Letter to the Editor: No-kill animal shelter should be a city priority

The animal shelter, again.

In March of this year, Marshall City Commissioners adopted a resolution approving a low-kill animal shelter. As we say in the navy, Bravo Zulu, Marshall!

Now what?

The city manager has had a chance to get his feet wet, the new commissioners are in place, private fundraising continues, and many of us are left wondering where the new shelter stands on the city’s list of priorities.

At about the same time a new animal shelter was approved, yet another stray dog made her way to our property, where we found her hiding in our carport, scared to death.

She had fairly recently had puppies, had hookworm and is heartworm positive. She was initially so timid that she would not join me for a walk outside the fenced yard, and getting her 60 pounds into the car for a vet visit was a Herculean task.

Inside of a month, she was the alpha dog of her new pack. She’s joyful and loving, and she leaps into the car even before I’m ready. The change was incredible.

Every time I look at her, I think of Marshall Animal Shelter and wonder how many like her have been destroyed since March, and how many more will be killed before a new shelter opens.

Yes, I understand it’s “a process.” But I also understand that we’ve been here before. I doubt that the people who worked so hard to get us to this point, again, are willing to watch years roll by as this gets pushed into the background, again. The city owes them a plan.

Linda Harber,

Marshall

Easily bored? Skip this column

By George Smith

If you feel the need, skip this column today because it’s about a really boring subject: Insurance.

Many people – virtually everyone who is not associated with the industry in some way – think they understand insurance. They are wrong – double-dog dead wrong.

Take life insurance for example. You buy insurance in order to give someone (or some entity) money if you die. Did you get that? It’s just like you’re in Las Vegas and you are gambling: You are betting the insurance company that you are going to die and they are betting you are not going to go toe’s up … at least not soon.

It’s death’s version of the dollar slots.

And like all legal gambling edifices, the odds are in the house’s favor.

Insurance companies have truckloads of information that you, the insured, do not have. Actuary tables going back to the days of Moses tell agents when the average person – based on an incredible array of data – is going to go bucket-kicking. While they do not become giddified if a customer lives to be 112 (with coverage more than likely dropping the older you get and premiums more than covering the cost of the policy over time), they do get a twinge of sadness for anyone dying young with a $500,000 policy after making two payments.

It’s just human nature.

Of course, like any professions from physicians to news employees, there are good and bad insurance agents. There are no bad doctors, newsies or insurance agents or companies in the Marshall area and that comes from personal experience. Other towns are not so fortunate.

At this particular moment in my life, I have insurance: Car (three), an ATV, homeowners, personal property, life insurance (2), travel insurance for an upcoming trip and health insurance (Medicare and a supplemental policy).

Realizing this is a Yikes! moment.

We pay out X-dollars a month in various forms of insurance and, get this, hope we don’t need any of it. On one hand, you have to have it in case you need it; so, in effect, most people are betting there will be no wrecks, that vandals don’t attack the insured property with Magic Markers, that no one dies, that burglars hit somebody else’s house, that an upcoming trip goes off smoothly, that any health issues are minor ones.

Checking on one insurance policy recently – medical – the total amount billed for a relatively minor operation (one night stay) was $82,000-plus. The primary and secondary insurance companies paid $29,800; I paid $350, leaving a balance of about $53,000. I did not pay that nor was I ever billed.

That amount was written off after negotiations between the two insurance entities and some medical company and hospital minions. So, either the hospital and staff and the doctor and helpers decided to be generous to a senior citizen or they were satisfied with what they were paid.

So, then, why is the cost so high in the first place?

Many people have become exponentially smarter since access to Google entered our lives. The Billing Advocates of America website (BAA) has tons of information for the uninformed, confused or for folks simply looking for facts rather than conjecture.

Many doctors, according to the site, do not know how much they will get paid when they see a patient, because 1) They don’t process their own billing and 2) insurance companies pay based on internal algorithms.

When doctors, or their agent, send a bill, they will typically add to the actual cost to ensure they get adequate payout. Of course, the insurance companies know this but it makes no matter since they are using their internal figures based on their calculations on what a procedure is worth.

Here’s the rub. A cash customer normally gets billed at the same high rate that is send to the insurance company. Say wha…..?

(Here’s where this column becomes worth the time it takes to read it.)

Cash patients, armed with this information, can attempt to negotiate the bill with the doctor or staff in an attempt to lower the cost to what the insurance company pays. The same goes for hospital and other medical service agencies.

