Also noted for work on behalf of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Kent Morris Robertson, 73, for 38 years a leader in animal care and control work, died in Denison, Texas, on December 31, 2023, after a long battle with multiple debilitating health conditions, including cancer.
“Growing up in Sacramento, California, his family had a monkey, snake, frog, fish, cat and dog,” reported Salatheia Bryant for the Houston Chronicle in 2007.
“Standing about 6-foot-2 with beefy hands and wide shoulders, Kent Robertson, once a semi-pro basketball player, looks like a man who can handle himself in a jam,” Bryant added.
From flat feet to “flatfoot”
Kent Robertson’s basketball career did not last long, and neither did his brief tenure in the U.S. Army, both for essentially the same reason: flat feet.
Between jobs in the early 1970s, Kent Robertson made a temporary business of hitchhiking from Sacramento to Berkeley, picking up a stack of the salacious Berkeley Barb underground newspaper, and hitchhiking back to Sacramento, where he sold the Barb on the streets.
But though he had shoulder-length hair and a beard at the time, Kent Robertson, for most of his life a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as Mormons, was not exactly your average hippie.
Earning an associate’s degree from Rick’s College in Rexburg, Idaho, then a two-year institution which is today the four-year Brigham Young University Idaho campus, Kent Robertson became a “flatfoot” in earnest as a police officer in Oroville, California.
Began animal work in 1972
In 1972 Kent Robertson accepted a promotion to pound master.
“The job was not what this animal-lover had in mind,” summarized Fort Worth Star-Telegram staff writer Liz Stevens in 2005.
“Back in those days, it was basically animal control was here to protect the people from the pets, and humane societies were there to protect the pets from the people,” Kent Robertson told Stevens.
“There were two of us who handled 10,000 animals a year,” Kent Robertson continued. “We had to clean the shelter, we had to euthanize, we had to go out on calls. It was absolutely insane.”
Rick Shaw remembers
“Kent Robertson and I were animal control officers for five years for the police department in Oroville,” recalled the other employee, Rick Shaw, on Facebook.
“The animal control department was dissolved when the humane society took over via contract. I moved to a private animal service and Kent stayed with the humane society as director. We continued to work together for two more years. We had water hose fights, told jokes, had lunch together when time permitted, threw darts when time permitted, and had fun doing our work when time permitted.
“One day while on patrol,” Shaw said, “we spotted a blackberry bush loaded with huge berries. Without thinking, we got out and started picking berries. We ate and ate and ate on those berries until we were about to burst. We also filled our hats with berries, then got back in the truck.
“At that moment the dispatcher called and said the new police chief wanted us to come to his office. He was new and we’d never met him before.
“Kent looked at me, then looked at his hands, then looked in the mirror. Purple lips, purple tongues, purple fingers!!! We would need a restroom to try to clean off the stains! Kent grabbed the radio and said we would be right in, after we stopped at the shelter.
“No, the dispatcher said. The chief had reserved a specific time to meet with us, and we needed to drive straight to the department. Now. Right now.
“What’s wrong with your faces?”
“We drove there immediately. When getting out, we grabbed our hats and dumped the berries out, then went inside, jamming our hats over our heads.
“The chief was looking down at papers, but welcomed us in. We basically stood at attention, but with hands behind us.
“The chief stood up and extended a handshake, but the hand froze halfway to us.
“He said, ‘What’s wrong with your faces?’ Then, as if on cue, sweat mixed with berry juice trickled down our faces from under our hats. The chief said, ‘Let me see your hands and teeth!’
“Well, I can tell you for a fact that we were a purple sight. The chief sat down abruptly in his big chair and put his head down on the desk, and began laughing uncontrollably! Apparently, the man had a sense of humor!
“Those stains hung around for days, and every officer had to stop by and see our lips, hands, purple tongues, and the strange purple marks on our foreheads! Just one of many hysterical Kent and Rick memories.”
