Phil Morgan was that little kid out of the Norman Rockwell painting with the frog, salamander or some other bug-eyed creature struggling to escape his pocket.
He was the boy to whom other kids carried the wounded truck-struck skunks and hurt birds and cats and dogs they’d found.
Morgan cannot recall a single moment in his 58 years when he wasn’t wowed by wild things, be they four-legged, eight-legged, even the sort that hiss and slither with no legs at all. And to the consternation of mom and dad, eager to have as many critters in his room as they could tolerate.
Good times, good times.
Like that time he offered to care overnight for a friend’s small alligator. He left the beast in the tub and went off to bed, But in the night, ol’ gator got the munchies, climbed from the tub, stalked into his parents’ bedroom, and tried – unsuccessfully – to dine on the family dog under the bed.
“I can still remember my father’s scream. My father was a colonel, and he knew how to curse,” Morgan recalled.
”I have the best job in the world,” Morgan said. “When I was 8, I did exactly what I am doing now, minus a lot of paperwork.”
Keeping him company at the animal shelter on East Valley Highway is a staff of 30, countless volunteers, and a houseful of barking dogs and mewing cats.
But that’s not all. Step into his office. Meet Shelley, a 20-year old Russian tortoise – “Don’t call her a turtle, she gets really offended!” — Monty the python, two geckos named Elvis and Catherine, a tarantula, some rescue pigeons and Blitz the parakeet.
“When I was a kid, my bedroom looked just like this,” Morgan said, nodding to his office menagerie.
At that moment, Blitz flutters up to a visitor’s shoulder and begins cheeping.
“Hey, turn your head like this, she’ll throw up in your mouth,” Morgan suggested. “That’s the highest compliment a bird can give you.”
Kidding of course, but that gleam of sincerity in the Morgan eye is enough to unnerve a visitor.
Life with pets
As a military kid whose family moved from place to place, Morgan said, the one constant in his life was his pets. When he was 12, his family finally settled down, in San Diego, and he went to work for a veterinarian.
Morgan would go on to work at, and then own and operate, a number of petshops in San Diego, in addition to serving a brief stint as a commercial diver.
“I got my first job in a petstore when I was 16 and walked into a store one day and told the owner, ‘Hey, your snake has mites,’ and he goes, ‘Hey, you want a job?’ I went, ‘Sure.’ Then I became reptile guy, fish guy, small animal guy.
“I never got a degree as crazy animal guy, although I wanted to be a veterinarian. When I was a kid, my parents didn’t have enough money to send me to vet school, and my grades weren’t good enough anyway,” Morgan said.
Intrigued by his experience as a business owner, however, in 2005 Morgan earned a degree in public administration from San Diego State University.
His resume since then includes stints as director of Second Chance Animal Shelter in Flagstaff, Ariz., director of animal control in Matsu Borough in Alaska, and, before coming to Auburn, as director of an animal shelter in Pinellas County, Fla.
All that business and administrative know-how has served the AVHS animal shelter well, helping it expand with total revenues of $538,394 in 2013 to $1,670,615 in 2018. In that span, the shelter grew from a staff of two to more than 30.
During those years, the shelter opened a thrift store at the site of the Peckenpaugh store on M Street.
“I knew that it would eventually get to where it is at today, where it earns $25,000 to $30,000 a month, but it did it much faster than anyone expected,” Morgan said of the thrift store. “Having that enables us to do our Pets Domestic Violence Program. Ninety-two percent of women in a domestic violence situation won’t leave because they’re afraid the perpetrator is going to kill their pets. So, we offer them a place to keep their pet while they’re in a program getting their life squared away.
“Also, because of the thrift store, we were able to create what we call The Extraordinary Medical Fund, which is designed for animals in our shelter that need care beyond what we are able to do on a regular basis,” Morgan said.
Morgan would be the first person to say that making the shelter the top-notch facility it is today has always been, first and foremost, a team effort.
“I have a great staff, and we were able to keep a fresh approach to everything we did. We have a great, supportive, collaborative climate here,” Morgan said.
The animal shelter of today offers an impressive array of special programs, among them: the Humane Education Program; a pet food bank for senior citizens; Shelter Buddies, which allows elementary school children to read to shelter cats; Seniors for Seniors, sponsoring adoptions of senior animals to senior citizens in Auburn; Pet Therapy; Wet Nose Wednesday; and the Public Veterinary Assistance Fund.
In March 2018, AVHS contracted to be the service provider for the city of Auburn’s pet licensing program.
“I think the board of AVHS had a great vision, but they didn’t know how to get there, and I don’t think at the time they realized the potential for growth this organization had,” Morgan said. “It’s really outgrown anyone’s expectations.”
By the numbers
The following statistics are taken from the Auburn Valley Humane Society’s annual report for years 2013 and 2018.
Total intakes, including animals that come into the shelter as owner surrenders, public strays, animal control strays, transfers from other animal welfare organizations, born in care, owner-requested euthanasia, DOA disposal and adoption returns:
• 2013 – 1,433, 702 dogs and puppies, 667 cats and kittens, others, including birds, rabbis, guinea pigs, and small pets, 64
• 2018 – 2,266, 857 dogs and puppies, 1,347 cats and kittens, others, 62
Outcomes, reflects the AVHS’s efforts to find loving families for every adoptable animal:
• 2013 – 1,319, 698 dogs and puppies, 557 cats and kittens, 64 others,
• 2019 – 2,266, 857 dogs and puppies, 1,347 cats and kittens, 62 others.
In 2013, medical staff performed 497 spay and neuter surgeries on shelter animals, administered 3,440 vaccinations and implanted 949 microchips; in 2019 staff performed 1,158 spay and neuter surgeries and administered more than 4,105 vaccinations. That is in addition to rendering services the shelter did not offer in 2013, including 361 income-qualified, reduced-cost spays and neuters, more than 122 dental surgeries and more than 474 X-ray exams.
In 2013 and 2018, no adoptable animals were euthanized.