New shelter manager a nationally certified animal control officer

Shawn Markmann

Shawn Markmann, Tyler's new shelter manager, took the first dog from the city to the Klein Animal Shelter in 2007 as an animal control officer for the North East Texas Public Health Department.

Seven years later, he dropped off the last dog from the city on Jan. 16. The city took over its animal shelter needs the same day after allegations of animal cruelty and illegal euthanasia put the shelter's executive director and two employees in jail.

Markmann, 37, started his career in Tyler in 1998 and returned this year as the city's new shelter manager. He directs the city's current shelter on Grande Boulevard and has input over the construction of a permanent facility, which is anticipated to be completed early next year.

The native Tylerite, who grew up in Bullard, first started his career in IT, but after the Internet bubble burst in the 1990s, he switched gears to police work.

He worked as a juvenile detention officer for Smith County and was promoted to an officer supervisor, but after years working inside the jail he was ready for a change.

"I didn't want to be locked up — long shifts inside the jail were not the ideal situations," he said. "I have to be out and about meeting people. I don't like to be sitting behind a desk."

On chance, he applied for a position with the North East Public Health District in 2002, which started his career in animal control and sheltering.

"I answered the ad for an animal control officer and a vector control officer (mosquito spraying)," he said. "I didn't know what a vector was, but I was going to control it completely."

Working at the detention center helped prepared him for a career of working with animals.

"At the detention center I learned liability," he said. "You are dealing with people's children and that transitioned into the work I'm doing now. You learn about liability and how you need to take care of other people's (pets) even when they are not taking care of them."

Markmann moved up in the ranks with NET Health, and left the organization in 2010 with the title of director of Tyler animal control and mosquito control. He was in charge of six employees and operating a budget of $350,000.

Markmann ran a shelter in Colorado for three years, with an operating budget of $630,000 annually before getting into the education side of the business.

For almost two years, Markmann traveled all across the country as the program coordinator and instructor for the National Animal Control Association, a professional organization for animal control officers.

Markmann said the coursework to be a nationally certified officer encompasses 80 hours.

He is not only nationally certified but also taught classes on a wide range of topics, including animal behavior, shelter management, courtroom testimony, officer safety, animal diseases and zoonotic (human transferable) illnesses, meth identification and decontamination, animal cruelty investigations, crime scene photography, livestock handling, tactical communications as well as search warrants and the 4th Amendment.

Markmann was lured back home when the Tyler Police Department offered him a job to run its shelter. Incidentally, Markmann had interned with the department in 1998 while pursuing criminal justice at Tyler Junior College. A former colleague sent him the plans and asked for his opinions on them, and he was offered a job based on his recommendation on the shelter designs.

Markmann has been married to his wife for 20 years and the couple has an 8-year-old daughter.

On his free time, Markmann enjoys Hapkido, a Korean form of martial arts. He is a second-degree black belt. He is also a history buff who participates in reenactments for the pioneer era, prior to 1840.

 

A VISION FOR THE FUTURE

Markmann said animal control extends further than the walls of a shelter.

He said most of the pets inside a shelter are surrenders and make up a larger percentage than those picked up off the streets.

He said a key point is prevention and helping owners with their pets. That includes teaching owners how to train their pets to quit doing undesirable behaviors. That creates happier owners and pets and a happier society.

He said he is always looking for ways to help owners keep their pets.

While in Colorado, he said the No. 1 reason given as to why owners were surrendering their pets was not being able to afford food. So, he started a pet food bank and gave each owner 30 days worth of food to help him or her keep the pet.

"In 18 months, we distributed about 1,400 pounds of food, and only had two repeat customers," he said. "That tells you a lot. They found another way to keep the pet … (because) the impound numbers did not go up."

Tyler's shelter will be a kill shelter, but Markmann said the goal is to adopt out as many pets as possible.

Markmann said the shelter would adhere to Asilomar Accords, a ranking scale created in 2004 by a group dedicated to ending the euthanasia of possible companion dogs. The accords line out specifically what constitutes a healthy, treatable and manageable animal as opposed to unhealthy and untreatable.

"We deal with people more than we deal with animals," he said. "Strays are a byproduct of a social problem, and there is a distinction between owning an animal and having pet."

The shelter will work to adhere to the new Association of Shelter Veterinarians' standards within the new shelter.

The guidelines, which came out in 2010, outline best practices on everything from disinfectant to lighting and include guidelines on animal care.

"It's basically running a hospital inside of a jail," Markmann said. "It's disease control and you don't want anyone getting out. The concept of the animal shelter is built on is a reverse castle philosophy — you are keeping things in instead of keeping things out. We want to make sure that the animals are safe inside. That they are kept safe from each other, and (we are sometimes) housing evidence of animal cruelty, animal fighting, so it has to be a secure facility that people can't get into. And while you're doing that, you have to keep diseases down."

Police Chief Gary Swindle said the city would not tolerate any of the bad behaviors associated with Klein.

"It's not going to happen in Tyler," he said. "Not only do I stop by when I can, but it's under constant observation."

 

 
 

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Faith Harper is an East Texas native working for her hometown newspaper. She specializes in digital content for the Tyler Morning Telegraph. In her spare time, she loves tacos, road trips and is currently learning to sail.