CORONAVIRUS

New Cedar Rapids animal shelter manager learning the ropes while weathering coronavirus pandemic

Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control's Ronnie Schlabs started just weeks before disruptions began

Ronnie Schlabs, the new program manager for Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control, moves a cat from one part of the shelter
Ronnie Schlabs, the new program manager for Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control, moves a cat from one part of the shelter to another. Schlabs started his position Feb. 24, roughly three weeks before the city started closing down because of the coronavirus pandemic. (Submitted photo)

Ronnie Schlabs had been on the job for only a few weeks when he had to close Cedar Rapids Animal Care & Control because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Schlabs, 34, started as the shelter’s program manager during the last week of February. No more than three weeks later, he and his staff were facing circumstances unlike any they’d experienced before.

“It was definitely an interesting time to start in my position,” he said. “I wish I had had more time to get to know the shelter and the staff before we had to close the shelter, but I think we’ve weathered the situation well, and we are still getting animals into homes and that’s what really matters.”

Schlabs and his family moved to Cedar Rapids about two months ago from Hutchinson, Kan., where he had been program director for the local shelter.

At first, he said, he and his wife liked the idea of living in a smaller town — Hutchinson has about 40,000 residents — but it turned out being a little too small for their tastes. So when Cedar Rapids put out the call for a new program director a year later, Schlabs jumped at the opportunity.

Before Hutchinson, the Nebraska native worked for 10 years with Omaha, Neb., animal control, serving in several positions, including animal control officer and field investigator.

“My wife and I were both born and raised in Omaha so we really wanted to stay in the Midwest,” he said. “So when we saw Cedar Rapids had an opening, we went for it. We thought he city would be a good size, and the driving distance to Omaha is not too long.”

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Schlabs said Cedar Rapids seems to be a good fit, despite having to get to know the city during odd and uncertain times.

“We’re really liking it here so far,” he said.

law enforcement dreams lead to animal control

Schlabs said he first got into animal control as a way to get his foot in the door with law enforcement. But it turned out he liked working with animals more.

At one point during his stint in Omaha, Schlabs said he got the opportunity to start working for a sheriff’s department in the area, but he quickly realized the job wasn’t for him.

“I was actually hired for a jail position, and I really did not like working in the jail so I was able to get out of that and back to the animals pretty quickly, and I’ve been doing this ever since, and I have no regrets. I love this work.”

Though his position in Cedar Rapids may have started at a less-than-ideal time, Schlabs said he is proud of how the staff and the public have handled the situation.

“We are still doing most of what we would normally do, despite being closed,” he said. “We’ve just had to figure out how to do those things a little differently so that we can all be safe.”

Animal control officers still are picking up strays, and the shelter still is accepting strays, Schlabs said. The only stray animals they are not accepting are feral cats — so people who would typically trap feral cats and take them to the shelter should hold off on that for a while.

Additionally, the shelter has stopped accepting owner-surrendered animals, he said.

“Because we’re not open to the public right now, animals aren’t getting out of the shelter as fast as normal so we need to really monitor space,” he explained.

Adopting a pet still possible

The shelter still is doing adoptions, Schlabs said, but they’ve had to alter the process.

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Those interested in adopting an animal should go to the shelter’s page on petfinder.com and take a look at the animals available for adoption. If they find an animal they are interested in, they can fill out an application and submit it electronically.

“Once we go through the application and they are approved, we give them a call and set up an appointment for them to come in and meet the animal,” he said.

Schlabs said the same process would apply for an owner who wants to claim a missing pet.

Additionally, when making the appointment, Schlabs said the animal shelter staff will go through the same list of screening questions law enforcement officers and emergency dispatchers are asking, including if the person has had a fever recently or been in contact with anyone who was sick. The staff members also are checking themselves for fever before they start their shifts, he said.

Schlabs said that adoption slowed when the pandemic hit, mainly because people either did not know the shelter was open or were too afraid to leave their house. Moreover, he said, people typically like to go to the shelter and view the animals before they make a decision, and they can’t do that right now.

But, he said, now could be one of the best times to adopt a furry friend.

“It usually takes a few weeks for an animal to adjust to its new surroundings and feel comfortable and confident,” he said. “And right now, with so many people staying home, they have the time and the opportunity to spend those weeks bonding with their new dog or cat.”

The shelter has about 40 cats and 10 dogs looking for homes.

Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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Our most important Coronavirus coverage is free to the public.

If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate. Your contribution will support news resources to cover the impact of the pandemic on our local communities.

All donations are tax-deductible.