by Bea Lueck
I met Audra shortly after she was hired as an Animal Control Officer (ACO). Audra always believed in doing what was best for the animals. Under her direction and guidance, PCACC has become a leading animal shelter in the state of Arizona. Pinal County citizens should be proud of the successes this small, underfunded county animal shelter has achieved.
GRANDE LIVING: What prompted your work with animals?
Audra Michael: I started in animal welfare at Apache Junction Animal Control in 2007 as a volunteer. I went for a ride along with an ACO, and after that I knew I wanted to be a part of animal welfare but on the education/information side, working not just with animals but people as well. I had worked at Safeway for 28 years and wanted to make a difference in the community.
Pinal County was hiring officers, and after I applied I was pretty relentless and would email and call Kaye Dickson (the former director) quite often hoping for an interview. I was hired Aug. 1, 2011.
I loved it; it was truly my calling. Kaye decided to leave the shelter in February 2015, and I was an ACO field supervisor at the time. I think in Kaye’s mind I was someone who shared her vision of no-kill/low-kill and would try to get there as soon as possible.
I was interim director in February of 2015 and was put into the position officially in July that year.
As for the attitude shift, the first year of my directorship was a disaster. I had to learn how to trust people, the community, and actually let people help us without thinking they were only there for nefarious reasons.
Basically, I had to grow up, and little by little we started to make small changes where we could, and so on and so on. As for any certifications I have received since being a director, I was selected to join The Best Friends Executive Leadership Certification and graduated from that course in 2020. I also have a certified public manager certification from Arizona State University.
Last year I achieved a certification I am very proud of — a Certified Animal Welfare Associate (CAWA) from the Association of Animal Welfare Advancement. This test was hard! I did pass it on my first try, which is what I am most proud of! I had bragging rights galore with some of my colleagues who took two or three tries.
GRANDE LIVING: When did the direction and mindset change to becoming a low-kill shelter? How difficult was it to achieve and maintain? How did the volunteer program get established?
Audra Michael: Once I started to see what other shelters across the country were doing, I wanted to try and put some of the programs into place. We did get grant funding to help us achieve some of the goals, such as a trap-neuter-release (TNR) program for feral cats and a voucher program for citizens of Pinal County to have their pets altered.
We officially became a no-kill facility in 2018 and have maintained it every year since. It is not at all easy. We are constantly struggling, but I have an amazing team and full support of the Board of Supervisors and county managers. It makes things so much better when you have support; so many shelters out there do not have the support of their communities or their boards.
The volunteer program was started before I came on as director and has grown over the past few years. Now there are two full-time people and two part-time people handling volunteers as well as dog behavior programs such as playgroups and public walks.
GRANDE LIVING: Hoarding, abuse and neglect are still issues everywhere. What can the public do to bring awareness and law enforcement action to these situations? Do you feel the current laws are a strong enough deterrent or do we need stronger legislation?
Audra Michael: Animal laws in Arizona are OK but definitely not great. In Pinal County I would like to look into a tethering ordinance and change the ARS Statute 13-2910 (Cruelty to Animals) to be a more descriptive law.
It says a pet owner must provide “food, water and shelter.” How about potable or clean water, food free from insects and edible? Also, how about shelter being described as large enough to allow the dog to stand up, turn around and can keep them comfortable from the elements at the very least?
I would also like to make selling puppies on the side of the road illegal in Pinal County. There are states that have spay and neuter laws for those whose animal is picked up at large. The animal must be altered within 30 days of reclaim, or if it is just a new pet and has not been picked up, the animal must be altered at no later than 6 months of age.
I do work closely with the Humane Society of the United States as well as Best Friends to look at possible legislation down the road. State Sen. John Kavanagh is a huge proponent for animals and their well-being. He has had several laws go on to be signed by the governor.
GRANDE LIVING: Spay/neuter programs are effective in reducing the pet population. What assistance is available for those who can’t afford to fix their pets?
Audra Michael: We offer vouchers to Pinal County residents who would like to get their pet altered. We usually will do the female and up to two females per household. They do have to purchase a license for $15.
There are also other programs within the county such as Pets In Need Action League (P.I.N.A.L.) that give vouchers out as well. I am on the Pet Plate Companion Animal Committee for the state of Arizona (which awards grants funded by pet-themed license plate revenue). I am not allowed to read submissions for Pinal County but I was pleasantly surprised to see other organizations applying for voucher funds.
We also have a program called No Puppy Left Behind where we ask that the owner keep their litter until they are weaned, and we will vaccinate the pups during their growth phase. Once they are old enough to adopt out, we take them free of charge, but the mother must be spayed right after, that is the only requirement. So far, so good.
GRANDE LIVING: For a long time the county hasn’t had a staff veterinarian. What kind of care is available for the shelter animals?
Audra Michael: We do have a part-time vet who comes once a week. We also have contracted vet partners that come out and help us quite often, and AZ Vet Direct is now coming to all parts of Pinal County a few times a month.
I cannot take any credit for our medical program; that is all my deputy director’s doing, Katrina Rodrigues.CQ She has such a rapport with veterinarians, clinics, the University of Arizona vet program and other medical agencies. They are always willing to come out when needed.
We still need our rescue partners of course, and now we have a nonprofit called Friends of Pinal Shelter and Rescues, Inc. that formed a few years ago. Many of our medical procedures can be subsidized to help with costs through them.
GRANDE LIVING: What are some of the ways the public can help?
Audra Michael: We are always looking for help with our program Every Dog Every Day. The fuller we are, the more dogs we need to walk. We are open to public walkers every day of the week from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.
If someone wants to walk a dog, they show up, sign a waiver and we get them a dog deemed an easy walker. They walk it as long as they like and bring it back. They can do one dog or 10, we are happy either way. Kids can come along with their guardians, but they cannot hold the leash unless they are 16.
If someone does not want to walk a dog, they can do enrichment for dogs or they can cuddle cats. These programs have been very successful and we love seeing more and more people come out to help our animals.
We also need help with our offsite adoption events. For these events we would ask anyone interested to contact our program coordinators on our website: www.pinal.gov/451/Animal-Care-Control.
GRANDE LIVING: Is there any other information you think the public might be interested to learn?
Audra Michael: Yes! Because of volunteers continually requesting a remodel for our facility due to the deplorable conditions, the Board of Supervisors invested funds in 2020 to renovate it. We are finally going to start construction on improvements.
This will include a new clinic, more office space, indoor meet-and-greet rooms for dogs, a new cattery and cat kennels, new kennel doors, shade structures for our play yards and a really nice lobby area for people to hang out.
The board is also open to opening a possible satellite shelter somewhere in the county, possibly San Tan Valley. This would be a smaller building/adoption center to showcase animals for adoption or foster.