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John Robinson Celebrates 10 Years of Progress

When Escambia County Animal Welfare Director John Robinson stepped into the county’s animal shelter a decade ago on his first day on the job, he knew that changes were needed to create a better environment for his team and the animals in their care.

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Robinson, who is celebrating his 10-year anniversary with the county on Feb. 18, got right to work.

“My big goal first was just how do we get the shelter turned around, what’s that going to take,” Robinson said. “And the first step was just putting a team together and processes in place that were going to be functional, that were going to work.”

By building a team of dedicated people who truly care about animals and the community, Robinson was able to begin overcoming the many challenges that come with working in animal welfare, while helping more shelter animals find loving families and homes.

“We’ve spent a lot of time building up a staff that loves the animals, understands the animals, knows the animals, so I think that’s a big change that we’ve made,” Robinson said. “When people come through here and see the animals, they can tell that they’re in better shape than they used to be. They’re cleaner, they’re healthier – they’re all those things. I think all of that contributes to helping complete those families by finding the right animals for them.”

An animal lover since childhood, Robinson always knew he wanted a career working with animals. After working in pet retail for over 20 years, he moved to animal welfare, serving as the Director of Operations for the Humane Society of Memphis before becoming the shelter manager for the Town of Collierville, Tennessee. Robinson is also a nationally-certified animal cruelty investigator through the National Animal Care & Control Association and the University of Missouri. Throughout his animal welfare career, he worked as a responder with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, or ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States, responding to large-scale animal cruelty cases and disasters.

During his career with Escambia County, Robinson has implemented numerous policy changes, facilitated community partnerships, and worked to overcome misconceptions about the shelter that linger in the public.

One of the first steps Robinson took was greatly increasing the number of animals available for adoption by opening up more areas of the shelter to the public, which provided more opportunities for animals to be connected with loving homes. The shelter had previously been set up for the public to only view a small portion of adoptable animals, which were selected by staff.

Robinson also worked with the veterinarian team to improve the quality of care for animals in the shelter and ensure they are spayed/neutered before adoption. Working with his team and community partners, Robinson has greatly reduced the shelter’s euthanasia rate during his tenure, also ensuring that dogs are not euthanized simply because of their breed.

Director’s Aide Dawn Harris, who has worked at the shelter for 24 years, said she has seen a significant positive difference in overall shelter operations and culture under Robinson’s leadership.

“When people feel better about their job, they’re going to do a better job,” Harris said. “And when they feel better about the management staff, then they’re just more comfortable in their day-to-day. They want to do a good job for him, but they want to do a good job for the animals – and most of them really are here because of their desire to work in the animal world.”

Initially hired as the Escambia County Animal Shelter Manager, Robinson now oversees the entire Department of Animal Welfare, which includes the shelter along with Animal Welfare and Enforcement, previously known as Animal Control.

Animal Welfare Division Manager Kevin Monfreda has worked for the department for nearly 14 years, working his way up from an Animal Control Officer to Division Manager. Monfreda said Robinson’s leadership and positive attitude have made a difference, along with the implementation of more structured training for employees. Previously, Animal Welfare and Enforcement Officers received little to no training before starting their work in the field.

“Now our officers go through a 12-week training program,” Monfreda said. “I think that is a big change, that people are getting trained, and it feels more like you’re in a career path instead of just a job.”

Monfreda also oversees the county’s Animal Search and Rescue Team, which was established about a year ago through a grant from the ASPCA. The ASAR Team has six members from Animal Welfare and about 12 firefighters from Escambia County Fire Rescue who are trained to respond to disasters such as hurricanes, tornadoes or other large-scale animal rescue incidents.

Although he’s accomplished a lot during his 10 years with Escambia County, Robinson emphasized that the work is far from completed. One of the biggest challenges remaining is the shelter building itself, which was built in 1997 before shelters were designed with animal adoptions at the forefront. Once funding is available, Robinson’s ultimate goal is to build a shelter that is more inviting to the public and more comfortable for animals.

“My goal is to hopefully come up with something that can work and give this county a long-term solution,” Robinson said. “There’s never going to be a shelter big enough to house every stray animal in this county, but it’s about how to take care of animals most in need in our community.”

Robinson’s vision for the future of Escambia County Animal Welfare also includes continuing to build connections with the community, which he said have already improved greatly over the past decade.

“I think we’re seeing a culture and a community that cares more for animals than they did 20 or 30 years ago, or in a different way,” Robinson said. “But I’m still trying to build that better and better all the time – connecting with the community and becoming a part of that community. I want people to look at the shelter and Animal Welfare Officers, I want them to look at them in a positive light. We’re here to help, to educate, and to make lives better for people and animals in our community.”

To learn more about Escambia County Animal Welfare, visit MyEscambia.com/animalwelfare. The Escambia County Animal Shelter is located at 200 W. Fairfield Drive in Pensacola. Click here to view a gallery of adoptable animals.