If you have insurance, an annual talk with your agent will keep you apprised of industry changes that could prove beneficial. As insurance and medical costs increase, it is imperative that consumers get as familiar with the rules of the game as possible.

Check out billadvocates.com and similar sites for the best information.

Now that we’ve covered that topic, let’s turn to another riveting subject in which we all have a vested interest: Solid waste disposal ….

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CHANGE IS IN THE AIR – MOBILIZE MARSHALL

By Ron Munden

By Ron Munden

I think many will agree that over the past 10 years I have written more critical articles about Marshall than anyone else.  I hope so because that has been my goal.

In 2006, I was appointed Project Manager for the Tourism Task force over the objection of then City Manager Frank Johnson.  This is the only time that I worked on a City project.  The entire experience was less than perfect but there was one incident that convinced me that I should not waste five minutes working with the City.

By 2007, the Task Force had selected a contractor and the contractor had provided the first deliverable.  They provided a list of 54 best practices that should be implemented in preparation of the detailed tourism plan that was the final deliverable.

I was confident that we could complete these 54 items during the 6 months that we would be waiting for the final plan.  Before returning to Marshall I had worked for the Department of Defense {DoD} for over 30 years and most of that time had successfully managed a variety of projects.  Based on that experience I wrote a web-based project management software package based on proven project management techniques.  The software provided tools for managing the implementation of each task and just as importantly it provided transparency so every citizen of Marshall with a web-browser could review the status to the project whenever they wanted.

I loaded the first set of data into the software so I could demonstrate it to the Task Force.  At the next meeting I provided the demo.

The software included all the standard project management date like:

. Item due date

. Item completion date

. Responsible organization

. Responsible person

. etc.

I was shocked at the response to the demo.  Assistant City Manager Janet Cook explained that was not the way that we did things in Marshall.  She explained that the city did not assign specific due dates. When Marshall developed a project plan, due dates would state, “to be completed in the 2nd quarter of next year.”  And most disturbing, I assigned responsibility for completing a task to a specific person.  The City would never do that.

Finally, she said that she thought we should sit back, take some deep breaths and do nothing until the contractor provided the final report because the contractor might change their minds on these 54 best practices during the next six months.

The Task Force voted.  All the city employees on the Task Force voted to do nothing.  A couple of hotel representatives on the task force agreed.  The other private sector representatives voted to proceed.  It was a split vote.  I decided not to push it.

In Ms. Cook’s brief three-minute description of how Marshall managed projects, she described a system that violated every project principle that I had been taught in my 32 years in DoD and my three years at Booz Allen Hamilton.

That was the day that I gave up on Marshall successfully completing any project.

The Task Force did nothing during the next six months.  On the night the final tourism plan was approved by the City Commission, the City Manager announced that he was abolishing the task force.  Using Marshall’s “breathe deep and do nothing” project management system, the City spent over $3 million dollars of Hotel Occupancy Tax money and accomplished nothing.

The City has used those same techniques during the last 10 years on the yet to be completed Memorial City Hall renovation project.

For over ten years I have felt that Marshall was hopeless.

But starting in 2019 I feel CHANGE IS IN THE AIR.

Saturday’s “Mobilize Marshall” meeting validated this feeling.

I think many strategic plans are as worthless as the paper they are printed on.  In Marshall’s case I would substitute “always” for “most.”  But that was the past — today I feel different. 

For the first time since I returned to Marshall, I heard magical words coming from a Marshall City Manager’s mouth.  Words like “accountability”, “measurement”, etc.

Also, based on my brief observations and conversation, I think that Marshall now has a City Manager with leadership skills and is a subject matter expert on managing a city.  I get the feeling that when he says something, he means it. A rare trait.

With the exception is the period Buzz Snyder was the interim city manager. In the 18 years that I have been in Marshall we have not had a city manager with leadership skills.  In that time none have had broad city management skills.

I think the new City Manager, Mark Rohr, can successfully lead the charge to “mobilize Marshall.”  History may prove me wrong, but I don’t think so.

Finally, based on conversations with key city employees, I think at least some bought into Mr. Rohr’s management style and are eager to follow his lead and improve Marshall.

Twelve years ago, I lost all hope that Marshall could ever succeed.  Today I think the stars have realigned and success is possible.

It is time for Marshall to reject the “breathe deep and do nothing” attitude.  As they say, “Lead, follow or get out of the way.”

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The Million Dollar Dog House

By Amanda Smith

“We don’t need to build a million dollar dog house.”

