Animal House

County officials dog Arizona Humane Society

Usually it's the special interest group that has trouble getting face time with the elected official. Not so when it comes to cats and dogs, according to Bill Lally, executive administrator to Maricopa County Supervisor Fulton Brock.

Lally says he and his staff have spent the past six months trying to arrange a meeting with Arizona Humane Society Executive Director Ken White.

Lally and Brock want to ask White why the Arizona Humane Society accepts animals from New Mexico when tens of thousands of cats and dogs from Maricopa County are euthanized here each year -- by both the county and the humane society. They also want to know why White's organization will not join the Valley's other animal welfare groups and the county in applying for a multimillion-dollar grant that could ultimately lead to a "no-kill" facility in Maricopa County.

White's apparent reluctance to meet with Brock is a mystery -- and White himself is not talking. (He did not return calls from New Times.) Some suggest that White is focusing more on building his own organization's image and less on cooperating with other animal groups.

Becky Ramsdell, communications specialist for the Arizona Humane Society, acknowledges that the organization does have a program called Project Reach Out that involves taking in animals from the Navajo Nation, which includes parts of New Mexico, but she refused to comment further on that or other topics.

"Ken actually would probably be the best person to talk to about that," she says.

And Ken's not talking.

In the past, Lally admits, the county has had a troubled relationship with animal-rights groups. But recently, the county changed the name of its animal-control unit (from Rabies Animal Control to Animal Control Services) and changed its director (to Ed Boks). It's started trying to change its image, too.

Lally says the strategy has worked.

"When Supervisor Brock was chairman in 1999, the only chairman's plaque of appreciation . . .was issued to Ed Boks, because so much stuff had happened."

Boks opened the county's new pet adoption center and straightened out his department's budget, Lally says. With Boks' assistance, just about every significant animal-welfare group in the county has signed on to the plan to apply for a grant from Maddie's Fund, a California-based nonprofit that hands out grants to communities that come together to create no-kill facilities. The holdout is the Arizona Humane Society, which has already raised $9 million toward a goal of $20 million to build its own private shelter.

And one thing Ed Boks couldn't do, Lally admits, was make peace with Ken White.

Lally says Boks approached Brock earlier this year and asked him to help patch things up between Animal Control Services and the Arizona Humane Society.

Brock agreed to set up a meeting. "Starting around March, I think, we called [Ken White's] office, scheduled a meeting. It seemed like maybe a couple days before the meeting, Ken would call and cancel the meeting. It happened, that spring, probably two or three times, with really no reasons why. At one time I think he mentioned that, 'Hey, this is just a rehash of the old issues. I'm not interested.'

"And then about that same time, Ed came to Fulton and said, `Gosh, not only are they not working things out, they are adopting pets from outside the state and I think we need to sit down and address this issue.'"

Still, no meeting. In almost two years with Brock's office, Lally says he's never had such difficulty arranging a meeting of this nature.

"We are very flexible, and our scheduler even mentioned to me on many occasions [that White is] very condescending on the phone."

Last month, Brock's office wrote directly to Lisa Shover, president of the Arizona Humane Society's board of directors. Shover wrote back and asked that all communication go through White, not her. But the letter apparently worked. Lally says White called last week, suddenly willing to schedule a meeting.

"So we're back, basically, to where we were in March, with the process of setting up a meeting, again, with Ken White, to discuss mutual issues of concern."

Lally hopes White shows up.

 
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