Family “always had animals”
In California, Kent Robertson met and married Cathy Robertson, his wife of more than 40 years, who survives him, along with daughter Athena Robertson of Denison, Texas; son Zachariah Robertson of Naples, Texas; daughter, Andrea Neace, and her husband Kevin of Allen, Texas; daughter Irene Aguirre, and her husband Jaime of Van Alstyne, Texas; and son Warren Robertson, and his wife Susannah of Allen, Texas.
Kent and Cathy Robertson also had 15 grandchildren.
“We’ve always had animals, especially when our children were growing up. You can teach your children a lot about life through animals,” Kent Robertson told Houston Chronicle reporter Salatheia Bryant.
Kent Robertson told ANIMALS 24-7 that he really began to learn how to do animal care and control better from Warren Cox, already a 27-year veteran of animal care and control work all over the U.S.
Cox had then recently helped to found the National Animal Control Association, and would go on to head 26 organizations during his 60-year tenure in animal care and control.
Cox landed in Chico, California, not far from Oroville and Sacramento, in May 1979, as an emergency replacement for Sid Weber, a former colleague at the American Humane Association who had died on the job while heading Animal Control & Health Services in Chico.
Weber’s wife had recommended Cox.
Taught in Missouri prison
Cox hired Kent Robertson, who succeeded him as director of the organization that they had reorganized as the Northwest SPCA, when in March 1981 Cox moved on to head the Spokane Humane Society.
Eventually, Cox recalled to ANIMALS 24-7, “Kent went to Longview, Washington, then to the Tri Cities [Pasco, Kennewick, and Richland], and then to Denver, moving from agency to agency much as Cox himself did, frequently conflicting with boards of directors as he tried to institute reforms, introduce procedural changes, and discipline staff and volunteers.
Circa 1989 Don Anthony, who headed the Humane Society of Missouri in St. Louis from 1963 to 1993, picked Kent Robertson to become his successor.
While there, Kent Robertson remembered later, “I spent three years teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the Missouri Eastern Correctional Center, a maximum security prison. One day my dad came with me and sang. Not a dry eye, including the guards!”
Humane Society of Missouri
Among Kent Robertson’s first projects after becoming executive director at the Humane Society of Missouri was forming a Pet Overpopulation Task Force, which separately incorporated as Operation SPOT [Stop Pet Overpopulation Today] in 1995.
Becoming a low-cost spay/neuter service provider in 2001, Operation SPOT has now performed more than 50,000 spay and neuter surgeries.
Kent Robertson, however, was not there to see Operation SPOT transition from advocacy to hands-on work.
Explained Laura Higgins of the St. Louis Metro News in February 2000, “Kent Robertson, left last year after about a decade with the Humane Society of Missouri. He accepted the No. 2 position at the Dallas SPCA, an organization with a budget about half the size of the Humane Society of Missouri’s,” then headed by old friend Warren Cox.
Built $11 million shelter
Kent Robertson in St. Louis had come under intense criticism, Higgins wrote, for allegedly “doing little to prevent the growing euthanasia rate for unwanted animals,” while raising the $11 million cost of building a 110,000-square-foot building three times the size of the former Humane Society of Missouri headquarters, opened in January 1998.
Trying to follow the San Francisco SPCA example of effecting a drastic drop in shelter killing by returning the city animal control contract to the city while focusing on providing low-cost spay/neuter services, Kent Robertson had intended that the old Humane Society of Missouri headquarters should remain the St. Louis animal control shelter, under city management.
But that did not happen. The city of St. Louis elected to privatize the animal control contract. The old Humane Society of Missouri headquarters turned out to have an asbestos issue that made it too expensive to refurbish. It therefore was demolished. The site became a a $600,000 pet cemetery, largely funded by a board member.