This statement gets thrown around a lot in connection with the proposed animal shelter; the implication being that we are building something to benefit pets and not people. However, a municipal animal shelter doesn’t serve animals. It serves humans. In addition to reuniting people with lost pets and getting dangerous dogs off the streets, there are many things animal control officers do that some of us may never see. They capture snakes and other wildlife in people’s homes, remove dead animals from the roads, rescue animals trapped under houses or in wells, send decapitated heads to the state lab for rabies testing, and much more. Their job is dirty, dangerous, and thankless.

Over thirty years ago, through a combination of research and trial and error, it had already been learned that by building and operating animal shelters differently, better results were achieved. The results included better working conditions for employees, better outcomes for the animals, and better services for the public. This led to a revolution in the design and operation of new shelters and the demolition of the old-style “dog pounds” that were the norm when the Marshall Shelter was built 50 years ago.

Experience showed that it was not only more humane to save animal lives than to end them, it was actually less expensive. This is part of the reason that the average U. S. shelter is now about 15 years old. Some states are still behind the curve on this, with Texas being one of the worst in terms of euthanasia rates. Think of that for a moment. Texas is one of the states with the highest kill rates to begin with, and we have the oldest and one of the highest kill rate shelters in this state. It doesn’t speak well of Marshall.

Another of the drivers of change came from recognition of the toll that shelter work was taking on employees, including depression and PTSD, and this issue is even more urgent than the stain on our city’s image. We have animal control officers – police department employees – whose job it is to protect and to serve us, and we are not giving them the work environment they deserve. 

Ironically, one part of the job is responsible for both the greatest emotional rewards and the deepest despair for shelter workers – dealing with homeless pets, including the constant requirement to kill healthy companion animals. We should, at the very least, try to lessen the burden they must bear for slaughtering healthy animals.   

Some argue that the cost of a low-kill shelter is too high. By comparison, the police department and fire station facilities cost $2.5 million each, over 10 years ago. Like them, the animal shelter is a municipal facility that is responsible for a core function of city government. A low-kill shelter can be built today for half the cost of just one of those. It isn’t a fancy dog house. It is a special-purpose government building that is intended to serve our community for decades to come. 

We need to build with the future in mind, and to place the welfare of the people who will be working there at the forefront of our thoughts. Could you do their job? Most of us couldn’t. Why would we expect them to live with the cheapest and least effective thing that can be built? Why not follow the example of other cities and do it right? To do it right, we must build what is needed. 

Most cities the size of Marshall are spending $2 to $3 million (or more) to build low-kill animal shelters. They have tight budgets too, but they realize that it’s important build what experts know they need to succeed. If Marshall builds a low-kill shelter for $1.2 million dollars it will be the least expensive facility of its kind built in a decade in this state.

So, when people say we don’t need to build a million dollar dog house, the answer is that we are not. We are building an effective and modern animal control facility. Our animal control officers would much rather be saving animals than killing them, and with the right facility that can be the normal outcome.

Another outcome of building the right facility lies in the ability to attract volunteers and donors, and to qualify for grants. A high-kill shelter won’t offer those benefits. It’s cheaper to build a slaughterhouse than a place of salvation but which one will make Marshall proud? And in the end which makes the most economic sense – save some money in building costs up front, but lose millions in grant and donor revenue over the life of the building? 

The answer is obvious, and that’s why for most of the last three decades cities across the country have embraced the low-kill paradigm and built shelters where lives are saved more than they are taken. It’s the ethically and economically sensible thing to do.

Sometimes making the responsible choice requires looking ahead. It’s time to look ahead, Marshall. We are not building a shelter for today. We are building an animal control facility that will serve our community for decades to come. Let’s get it right.

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Importance of a Community Animal Shelter

This is the full text of the Guest Column published on Wednesday in the Marshall News Messenger  

By Katie Jarl (Dec 26, 2018)

For more than six years, Marshall has been trying to determine what to do about its antiquated, 50-year-old animal shelter. Several years ago, I visited the shelter in Marshall myself. In my position as the Texas Senior State Director for the Humane Society of the United States, I have visited many shelters, and Marshall’s is one of the saddest and most outdated facilities I’ve encountered. It really is a relic from the past that is incapable of functioning to today’s standards. It should have been replaced decades ago. Unfortunately, it’s still in use because of arguments over money. Specifically, how much to invest.


I would like to make a point that many may not have considered but relates to the financial welfare of your community for years to come.
If you build the cheapest facility you can, you may end up losing huge amounts of money over the lifetime of the new shelter.

Why is that?


