By DEREK MOORE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Barking and balloons greeted Amy Cooper upon her return Tuesday to Sonoma County’s animal shelter, nine months after Cooper was fired and told to leave the facility immediately.
Cooper, 49, recalled that “brutal” Monday morning on July 12 when former Agricultural Commissioner Cathy Neville came into Cooper’s office and told the Animal Care and Control director that she was being let go.
Stunned, Cooper handed over her keys, badge and county cell phone, and then waited in her car for security to open the chain-link gate to let her out of the Century Court compound and into an uncertain future.
On Tuesday, a large “Congratulations” banner was affixed to that same gate, welcoming Cooper when she arrived for her first day back on the job.
In a bizarre set of circumstances, the county rehired Cooper on Friday, nine months after she was fired and less than a month after the Board of Supervisors fired Neville.
Cooper said she still has not been told why she was fired in the first place.
“I don’t suspect I’ll ever know, and I’m at peace with that,” she said. “I’m real forward-thinking right now.”
Cooper, whose right arm was in a sling Tuesday as a result of a broken bone suffered in a March 1 skiing mishap, described her time away in terms one might use to describe a spiritual journey.
“I learned a lot about humility and patience and looking at other paths. I learned that I don’t control as much as I think I do,” she said.
Much has changed in her absence. Animal Care and Control, once part of the ag commissioner’s office, is now part of the county Health Department. County supervisors in September approved the change after an investigation ordered by County Administrator Veronica Ferguson revealed widespread dissatisfaction among employees over the way things were being run.
Perhaps the biggest change for Cooper is that she now reports to Rita Scardaci, director of county health, and not Neville, who is suing the county to get her job back.
Cooper said Scardaci stopped by the shelter on Tuesday to welcome her back.
Cooper said she recognizes that the excitement over her return will be short-lived and that she will immediately have to come up to speed on all that she has missed. That includes addressing budget shortfalls and the prospect of having to cut staff.
“I want to do all I can to advocate for this division, so that we have enough personnel to handle the demands the public places on us,” she said.
Underscoring the point, visitors waited in a line of cars outside the gate on Tuesday for the shelter to open at noon.
Inside the building, a photo of Cooper identifying her as the shelter’s director adorned the main hallway.
It was never taken down.