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  • PACC director will take life-saving philosophy to national animal welfare group

    Kristen Hassen didn’t get into the animal welfare business to watch pets die.

    But they did. Time and time again.

    “My first job was as a cruelty investigator,” Hassen recalled. “I went around the community helping animals get out of situations involving cruelty and neglect. But in the few months I worked in that shelter, without exception, I believe every animal I brought back to the shelter was killed.”
    Kristen Hassen
    Hassen wanted to save lives. So she kept trying. The results, back then, were always the same.

    “I walked away from animal welfare, went back to graduate school, and pursued an entirely different career working in the parks system in Fairfax County,” Hassen said. “One day my boss called me into her office. She told me she was going to run the animal shelter and wanted me to come with her. When I explained my past experience to her, she promised me that this time, I would get to save lives, not end them.”

    With a new career path and dogged determination, Hassen eventually moved from Fairfax, Va., to Austin, Texas, to Pima County, where she was hired as the Director of Animal Services at Pima Animal Care Center in 2017. 

    After a successful run that includes a move to a new facility, innovative approaches to saving animals, and clever strategies to maintain services amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Hassen is moving back to Austin Nov. 1 and into a new role as the director for American Pets Alive! She will lead the national Human Animal Support Services project.

    Dr. Francisco Garcia, deputy county administrator and chief medical officer, said “it has been an honor to work with a such a visionary team leader.”

    “Watching her build on the strengths of the old PACC, grow an amazing team, and reimagine animal welfare in Pima County has been inspiring. We are so happy for her next step, but PACC is losing one amazing leader.”

    Saving lives 

    Hassen oversaw PACC’s move into a taxpayer-approved renovated shelter in July 2018 and has produced stunning results. Since moving in, PACC has maintained a 90 percent save rate for the 18,000 animals that come in every year.

    “When I first came to visit PACC, prior to taking the job, what struck me most was that, despite an outdated and woefully undersized shelter, the community had come together to make sure no animal was euthanized simply because there was no space,” Hassen said. 

    “Several years before my arrival, they erected a circus tent, outfitted it with kennels, and used it to house all the animals who needed a safety net. We estimated that tent saved 20,000 or more dogs over the four years it stayed in place. I said to myself, ‘I want to go work in the place where they care enough about homeless animals to do extraordinary things to save them.’”

    Hassen has broken ground on many life-changing programs in shelters across the country, helping to overturn pit bull adoption restrictions, implementing enriching dog playgroups, and creating foster programs that saved hundreds of thousands of lives since she first started.
    PACC ribbon-cutting
    Under her leadership, PACC is leading the country in brainstorming unique ways to save more lives and help pet owners, including starting COVID-19 pet food pantry pop-ups, medical outreach clinics, a task force to address hoarding situations, drive-thru microchip clinics, and more.

    “Her positivity and persistence brought us to a new level of animal welfare,” said Tammi Barrick, a member of the PACC Advisory Committee (PACCAC). “We changed our euthanasia practices, gave the animals a second chance on life, and, as we bumped against barriers, she found a way around them.

    “Our live release rate is something to brag about,” Barrick continued, “the foster program has grown into a small army, the public now has the data to see what we are doing, and she continues to find ways to keep animals with their families.”

    PACC’s new shelter is nearly 90,000 square feet and can house more than 1,000 animals. It also boasts a state-of-the-art medical clinic, more space for cats, double-sided kennels, multiple play yards, and much more.

    “She listened and learned from our local folks/partners,” PACCAC member Kristin Almquist said. “She is a leader and also a follower when needed. She and her team expanded our outreach for fundraising and grants, and she was skillful when interacting with everyone, including elected officials, volunteers, staff, and community members, etc. A gift to me was to watch Kristen grow, learn, work hard, and to think out of the box.”

    PACC’S next chapter

    Monica Dangler, the current deputy director at Pima Animal Care Center, will take over as interim director.

    Dangler came to the shelter in July 2019 as one of three team members chosen for the Maddie’s Fund Executive Leader Fellowship Grant. She is a seasoned animal sheltering professional and most recently served as the volunteer manager at Austin Pets Alive! She vows to use her 11 years’ experience in animal welfare to continue the momentum established by Hassen.

    “Pima County is such a pet-loving community and I am honored to be a part of it,” Dangler said.
    Monica Dangler
    Her favorite memory of working with Hassen came last summer.

    “She posted on Facebook that PACC needed watermelons to provide our pups a cool treat. It was amazing to see the community rally and provide us more watermelons than we knew what to do with,” Dangler said. “Of course, we figured it out and supplied several pig sanctuaries some tasty treats, as well as some community food banks. Don’t ever underestimate the support of the Pima County community!”

    Garcia will work with the PACC team and stakeholders to develop a plan to fill the position on a permanent basis.

    Hassen’s future

    One of her biggest challenges at PACC has been keeping the public, pets, staff and volunteers safe during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

    “When the pandemic hit, we knew we had two choices: close our doors and house the animals inside indefinitely or move fast to get hundreds of animals safely into homes,” Hassen said. 

    PACC made a public plea for adopters and fosters, and the community quicky stepped up, bringing about 900 pets into foster homes. After that, Hassen moved PACC to appointment-based adoptions, put staff/volunteers on a split schedule and used social media for outreach and transparency.

    “I had no idea how the shelter would've been handled during a pandemic,” said PACCAC board member Laura Overland O’Brien. “Kristen thought of everything. She thought ahead and thought of the worst-case scenario. The way she's handled everything from the beginning to where we're at now is impressive!”

    As Hassen readies to leave PACC, she is most grateful and most proud of the teamwork that made everything possible.

    “The best part of my job was simply creating space for incredible people to do good things,” Hassen said. 

    “Our PACC family has made history – and changed the world for our community’s animals and the people who love them. All they really needed was a cheerleader and a support system. Getting to make that happen was truly the greatest honor of my life.” 

    Photos

    Top: Kristen Hassen says she didn’t get into the animal welfare business to watch pets die.

    Middle: Hassen at the ribbon-cutting of Phase 1 the dedication of PACC's new facility in December 2017.

    Bottom: Monica Dangler will serve as interim director until the position is filled permanently.
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