Mat-Su animal shelter cutting hours amid staffing shortage

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The problem illustrates a downside of the borough’s reliance on part-time employees who don’t get

PALMER — The Mat-Su animal shelter is temporarily cutting the hours it's open to the public, even as a growing population puts increased pressure on the facility.

The reduced hours start Tuesday and extend through June. The shelter will open at 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday instead of 11 a.m. It will continue to open at 11 a.m. Saturday, the busiest day of the week for adoptions.

The Valley's population topped 100,000 last year. With that growth comes rising numbers of animals at the shelter, especially cats, as well as more customers.

But because of borough limits on hours worked for all but full-time employees, there aren't enough employees to maintain shelter operations at current levels, officials say.

matsu-animal-shelter-cutting-hours-amid-staffing-shortage photo 1 Matanuska-Susitna Borough animal care manager Kirsten Vesel holds a 10-year-old male dog being screened for adoption at the borough animal shelter on Monday. The shelter is cutting back its hours through June in response to staffing shortages. (Zaz Hollander / Alaska Dispatch News)

"This is the schedule — and it's the bane of my existence," Mat-Su animal care manager Kirsten Vesel said Monday, looking down at a grid of names and hours.

The problem illustrates a downside of the borough's reliance on part-time employees who don't get benefits and can only work a total of 29.9 hours a week or 1,000 hours a year. Full-time employees account for only about a third of the total borough workforce.

The animal shelter staff includes two full-time employees and eleven 1,000-hour ones, along with a corps of volunteers.

The temporary hours reduction stems from two factors.

Several 1,000-hour animal shelter employees hired in May and June are already out of hours for the year, Vesel said. She's under orders not to approve overtime.

The borough also decided to hire one full-time shelter staffer to replace three part-time workers. The Mat-Su Assembly approved the new employee — as well as a new enforcement officer — during a budget meeting last week, but that hire won't start until July 1.

Borough manager John Moosey said he proposed the full-time shelter position to ensure more continuity in the job. A 2016 report on part-time or on-call employees around the borough showed a 45 percent turnover rate compared to 11 percent for full-time regular employees, Moosey said.

As of Monday, the Mat-Su shelter held 49 dogs, 65 cats and 33 smaller animals like rabbits, gerbils or guinea pigs. The shelter is packed with customers on Saturdays. Even people from Anchorage come up. The Anchorage shelter has relatively few animals available for adoption.

The Mat-Su shelter is getting help from several rescue groups around the state to keep up with adoptions until July. Vesel said she worries about burnout among her employees, especially the full-time ones, and struggles to fill scheduling gaps when several staffers get sick.

"It's always a juggle," she said. "I don't think the two new positions are going to solve that, but it will certainly help."

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