Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center welcomes new coordinator

Chris Whitmore, coordinator, holds Kia, a Shih Tzu available for adoption, at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center in Iowa City on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Chris Whitmore, coordinator, holds Kia, a Shih Tzu available for adoption, at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center in Iowa City on Thursday, Oct. 4, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Though she has been with the shelter for about 25 years, Chris Whitmore said her recent appointment as the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center coordinator has been a learning experience.

Whitmore took over as coordinator Sept. 23 when Liz Ford, the shelter’s former supervisor, stepped down to pursue other ventures. 

Whitmore started with the shelter in 1993 as a veterinary technician. She since has played many roles, from being an animal control officer to doing investigative work to inspecting and permitting multi-animal homes.  

But now, she said, it’s her job to manage every aspect of the shelter, which is a big change.

“Now I oversee the day-to-day shelter and animal control operations, and do the administrative work, like managing the shelter’s budget,” she said. “It’s been an interesting transition. I’ve been here long enough that I know how the day to day operations work, but the administrative stuff is new for me.”

Lifelong dream

From the time she was little, Whitmore said she knew she wanted to work with animals.

“I’ve just always loved animals,” she said. “I enjoyed taking care of them, and I was also very interested in the medical aspect of animal care.”

Whitmore went to Truman State University in Kirksville, Mo., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in animal science.

Afterward she worked as a vet tech with an animal clinic in Fairfield.

“I loved doing the tech work,” she said. “I did a lot of work with large and small animals, which I enjoyed. And, I had every intention of going back to school to go to vet school in Ames, but the vet clinic in Fairfield hired me full time … and so I did that for four years before joining animal services here.”

In her new position, Whitmore said she has big goals that include expanding the facility and starting up and reviving some special programs.

Dealing with cats

One of the main challenges the shelter faces is the constant influx of cats, she said.

The shelter cares for about 164 animals, and about 140 are cats. Many are caught as strays, and others are surrendered by their owners.

The most problematic cats, she said, are those that are feral or feral-acting. The shelter is not equipped to handle feral cats, she said, and it’s impossible to care for cats that can’t be touched.

 “Right now, if someone traps a feral or feral-acting cat and brings it in, we’d have to euthanize it because we can’t handle it — and if we can’t touch it, we can’t care for it,” she said. “That’s not how we want to handle feral cats, but we don’t have any options.”

Last year, the shelter took in more than 1,100 cats. Of those, 123 were euthanized because they were feral, she said.

That’s why Whitmore wants to start a community cat program. The program would involve live trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them, vaccinating them and then releasing them in a place where they could be cared for, she said.

“We could save a lot of cats that way,” she said.

Whitmore said the shelter already has a barn cat program that essentially works the same way, but it is limited because it depends on finding people willing to care for barn cats.

Expansion plans

Additionally, Whitmore said she wants to expand the shelter facility, which would include adding a dog run and building an annex where animal control officers could pull their vehicles in to offload animals in a safe and secure space.

Whitmore said she’d also like to get the shelter’s cell dog program back up and running, and she is determined to start a transport program that would help lower-income people get their animals to low-cost spay and neuter clinics.

“That’s something that we’d like to do here on a monthly basis, because there are a lot of people who can’t afford normal spay and neuter costs, and they can’t transport their animals to a low-cost spay/neuter clinic because they don’t drive. So this would help eliminate a lot of those issues.”

In the meantime, Whitmore said she is learning the ropes of being an administrator.

One thing she said she knows for sure is that her predecessor left the shelter with a strong volunteer program, “an awesome foster program,” and relationships with a number of other rescues and shelters that help each other out when needed.

“I’ve enjoyed every bit of my work here with animal services so far, and I can’t wait to see what comes next,” she said.

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