Head of the pack

New BHS manager is an animal lover with a background in business

John Mich, operations manager for the Butte Humane Society, holds Bob, who’s looking for a home.

John Mich, operations manager for the Butte Humane Society, holds Bob, who’s looking for a home.

John Mich took over as operations manager for the Butte Humane Society last November, one day after Police Chief Mike Maloney was grilled at a City Council meeting about changes at the animal shelter.

It was quite a welcome for the new guy, whose background consisted for the most part of working for Home Depot and Target, a fact not missed by critics of the new shelter arrangement. He’s got a business background, they said; what does he know about animals?

During an interview at the shelter’s spay-and-neuter clinic and cat adoption center, Mich said he was born and raised in Chico, took off for a 10-year stint in Orange County and returned in 1998.

“My background is business,” he said. “I was operations manager for Home Depot and opened both the Home Depot in Chico and in Oroville. I was also an executive team leader over at Target for a few years. Animal welfare as an industry is new to me. I bring the business management to it.”

On the surface those words could sound foreboding to an animal-shelter advocate. But Mich is also an animal person; he has an Australian shepherd named Puck and two cats, Buddha and Bodhi, as home companions. And he is fostering two kittens from the shelter until they can be adopted. He estimates there are currently 40 to 50 animals from the shelter with foster families waiting adoption.

(Part of the interview was conducted while Mich held and stroked an adult cat named Bob, who responded with purrs and head-rubbing affection.)

Mich said he is well aware of the public concern for what is going on inside the walls of the shelter, particularly with the city now running animal intake.

“The stereotypical fear is that the city is killing everything. I really don’t think that’s true. We try to be as transparent as we can. The thing I’ve come to learn is that the catch to being transparent is giving enough information that people can understand what you are telling them. You have to actually invest enough time in discovering what’s going on to understand the numbers you are looking at.”

Mich runs operations for the nine-member board of directors and manages the cat and dog adoption centers, the clinic and fundraising.

“It’s the fundraising that keeps us going, but not everyone realizes yet that we no longer get contracted money from the city. Donations are now our main source. Adoption fees cover next to none of the actual cost of housing the animal.”

The other source of income is the low-cost spay-and-neuter clinic. But the goal there, Mich said, is just to try to break even because what the clinic does is more important than the money it brings in.

“We really want to keep the number of homeless animals down,” he continued. “Finding them all homes through adoptions is the obvious way we attack that problem. The clinic’s spay-and-neuter service is the other one, because for every litter of kittens that gets brought in and cared for by us and adopted out there is a mom that probably didn’t get caught and is producing another litter right away.

“We do the clinic, we spay-neuter and we try to get as many animals through the door as we can. In reality we are in business to try to put ourselves out of business. If we really could reach our ultimate goal, we wouldn’t be needed anymore. In terms of the short-term reality, we won’t be putting ourselves out of business any time soon.”

Mich says it is a daily effort to try to do more with what support they’ve been given, even with the 1,500-2,500 hours of volunteer work the shelter gets each month.

“We struggle with the fact that we can’t do as much as we think we should. This is what turns our planning and what we do into very large debates and discussions with the board and staff. It’s more than just being a good steward with the money that we are given. It’s this drive everybody has here. You know it’s never enough. Our cages will always be full. How do I make room for one more animal? Just one more? Because if you turn around, there is always a line waiting to get in.”