Most shelters rely heavily on grant funding.
National and local organizations are on the lookout for innovative programs and offer grants to shelters that are succeeding on various metrics or are capable of meeting the needs of the communities that they serve.


A while back, I saw two of the plans being considered; Scheme P and Scheme U.


The smaller plan (P) would struggle to meet these standards because it would be inadequate from the day it opened its doors.


It was only 1,000 square feet larger than your current 1,475 square foot shelter.


The other plan (U) had the capacity to serve your region and potentially achieve low-kill status.


At just over a million dollars, it was still quite inexpensive but would likely attract grant funding and would be seen by those on the outside as a sign of serious commitment by the local community.


If Marshall had built an adequate new shelter years ago, the town could have had several years of grant funding already in the shelter’s coffers.

This amount is lost forever now due to the delays, but if you spend enough to build the right kind of shelter, Marshall’s people and animals will benefit from this.


If you do not build a facility that meets your needs and is up to today’s standards, that money, and more importantly the lives of so many animals, will be lost to you forever.


Attempting to save money by under-building will cost you untold sums in the future.


I’ve seen communities make this mistake before and regret it.
Don’t be one of them. Build your shelter with the future in mind.
You aren’t building something for the next five years.


If history is any gauge you may be building it for the next fifty. Choose wisely.

————

Katie Jarl


Katie Jarl is the Texas Senior State Director for the Humane Society of the United States.

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Origin of Christmas on December 25th

By William “Doc” Halliday

Christmas, or Christmas Day is an annual celebration commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ.  This event is celebrated on December 25th in the United States and in many other countries.  However, most scholars do not believe the December 25th date.  The date is not given in the bible, not even the time of year. The biblical reference to shepherds tending their flocks at night when they receive the news of Jesus’ birth (Luke 2:8) might suggest the spring lambing season.  On the other hand, sheep might well have been enclosed in the cold month of December. 

The earliest historical recording of birthdays occurs in the bible.  Birthday celebrations are mentioned in the Bible on three separate occasions and, in each case, something terrible occurred. I use a Geneva Bible (1599) for my documentation.  In Genesis 40:20 the birthday of the Pharaoh of Egypt is referred to.  In Matthew 14:6 and in Mark 6:21, the birthday of Herod Antipater is referred to.  And, perhaps Job 1:4 is referring to the birthdays of Job’s sons.  Nowhere in the bible is the date of Jesus’ birth mentioned. 

The early Christians did not celebrate Christ’s birth because they considered the celebration of anyone’s birth to be a pagan custom.  For the same reason, ancient Jews did not celebrate birthdays.  The first century Jewish historian Josephus noted that Jewish families did not celebrate birthdays.  It was common for kings and rulers to have their horoscopes made by astrologers.  Their birthdays were considered very important omens of the future.  Thus birthdays started as a celebration for kings and deities.  It was a pagan celebration. 

Instead, early Christians celebrated the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Easter was the dominant celebration for members of the Christian faith.  As time passed, Jesus’ origins became of increasing speculation.  You can begin to see this shift in the New Testament. The earliest writings of both Paul and Mark make no mention of Jesus’ birth. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke provide familiar but quite different accounts of the event.  Still, neither Matthew nor Luke specifies a date for the birth of Jesus.

In about 200 A.D., Clement of Alexandria, a Christian teacher in Egypt, records a reference to the date Jesus was born. According to this man, several different days had been proposed by various Christian groups.  Interestingly, Clement doesn’t mention the December 25th date at all. 

In the fourth century, however, we find references to two dates that were widely recognized, and are now also celebrated as Jesus’ birthday.  These dates are December 25 in the Western Roman Empire and January 6 in the East, especially in Egypt and Asia Minor.  The celebration of Christmas by the modern Armenian Church remains on January 6.  However, for the vast majority of Christians December 25th prevails.  January 6 would eventually come to be known as the Feast of the Epiphany.  The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the magi in Bethlehem. The period between the two dates became the holiday season which has become known as the 12 days of Christmas.

In 354 A.D., Bishop Liberius of Rome ordered the people to celebrate the solstice as the anniversary of Christ’s birth. He probably chose this date because the people of Rome already observed it as the Feast of Saturn, celebrating the birthday of the sun.  This was an effort to recruit pagans into the church.  These idol worshippers held pagan festivals to celebrate the “rebirth” of the sun when the days began to lengthen.  The solstice of course takes place on December 21st, so why do we celebrate December 25th?  The difference is due to the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendars. 

For Christians, the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ is significant regardless of the day. 

Photo of the nativity scene is from interruptingthesilence.com

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