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New Animal Care and Control director named

By By ERIN BLASKO
Published On: Jul 19 2013 06:28:28 PM CDT
Updated On: Jul 19 2013 09:28:30 PM CDT

SOUTH BEND — The city has hired a new director of Animal Care and Control to replace Gary Libbey, who was let go in April after 17 years on the job.

Elkhart County native Matt Harmon, formerly of the Elkhart County Humane Society, took over July 8, Shubhada Kambli, the city's director of Code Enforcement, said Friday.

A graduate of St. Joseph's College of Indiana, Harmon, who interned at Potawatomi Zoo, among other zoos and veterinary clinics, holds a bachelor's degree in biology with a focus in wildlife ecology.

Three people interviewed for the job, Kambli said.

She said Harmon stood out because of his passion and depth of experience, having been a shelter volunteer since the age of 14 and having worked in code enforcement in Elkhart County.

"So it was a unique set of skills that attracted us to him," Kambli said.

Also, as opposed to the other candidates, Harmon had a research background, Kambli said, having studied amphibians in college.

"The city is moving toward an increase in data collection, analysis and transparency, so it was critical for us to have somebody who had a certain level of comfort with numbers," she said.

Since taking over, Harmon has been meeting with staff to re-address internal procedures and protocols. That includes those relating to the shelter's work with rescue groups.

"That's something we’re working very heavily on right now," Harmon said. "We're getting in contact with (rescue groups) and kind of reaching out to them ... so we can move some animals out of (the shelter)."

Changes also are planned concerning the shelter’s adoption center, he said.

"We're going to be revamping the adoption center, as far as being able get more animals through the adoption center, get more animals adopted out,” Harmon said.

"We're going to be focusing a lot on outreach,” he said. “Not only to actually adopt animals, but to be able to educate the community in South Bend about how to get a hold of proper spaying and neutering."

Animal Care and Control has faced pressure in the past to lower its euthanasia rate, which exceeded 60 percent in 2012, according to information provided by the Department of Code Enforcement.

In part to address that issue, a special committee headed by Common Council member Valerie Schey, D-District 3, has been meeting since May to update city's animal care and control laws.

Among the committee’s recommendations is that breed specific legislation targeting pit bull-type dogs be eliminated from the city code book.

Asked about that Friday, Harmon said, "With breed specific legislation, I think we're definitely headed in the right direction, our hearts are definitely in the right place, (but) it'll take some time to be able to hammer out some of the details."

Kambli, for her part, said she hopes the committee keeps in mind the practical outcome of any proposed changes to city’s Animal Care and Control laws.

"Some of these considerations will take time in order for us to adopt a policy position on them," she said, "so we hope that the procedures are not rushed and that there are measured considerations of the import and effect of the revisions."