the Executive Director. It feels like a miracle to be able to serve our community with this opportunity. My goal is to be a visionary leader who can also maintain focus on sound management, engage effectively with our community, create new ways to utilize volunteers, and build and empower a team that is committed to serving both human and animal clients with the highest level of care and professionalism,” he notes on the group’s website. Steve and his wife Missy have three children who are all married and one grandson. The Conrad family is also home to three dogs, two llamas, two goats, four chickens and a donkey.
Dr. Bennett joins the staff after serving as a veterinary technician at Second Chance Center for Animals. She went to veterinary school, completed her studies in Dublin, Ireland, and then moved back to Flagstaff. Prior to joining High Country Humane, she worked at Kaibab Veterinary Clinic for six years. Stacie DaBolt comes to High Country Humane as Director of Animal Care and Operations after working more than 13 years in the animal welfare field, including animal cruelty investigations, Emergency Animal Medical Management, field operations, and most recently as the Director of Operations for the Animal Welfare Association in Voorhees, New Jersey. She has one cat and two dogs at her new home in Flagstaff.
Conrad says that one of the biggest challenges that High Country Humane faces is that there is a small pool of financial supporters for non-profits in northern Arizona, and those funds are divided up by dozens of groups. This makes fundraising a key element of the animal shelter’s operational strategies. This will be important for the group, since the money from the contact with the city and the county will cover only the basic operation of the facility. High Country Humane participated in April’s Arizona Gives campaign, but is not eligible for the state tax credit program. Other funding sources will include grants and support from the shelter’s business partners, which include national support from Petsmart and Bissel. “Through philanthropy, product donations and corporate volunteer programs, [these] companies directly invest in our mission and in their own corporate social responsibility.” There is also a diverse array of local business support ranging from Findlay Toyota and Lumberyard Brewing Company to Canyon Pet Hospital and the Veterinary Emergency and specialty Center of Northern Arizona.
Asked about his relationship with the Coconino Humane Association, which previously held the city/county contract, Conrad says it is too early to say, except that “we’re here to co-exist.” He is starting to meet with other local rescue groups such as the Ark Cat Sanctuary, and believes that one of his goals will be to reunite Coconino County’s animal welfare resources. So far, that support has been forthcoming. As he notes in a comment from one Arizona Gives donor, “We’re so glad you’re here.”
High Country Humane
11665 N. US Highway 89
Flagstaff, AZ 86004