Jim Lilli resigns to takes position in Georgia
The Dunn County Humane Society (DCHS) is looking for a new executive director. Jim Lilli gave the board of directors his notice three weeks ago, with his resignation effective May 11. He is taking a similar position in Columbus, Ga., and starts on May 28.
Lilli, who began as director of DCHS in December of 2010, will be directing a larger shelter in Columbus, a city of 190,000, located 90 miles south of Atlanta. He said he looks forward to the challenge of being tasked with helping the community achieve “no-kill” status, something DCHS has always embraced as part of its mission, since its inception in 1994.
“What drew me to that position was the willingness of the community to do whatever it could to achieve a no-kill community,” said Lilli.
Built in 2008, his new shelter, Paws Humane, was has adopted 1,200 animals per year (with a goal of 1,500) and has done 6,200 spay/neuters. The facility has five colony rooms just for cats, and an animal control located next door. Directed by a 12-member board, the shelter boasts a staff of 22 as well as volunteers.
With a $1.5 million budget, only two fundraisers are held per year. Lilli likes the fact that the Columbus shelter has the support of the mayor, who is also involved in animal rescue.
Lilli, who came to Menomonie from Champaign, Ill., had been in retail store management for 17 years, but also worked with an animal rescue group for five years. He redirected his skills and made a career jump to animal welfare when he asked himself, “What’s really tugging at my heart?” Becoming a shelter director made it possible for him to “bring joy to a family who adopts an animal.”
Endings and beginnings
Lilli said farewells are fairly common at DCHS as animals come and go. From arrival to the adoption process, animals work their way into the hearts of staff. In his time at DCHS, he has said goodbye at least 1,000 times.
“We know we may be saying goodbye, but someone else is saying hello to their new family members,” he said.
DCHS has an annual budget of $240,000 and has a live release rate of 98 percent for 2012. The shelter’s goal is to find forever homes for the animals.
Most recently, the shelter staff has been involved in trapping cats on a Sheridan Township farm, where horses and animal neglect cases were reported. Five trips were made, eight cats were retrieved, with the cost borne by DCHS. The cats were spayed/neutered, vaccinated for rabies, treated for fleas and ear mites, courtesy of Hoof and Paw Veterinary Clinic in Menomonie — and already have new farm homes.
On May 22, when Lilli says his official goodbye to DCHS staff, it will be bittersweet. He said it’s easy to get attached to the animals, but humans even more so.
“On that day, I will be saying goodbye to a group of the most dedicated people anyone would be honored to work with,” said Lilli.
Jamie Wagner, kennel manager, will be the new contact until a new executive director can be hired. And the staff now includes a community outreach manager, who began her duties three weeks ago. Jo Hayes has been hired part-time to speak with businesses about DCHS and sponsorship and how they can partner to support each other.
Built in 1997, the shelter is being renovated through a capital campaign fundraiser. Phase one, the dog remodel, was recently finished. The space now includes sky tubes for domes of natural light along the corridor of dog kennels and dog meeting rooms for prospective owners. A new adjacent after-hours animal drop-off area for police and sheriff’s personnel is now accessible 24/7, with water ready for the animals, privacy for less distraction for other animals, and forms to communicate to DCHS staff, who check in daily each morning.
Nearby is a separate room for small dog breeds, like the pug and teacup-size chihuahua, currently in residence.
“It’s amazing to see what people don’t claim,” said Lilli.
Plans for the outdoor dog runs include adding a privacy fence around the perimeter to cut down on noise created by dogs when they are distracted by human, animal and vehicle traffic, and tarps for shade and rain.
In Phase Two, a community/colony room will be constructed for the cats. Phase Three will address the vestibule and lobby area. Both are waiting for more donations.
Currently, DCHS has 60 cats, the lowest number on record, according to Lilli, who said the shelter adopted out 49 cats in March. But he knows that “kitten season is coming” and that number will change. Conversely, dog numbers are at their highest, with 30 canines housed at the shelter.
Getting the word out
Word about adoptable animals gets out through a combination of efforts. DCHS currently has two Facebook pages, a website with photos and videos that gets 67,000 hits a year, holds numerous fundraisers (including collecting aluminum cans), and features weekly columns in The Dunn County News.
“The community has embraced what we do,” said Lilli. “The support during my time at DCHS has been remarkable. I am grateful to have had the chance to meet so many amazing people and be part of so many happy moments.”
Lilli will be taking his own rescue animals with him, a 9-year-old greyhound named Tankini and a 16-year-old cat named Phoebe. He issued these parting words: “Thank you all for welcoming me into your community and allowing me to make a difference for the abandoned and stray companion animals of Dunn County.”
Through phone calls and e-mail, Lilli said he will be available to the DCHS board for whatever they need.