County Animal Shelter Hires New Director

County Animal Shelter Hires New Director

A new Flathead County Animal Shelter director has been hired, and longtime director Cliff Bennett is scheduled for his last day of work.

Austin Hicks, a former officer for the Whitefish Police Department, was hired by the county earlier this month. Hicks had his first day of work on March 13, and has been shadowing Bennett. Bennett, who has helmed the department for 13 years, said his last day was March 24.

The shelter functions as part of the Flathead City-County Health Department. Flathead City-County Health Officer Jennifer Rankosky said Hicks was offered the job from a pool of six applicants. Hicks has a master’s degree in public administration, in addition to his law enforcement background.

“We’re super excited that he is joining the team,” Rankosky said. “And we appreciate everything that Cliff has done over the years and wish him the best in his retirement and hope he enjoys himself.”

Bennett announced in November 2022 that he planned to retire from the shelter after his replacement was found. Originally a farmer, Bennett had a career in business before he took the shelter director job in 2010. He said he educated himself about the world of shelter management by listening to experts and studying industry standards and literature. Since taking over the shelter, Bennett was in the inaugural class of shelter-management fellows for a program started by the University of Wisconsin Veterinary School. The shelter was also among the first to test PetPoint, a widely used data tracking software program in the shelter world. They’ve also been active participants in the Million Cat Challenge, an effort that began in 2014 to save the lives of one million cats in North America over five years. The challenge is run by the University of California-Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program, and the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program at the University of Florida.

Cliff Bennett, director of the Flathead County Animal Shelter visits with dogs in the shelter on Jan. 25, 2022. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacons

The year Bennett took over the shelter, the county was euthanizing 8.7% of dogs and 16.3% of cats. In 2022, the shelter euthanized just 2% of its dogs and 3.8% of its cats form an intake of 907 dogs and 444 cats, which remains an enduring point of pride for the outgoing shelter director.

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