Kent Robertson took the blame for the an increase of 418 in the number of animals euthanized in St. Louis shelters during the last year of his tenure, but the total of about 10,000 was a fraction of the peak of about 65,000 reached about 30 years earlier.
After moving to Dallas, Kent Robertson volunteered as a board member for the South Texas Primate Observatory in Dilley, Texas.
The sanctuary had been formed in 1980 to shelter a colony of Japanese macaques brought from Kyoto in 1972 by Texas philanthropist Edward Dryden, after Kyoto Prefecture slated them for death as a public nuisance.
Annexed by the Animal Protection Institute in 2000, the sanctuary was renamed the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary.
On March 5, 2002, then-Animal Protection Institute executive director Alan Berger abruptly fired Lou Griffin, 54, the first and then only South Texas Primate Observatory/Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary director, without prior notice to board members, including Kent Robertson, who let media know the firing was as much a surprise to him as it was to Griffin.
International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal resigned from the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary advisory board in protest.
Kent Robertson left the sanctuary board of directors soon afterward.
The Animal Protection Institute and the sanctuary were absorbed by the Born Free Foundation in 2008.
Flight to Bulgaria
In 2002 Kent Robertson represented the North Shore Animal League America at the second International Companion Animal Welfare Conference, held in Sofia, Bulgaria.
BARC – Houston
After a stint as Dallas Animal Services Division manager, Kent Robertson on May 2, 2006 was named director of the Bureau of Animal Regulation & Care [BARC] in Houston, Texas.
“Before Kent Robertson had spent one day as the director, he already had a lofty goal: making Houston a no-kill zone,” wrote Salatheia Bryant for the Houston Chronicle
“By and large, most municipal shelters have been known as catch-and-kill,” explained Robertson. “That doesn’t take care of the problem, and it never will. We’re looking at things differently.”
Identified pit bulls as obstacle to no-kill
Within a year, and soon after the April 2007 arrest of football player Michael Vick on dogfighting-related charges made saving pit bulls a cause celebre, Kent Robertson identified soaring pit bull intake as the major obstacle to BARC becoming no-kill.
Pit bulls, Kent Robertson explained, had risen from 15% of dog intake to 27% in only five years. He recommended a targeted sterilization program to knock down the numbers, but pit bull advocates howled.
Since then, BARC pit bull intake nearly trebled before the shelter quit releasing numbers.
Kent Robertson did win one political battle in Houston, persuading the city council to authorize a trap-sterilize-vaccinate-and-return program effective on December 7, 2007.
Kent Robertson also was allowed to hire three new veterinary technicians, after a year-long effort, but not six additional animal control officers.
Adoptions up, euthanasias down, volunteer base growing, & mob formed anyway
“Animal adoptions are up. Euthanasias are down. BARC’s volunteer base is growing,” reported Bryant.
But Kent Robertson ran into more opposition when he first won passage of an ordinance requiring people who sold puppies and kittens to be licensed, and then tried to enforce it.
BARC sweeps that issued citations to at least 15 curbside animal vendors were generally applauded, but breeders working from their homes alleged that the $100 breeding permit was “extortion” and “a thorn in the butt.”
Insisted Kent Robertson, “We’re not saying all breeders should be banned. They do need to pay their fair share.”
“There’s a real mentality here,” Kent Robertson added to ABC-13, “that you breed your dogs, you get the pick of the litter, the nice ones, and you dump the rest.”
Kent Robertson by June 2008 was also fighting a running battle with backyard poultry-keepers, including cockfighters.
“People who are moving in are clashing with the older residents,” Kent Robertson told Houston Chronicle reporter Carolyn Feibel. “The noise is definitely the thing that gets them busted.”
“Last year,” Feibel wrote, “BARC logged more than 800 complaints about chickens––
almost triple the number of complaints from a decade ago.
“This year (2008), the agency has written 150 tickets for poultry violations in just six months. That’s more than all the tickets written in the previous two years.”
Exasperated, Kent Robertson resigned effective August 1, 2008.
