Dean of animal care & control Warren Cox retires after 50 years on the job
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2003:
DALLAS–Warren Cox retired on November 18, 2003, after just
over 50 years in animal-care-and-control, serving with 18 agencies
in nine states.
Even 50 years ago, Warren Cox believed animal control
sheltering did not have to be like running a slaughterhouse, he told
ANIMAL PEOPLE. Though he never ran a no-kill agency, Cox–a
longtime vegetarian–experimented wherever he went with ways of
reducing the killing, succeeding just enough to keep dreaming.
Just out of high school, Cox took a job as a dogcatcher in
Lincoln, Nebraska. “I had a pickup truck with a cage on it,” Cox
recalled. “It was primitive, but looking back I’d have to say we
were progressive. We housed dogs in social groups. It was later
that the idea came in that you shouldn’t let even friendly dogs
Drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Cox was
made a mule driver in the 35th Quartermasters Corps. He brought to
the work an insight: “You don’t drive a mule. You let the mule
drive, and you hold the reins. If you’re gentle with him, he’ll go
where you want. Usually.”
Following military duty, Cox took a position at the Animal
Humane Society of Hennepin County, Minnesota. In 1958 his boss
recommended him to head the animal control department in Cedar
Rapids, Iowa. “It was an old, old facility,” Cox remembered. “I
asked for soap, water, and paint.” There was a new TV station in
town, and Cox did his first broadcasts in Cedar Rapids, live in the
studio with dogs and cats, to promote pet licensing and adoptions.
Cox also met a young woman named Jeri, who lived across the
street from the shelter. They married, and she has traveled with
him ever since. Their first stops together included Elkhart,
Indiana, where Cox headed a slightly larger animal control unit;
the Animal Rescue League of Iowa, in Des Moines; and Marshalltown,
Iowa, where Cox helped to start the Animal Rescue League of
Marshalltown. There Cox again did TV, as a regular guest on “The
Marshall J. Show,” which he recalls as “a live cowboy show for kids.”
Next Cox served as interim director at the Humane Society of
Missouri prior to the tenure of Don Anthony, who headed the
organization for more than 20 years. The board considered Cox “too
young and radical” for the fulltime job, Cox said, “but I was good
enough to keep things running.”
Cox then served as executive director of the Oregon Humane
Society in Portland “until I insisted on inspecting the treatment of
animals at the Pendleton Round-Up,” he remembered. “The rodeo had
always reserved free seats for the humane society, but the
inspectors were kept away from the livestock. I didn’t think that
was the way to do things. They fired my chief inspector, and I
resigned. Officially it was over a pay issue, but it was really
about the rodeo.”
After that, Cox “jumped clear across the county,” serving
as first executive director of the Humane Society of Fort Walton
Beach, Florida, before returning to Oregon to help build the Humane
Society of the Willamette Valley.
Next Cox was director of animal protection for American
Humane Association animal protection division chief Milton Searle.
Cox had hopes of succeeding Searle, but was told he was too old.
“I left the job at AHA to Dennis White,” Cox told ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “and went to Boca Raton.” White, 10 years younger, headed
the AHA animal protection division for 19 years, then headed the
Gulf Region office of the Humane Society of the U.S. in Dallas until
his death in October 2001. Cox moved from Boca Raton to Chico,
California, where in 1979 he became director of animal control and
A year later Cox moved again, to the Spokane Humane Society.
There he again “did a lot of TV work,” he remembered. “We had the
right ideas in Spokane, but we were not quite ready to pull them
off,” Cox recalls.
Cox returned to Florida to briefly head the Hillsbor-ough County
Humane Society in Tampa, realized that was a wrong turn, and
returned to Spokane in 1983 to help found SpokAnimal Care. There he
hired as his successor Gail Mackey, who is approaching 20 years as
Cox moved on to the Greenhill Humane Society in Eugene,
where he hired another long-tenured successor, Mert Davis, who
later worked for him again in Dallas.
After a failed attempt to direct a telemarketing program for
humane societies, Cox worked for the Colorado Humane Society,
before going to the SPCA of Texas in 1989.
“I never thought I’d last in Dallas anywhere near as long as
I did,” Cox laughed. “We’ve gone from 27 staff to 120, and from an
annual budget of under $1 million to a budget of more than $7
million. We just built and opened the Russell H. Perry Animal Care &
Education Campus, and it is debt-free. We didn’t even have a
shelter clinic 14 years ago. Now we have a clinic running seven days
Most important, Cox in Dallas managed to help cut the
numbers of dogs and cats killed in local shelters by two-thirds, and
saw the formation of a no-kill coalition that hopes to obtain
Maddie’s Fund money to get the numbers down to the no-kill threshold,
a goal that for Cox has been something of a Holy Grail, glimpsed at
a distance but always beyond reach.
Warren and Jeri Cox had four daughters “dropped off in a lot
of the places I used to work,” Cox said. “The husband of one of
them works for the Tacoma-Pierce County Humane Society, one is in
Arizona, one is in Denver, and another is in Nebrasha. Now we’re
going to retire to Hudson, Florida.”
Will Cox stay out of shelter work?
“I don’t want to run another facility,” Cox said, but he
admitted that neuter/return cat colony management interests him,
praising Operation Catnip.
Founded in 1998 by Julie Levy, DVM, a professor at the
University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, Operation
Catnip has now sterilized more than 10,000 feral cats, teaching
volunteer student veterinarians how to perform surgery, and helping
to develop an injectible immunocontraceptive for cats for which Levy
is seeking regulatory approval.
“Feral cats have a right to live,” Cox stated.
So, is Cox going to get involved in the ongoing Florida
feral cat controversies?
“I expect to keep busy,” Cox said.