Paul Marksbury, Director of Operations.
I knew it wasn’t all puppies and rainbows, but this is ridiculous.
I joined the Lawrence Humane Society staff in December 2016. My only prior experience in the animal welfare world was volunteering at various shelters over the years where I socialized cats, walked dogs, and monitored animals waking up from anesthesia. Before that I worked for an amazing youth development organization for 10 years.
It was time for a change, and I found one.
After just a few weeks on the job, I learned that behind the scenes at an animal shelter, there’s another universe of head-spinning challenges, heartbreaking stories, and magnificent acts of selflessness that make each day a vivid education and an unique adventure.
If you are unfamiliar with the role of Director of Operations, it basically means, while you do oversee specific departments, programs and functions, you also field the questions, issues, and crises that aren’t really on anyone’s plate. “Other duties as assigned” takes on a whole new meaning with this job.
On a given week, you’ll find me brainstorming animal flow solutions with colleagues, replacing a leaky washing machine, setting a trap for a feral cat in the ceiling, writing a fire evacuation plan, and trying to pacify an irate customer. To illustrate, I was interrupted writing this post several times, including to help catch a nervous husky who got away from his new family in the parking lot and to check a leaky clinic ceiling, dripping ironically onto the “wet table”.
In fact, the unpredictability of this job is what I love about it. I love the challenges. I love the surprises. I love the fact that every day is different, every person and animal has their own story, and most of all, that every staff member is here because they want to be.
The weird, wild chess game that is animal shelter management is only winnable when you have a team who believes they are making a difference.
Our staff can do a lot less work for a lot more money elsewhere. They’re here because they’re willing to trade comfort for meaning. They understand we are creating justice for animals who need advocates. Disruptions may be relentless, but so are we. And together, we move mountains! For starters, we have grown the number of intakes, adoptions, public spay-neuter surgeries and transfer-ins while reducing euthanasia every year for the past three years. We have an enviable 65% return-to-owner rate for dogs and 30% for cats and we found homes for more than 225 animals in one day in August 2018, which is nothing short of miraculous.
Coming to this role with virtually no animal shelter experience has taught me humility. I’ve made plenty of mistakes and will make more. But that lack of experience is an asset too. By questioning everything out of necessity, I help spur change by identifying inefficiencies and encouraging people to try new things. I become less of an outsider every day, but I strive to maintain that spirit of constant examination and improvement to our operations. Our animals deserve nothing less.
Paul Marksbury joined Lawrence Humane Society in December 2016. Prior to this role, he served as Affiliate Services Manager for Youth Volunteer Corps, a nonprofit that creates service projects for 11-18 year old.