Hired by Dallas within the week
“Robertson set out to transform BARC into a no-kill shelter, but hasn’t come close to achieving that,” assessed Bill Murphy of the Houston Chronicle. “The majority of the animals taken there still are euthanized.”
A major factor, Murphy acknowledged, was that “BARC’s budget did not allow him to carry out significant improvements.”
“I think he felt that he had never worked at a place where it was so hard to get things done,” Houston animal advocate Sherry Nassar told Murphy.
By the end of the week Kent Robertson had been hired to direct Dallas Animal Services, including the new Dallas Animal Shelter, which while less than a year old, was “dogged by structural problems and accusations that staff members had mistreated animals scheduled for euthanizing,” local online reporter Dave Levinthal summarized.
“Robertson arrives just weeks after the Dallas City Council passed a sweeping and highly contentious animal control ordinance amendment,” Levinthal added.
Man reclaimed cat with a bat
All seemed quiet at the Dallas Animal Shelter for a few months, except that in November 2008 one Roger Booth, 59, stormed the shelter with a baseball bat in hand to reclaim his cat, allegedly trapped and taken to the shelter by a neighbor.
“I haven’t ever experienced this before,” Kent Robertson said. “Usually, people thank us for rescuing their animals. This was pretty extreme.”
But Kent Robertson allowed Booth to have his cat back, and did not press charges.
Kent Robertson in December 2008 clashed again with cockfighters, after Dallas police impounded 52 roosters and charged alleged cockpit operators Jay Williamson, 71, and Gregory Case, 55, with keeping a gambling place, a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $4,000 fine. Williamson was also charged with unlawful possession of a firearm.
About 75 citations were issued to spectators. The gamecocks were euthanized.
“They don’t make good pets,” Kent Robertson told Jon Nielsen of the Dallas Morning News. “They’ll fly right in your face. They’re not afraid of anybody or anything.”
“We don’t see a lot of cockfighting,” Kent Robertson added, “but I do believe there is a lot
of it going on.”
Immediately afterward, reported Jessica Meyers of the Dallas Morning News, Kent Robertson “armed eight employees with catch poles and tranquilizer guns for an intensive five-week campaign to round up roaming animals in southern Dallas. Since the effort began two weeks ago, more than 900 animals have been collected.”
Said Kent Robertson, “We’ve done sweeps before, but in the past it was from folks calling.
It was reactive. Now it’s proactive.”
Explained Meyers, “Southern Dallas receives the highest number of 311 calls in the city
about belligerent animals. More than 7,000 people called in complaints from southeast Dallas during the last fiscal year, compared with 567 in north-central Dallas.
“Most won’t find homes”
“Most of these mangy mutts and forsaken felines – almost 100 cats have been collected – won’t find homes. About 80% of the animals in the Dallas Animal Shelter are euthanized,” Meyers continued.
“Last year, 36,000 animals wound up in the hands of Animal Services,” summarized Meyers.
“About 2,000 were adopted, 2,000 returned to owners, and 2,500 distributed to rescue groups. The rest were put to sleep.”
The Dallas Animal Shelter statistics starkly contrasted with those of the quasi-no-kill Dallas SPCA, which did not have animal control responsibilities and did not have to admit every animal someone wanted to surrender to it.
Hoarding case brought clash with shelter commission chair
The beginning of the end for Kent Robertson at the Dallas Animal Shelter came on June 10, 2009, described Rudolph Bush of the Dallas Morning News.
“Animal Services officers visited a property in southern Dallas and found 28 living dogs mingling among the decaying remains of at least two dead dogs. More than a few of the living animals were showing ribs and had bleeding sores,” Bush recounted.
“The city impounded the dogs overnight, euthanized one and gave the rest rabies shots.
“On June 11, the dogs were released to Randall Day, who told animal services officers that he was their owner. Day said he was caring for the dogs the best he could after the death of his father. He said he has since moved the animals to a property in Kaufman County,” Bush reported.
