“My heart is full. I have shared intimate times with clients who are going through the hardest things in their lives. I’ve seen our staff so engaged in their work. They know beyond a shadow of a doubt that their work is meaningful. I’ve seen the heart of our organization grow.”

Thus Staycee Dains summed up her three-plus years at Long Beach Animal Care Services. Her tenure as shelter manager, which will be marked by a legacy of continuous growth and engagement for the sake of the shelter’s animals, hasn’t been a completely smooth ride, but it’s moved the organization demonstrably forward.

Earlier this month, Dains announced her acceptance of the general manager position at Los Angeles Animal Services. With six shelters under the department’s jurisdiction, the position will present a challenge, which she looks forward to meeting head-on. June 30 will be her final day at LBACS; Melanie Wagner, the present superintendent at the shelter, will fill in as interim director on Dains’ departure.

“What better way to make a large impact in a large city? So, I applied for the position,” Dains said. “Size doesn’t change the dynamics of leadership.”

Dains has worked in large animal welfare agencies in California for most of her two-decade career and is knowledgeable about their operations and procedures. When she started at LBACS in 2019, her goal was to create a comprehensive animal-welfare program, with an emphasis on bringing down the number of healthy animals that were euthanized and connecting with the community for support and action. The “Compassion Saves” model that her team of shelter volunteers and animal advocates created is a framework for building a model shelter.

Like any resolution, Compassion Saves has its detractors, but the model continues to leave Great Dane-size paw prints.

“When I first came to Long Beach, there was a very passionate, deeply concerned group of people who were committed to seeing reform in the shelter,” Dains said. “It was very important that I heard every one of those people, and I made that my mission—it absolutely informed everything I’ve done.”

Two women stand by a big green trailer vehicle that contains pets for adoptionl
Staycee Dains, in full Pride garb, joins the shelter in marching in the 2019 Pride Parade. Photo courtesy of Long Beach Animal Care Services

Before Dains’ arrival, LBACS had a group of dedicated volunteers and a staff of part-time employees who were stretched to the snapping point. Nearly four years later, teamwork with Dains at the helm has filled the vacuum with more medical staff, a comprehensive adoption program, an outreach coordinator, a behavior and enrichment support employee, and clerical support.

A foster program with its own coordinator who oversees 100 foster homes is now in place. Before, there had been nothing, and the community had been demanding a foster program for years. Fostering pets frees kennels for the continual intake of animals and provides a means to avoid euthanasia for space. Of course, many animals are adopted by their foster, which is sneaky in the best possible way.

“That’s what I’ve spent my career in doing—bringing down the euthanasia rate so that euthanasia is a humane outcome and not just managing numbers,” Dains said. “This is a struggle that every single shelter across the country is going through.”

In March, LBACS’ dog population had reached critical numbers, and the shelter contemplated the possibility of euthanizing for space. Dains, her staff and the volunteers contacted every foster, rescue and supporter they knew; as of now, no healthy animal that had been on the shelter’s red list for euthanasia has been euthanized. You’ll still find a couple of them enjoying office space or a staff member’s home. Including Dains’.

A volunteer coordinator still has to be hired. Dains said that when the position is filled, it will support the shelter volunteers, who are hugely invested in socializing the pets and finding them homes.

“We have the best volunteers anywhere,” Dains said. “They’re self-motivated and self-directed, and they deserve leadership that will continue to support their skills and abilities. Once there is support in that position, the sky’s the limit.”

The overarching accomplishment for Dains was the development of the strategic plan for the shelter—the road map to success, as she described it.

“Everything sort of happened the way it needed to happen,” Dains said. “There are some things that haven’t gone exactly as I hoped, but I think that every director wants every resource they need as soon as they need it. I’ve made a lot of asks over the years during the budget process, and over time, the city made it very clear that animal services is a priority and they provided necessary resources. We haven’t realized all of our goals yet, and we’re still in the process of completing them. With the continuing support of our city leadership, we’ll be able to fully realize the Compassion Saves model.

Dains said that she’ll bring her commitment of establishing a clear vision for a 21st century humane department to Los Angeles and also instill a sense of long-needed connection among the staff, volunteers and diverse community.

“I think the lack of connection, when this position has been vacant for a bit, is important to work on—to bring the volunteers back together again, bridge the gap and work and think together,” she said. “It’s so important to be present and available and be a very good listener and learner. That’s something else I’m bringing.”

Dains said that Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass is committed to building Los Angeles Animal Services into a model shelter, and she’s confident that it will happen.

Dains used the present tense often in her discussion of her accomplishments at LBACS, which implies that she’ll be working to the last day for LBACS’ continuing success, and quite likely beyond. It also speaks to her emotional investment to our shelter and our animal-loving big city/small-town community.

“Caring for animals is so important because it’s caring for people, too,” Dains said. “And I’ve made some really solid relationships with people. That is sad to leave.”

“They’re my work family. I’ll miss supporting them, hearing and listening to them. I will miss that.”

Long Beach’s animal shelter manager to leave this month