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Rock County Humane Society tabs Frazier for director post

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Neil Johnson
May 30, 2013

— Newly hired Rock County Humane Society Executive Director Brett Frazier said he takes a one-dog-at-a-time view of the humane treatment of animals.

Take Charlie the Labrador retriever, for instance.

When Frazier lived in Stoughton several years ago, he learned that Charlie, a young and energetic pup at the time, faced being euthanized by owners who said they just couldn't handle the dog's wild side.

"Charlie really liked to chase balls. He'd run through walls, doors and windows to get them," Frazier said.

Frazier and his wife, Jody, a veterinarian worker in Madison, fostered Charlie to save him from being put down.

It was a chore, Frazier said, but through a shelter organization, Frazier helped find Charlie a permanent home. Today, Charlie is a trained duck-hunting dog. The dog's family, a Madison couple with no children, gave him his own bedroom. He even has a pool to swim in.

"Charlie's got a life anybody would envy. He's living," Frazier said.

Frazier, a 32-year-old Milton native, was named the Janesville-based humane society's

director Wednesday, filling a three-month gap in leadership after the departure of Angela Rhodes.

Frazier, who is Milton's mayor and has worked for two years as the Oregon Area Chamber of Commerce executive director, takes the helm of the humane society at a time when the agency's public image is battered, its relations with businesses and municipalities is strained and its leadership is at loose ends.

Frazier said he took the director's post because he loves animals, but he said he wanted the job because he relishes the challenge of fixing what humane society officials said is broken—chiefly, the organization's relationships within the community.

Frazier's top priority is to mend fences between the humane society and municipalities, local veterinarians and businesses, he said. Relationships with some of those groups became splintered during Rhodes' tenure.

"The more I get into it, the more I see that we have a lot of work to do with building and repairing relations," Frazier said. "As I view it from afar, it has been a little bit adrift. We need to reintroduce ourselves to those we serve as an organization that provides community service but also compassion."

Rhodes ushered in and strengthened a host of unpopular policy changes that included fee increases for services to municipalities and a decision that the humane society would no longer accept owned animals brought in by police or others.

The moves made enemies for her in local police departments and municipalities. Arguments between Rhodes and local officials over where the humane society's responsibilities ended and the cities' began played out in local media.

Perhaps the last straw in Rhodes' tenure was when Mounds, a local pet supply store, earlier this year dissolved its relationship with the humane society, ending agreements to supply food and act as a satellite adoption site.

Humane society board members have said they plan to re-evaluate policies that were instituted under Rhodes.

"Now that we have Brett on board with us, we're going to be starting from scratch, wiping the slate clean," board member Debra Mills said. "We're going to be looking at everything and changing things as they need to be changed."

First, Mills said, the board seeks to learn how some policies came into play in the first place.

"I think the first thing to determine is what some of these policies are that have been carried along," Mills said. "For a number of years, they've not necessarily been cleared with the board. It doesn't seem to be well-defined."

She said the board plans to be more hands-on with policy matters than in the past, when it acted more as a monitor for the agency's overall mission and financial health.

"We'll have a little more control now. I don't think any policy will be implemented any more without our approval," Mills said.

Mills said the humane society is looking into improvements to its existing facility, and there is a long-term plan to raise money for a new facility. It is also planning to work more closely with the Dane County Humane Society and Friends of Noah, a local volunteer pet adoption and fostering group.

For now, Mills said, the agency wants to focus on its service to the public. She said the agency needs to examine issues of legal authority before it can consider changing its policy not to seize or accept owned, abused animals. However, the board wants to work on ways to accept more dogs and to find more permanent homes for older dogs.

First, she said, the agency must change a culture of "no" that has permeated its operations in recent years.

"With the employees, they've always tried to find a reason to say, 'No, we can't take that animal.' We're trying to re-educate them to find a way to say, 'Yes,'" Mills said.

Frazier said he wants to work closely with humane society staff and the board on policies, budget issues and any ideas that could improve the shelter.

But he most looks forward to using his experience in local government and nonprofit management to clean up the agency's image.

"This is the perfect position for me. It's a project I can come into, I can throw myself into and really look at changing the way that culture is and how it is perceived in the community," Frazier said.



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