“Fees should have been paid”
Dallas animal shelter commission chair Skip Trimble objected, Bush summarized, that “The dogs were returned to Day despite their condition and without requiring him to register or microchip them as required under city ordinance. Day also paid no fees for having any of the dogs spayed or neutered, or for a permit to keep them intact.
“It is unclear whether the animals had been spayed or neutered before being taken into the city’s custody.
“What is clear, though, is that a number of fees––likely amounting to thousands of dollars ––should have been paid before the dogs were released.”
Said Trimble, “If in fact they let these animals out and did not follow our ordinances, that’s unacceptable.”
An entity called the Metroplex Animal Coalition arranged for an April 2010 three-day evaluation of the Dallas Animal Shelter by representatives of the Humane Society of the U.S.
Before the evaluation was published, at the end of September 2010, shelter manager Tyrone McGill, then 57, allegedly ignored the cries of a cat who escaped into a wall, reported to him on May 4, 2010, until the cat died on or about May 8, 2010.
Indicted on charges of felony animal cruelty, McGill was acquitted after a jury trial in November 2011. McGill testified that he told his superiors about the cat, presumably including Kent Robertson, “but was advised not to cut into the wall without first checking on plumbing and electrical lines,” according to Associated Press.
McGill since 2013 has managed the Dallas code compliance department, according to his LinkedIn page.
Resigned ahead of layoffs
When McGill was charged, “Another animal control employee, Donnie Jones,” was “on
administrative leave over a separate incident where a cat was injured after Jones used a catch pole on it in late August. The devices are not supposed to be used on cats,” Bush of the Dallas Morning News mentioned.
“Jones had been previously counseled after he left two severely burned dogs in kennels rather than notifying someone in 2009,” Bush added.
“A short time later,” wrote Bush, “Kent Robertson resigned, citing impending city layoffs.”
Summarized Bush of the Humane Society of the U.S. evaluation, when it finally appeared toward the end of November 2010, “Dallas animal service employees feel alienated from supervisors and managers, lack a ‘cooperative spirit’ and face dueling goals laid out by the City Council and the city’s animal shelter commission.
Wrote Bush, “’There was an obvious dichotomy between the City Council’s goals and the goals of the Animal Shelter Commission, as well as the animal welfare community,’ the report states. “The latter two placed a high priority on moving the community toward lower euthanasia rates. On the other hand, the City Council established a goal to increase impoundment,” to protect public safety.”
Retired & never looked back
Kent Robertson, meanwhile, already ill, left Dallas Animal Services and never looked back.
He and his wife Cathy Robertson retired briefly to Destin, Florida, Warren Cox recalled, but both suffered increasingly poor health and returned to the Dallas area.
Focusing on his Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints avocation, Kent Robertson served two terms as bishop for the sixth ward Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Toward the end of his life, Kent Robertson posted to Facebook that he was, “Feeling grateful for a loving Jesus!”
“Yesterday,” Kent Robertson explained, “it was my turn to pick up a few things at wallyworld [Walmart]. Since I suffer from myasthenia gravis and lupus, I have to use a go-cart. When I got back to the car, I realized I was too weak to get out of the cart. A very huge black brother asked if he could help. Being me, I said I’m okay.
“Kent was the best friend I ever had.”
“He said, ‘Been watching you try to get out of that cart for over five minutes. He then picked me up like a rag doll, put all the groceries in the trunk, saw me over to the car door, then moved the cart. I was moved and he could see the tears. I said I pray for help every day, and He sent you to be my beautiful angel.
“He sniffles and said he loves Jesus too. What an awesome day!”
Retiring to Frisco, Texas, while Kent and Cathy Robertson were in nearby Denison, Warren Cox remembered, “We had a pancake breakfast together about every week. I’d say Kent was the best friend I ever had.”