County animal shelter's top dog to retire

Jackson County Animal Care and Control Center will soon have new leadership. Citing health concerns as the reason for ending her 26-year career with the shelter, Executive Director Colleen Macuk announced she is on medical leave and will retire on July 1.

"I am blessed to have had a career working with the animals I love so much," Macuk wrote in a letter to the Mail Tribune. "I will miss the people and the job, but it is time to take care of myself and my family."

Macuk, who began working at the shelter in 1986, said she is proud of the work she has done.

"(I) have enjoyed being a part of the successful and innovative changes in how (the shelter) serves the community and the animals," she said.

Macuk has come under fire from former staffers and the public in the past few years. Andy Lane, a former animal control officer, is suing the county and Macuk for more than half a million dollars.

Lane was fired on Sept. 11, 2009, after being arrested for allegedly using his position to steal livestock. The charges were later dropped.

Lane claims he is a victim of wrongful termination and sexual harassment. He is seeking $381,000 in back and future wages, plus $100,000 for wrongful discharge from the county. Lane is also suing Macuk for $100,000, saying his former boss has caused him extreme emotional distress.

County Administrator Danny Jordan said Macuk sent her retirement letter to him a few weeks ago. Jordan said Macuk is leaving of her own volition and stressed she was not pressured to leave by the county.

"Allegations are just that, they're allegations," Jordan said. "She was not in the process of being disciplined. We appreciate the 25 years of service she gave to the county and to the animals."

Earlier this year, two other terminated staffers complained of shelter mismanagement in a television news story. The story ran after the shelter had made changes following public outcry over the fate of Max, a pet cat trapped by a neighbor and mistakenly euthanized by shelter staff last Christmas.

Max's tragedy resulted in a media firestorm and policy changes regarding cats. Macuk briefly left a January meeting of the Animal Control Advisory Committee in tears following an emotional plea from another cat owner.

Medford resident Pam Weber choked back tears as she recounted how her cat also was trapped by a neighbor, deemed unmanageable by shelter staff, and euthanized before she could reclaim it. Weber demanded policy changes. But she praised Macuk for her compassionate response when the two spoke after Max had been euthanized. Macuk also wept over the fate of Weber's cat as the two briefly clasped hands over the meeting table.

New scanners were purchased to check for microchips, nonferal cats are now being kept longer, and there is a new Facebook page that posts pictures of strays brought into the shelter.

As the controversy swirled, Jordan approached an animal welfare expert from Portland. Sharon Harmon, executive director of the Oregon Humane Society, visited the shelter and will continue to offer advice on how to make the operation more efficient and effective, Jordan said, adding his decision to seek outside advice was not an indictment of Macuk.

The information will bolster ongoing "best shelter practices" education, he said.

"I've been communicating directly with her," Jordan said.

A task force consisting of leadership from the county shelter and other area shelters was formed to develop recommendations for short-term and long-term solutions that address the problems of too many stray, feral and abandoned cats in Jackson County, the inability of the existing animal shelters in Jackson County to handle all of those cats, and spay/neuter solutions.

Included on the task force are Kenn Altine, new director of the Southern Oregon Humane Society; Jan Whetstone, volunteer executive director of Committed Alliance to Strays; Sally Mackler of Spay/Neuter Your Pet; and Barbara Talbert, board president of the Friends of the Animal Shelter.

Talbert and Altine discussed a recent sharing of resources (in the form of cat cages) to help the county follow up on its commitment to hold strays for longer periods. They hope a newfound spirit of cooperation between agencies will continue to flourish.

Noting that the county shelter was originally created through the Department of Health to protect humans from animals who may be rabid or otherwise dangerous, Altine said the shelter has evolved through the formation of FOTAS to become "more of an animal welfare" organization.

"The public should have an understanding that we all have different criteria we operate under. But at the end of the day, we're all looking for solutions that are in the best interest for the animal," Altine said.

Macuk was a co-founder of FOTAS and she will be missed, Talbert said. FOTAS volunteers will be stepping up as the county conducts its search for a new director — and after, she said.

"We'll be offering more help in the front office," Talbert said. "And we think, with our new training, we'll be able to do a better job of matching people with animals."

Macuk wrote she expects to "always work with the animals in some capacity," adding she would specifically work as a volunteer with FOTAS.

"We're going to miss Colleen," Talbert said. "We would very much welcome her back."

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