After eight years of running Front Street Animal Shelter, manager Gina Knepp has decided to retire, leaving behind a legacy of improvements at the organization.

Knepp transformed the shelter from a struggling operation on the verge of being privatized to a successful City division that saves thousands of animals each year and fundraises more than $1 million annually. 

“I didn’t turn Front Street Shelter around by myself,” Knepp said. “I just drove the bus, but I think I’ve been a very good bus driver.”

A veteran manager with the City, Knepp was hired in 2011 to run the shelter and immediately focused on several key strategies to improve its operations. She hired volunteers to boost staffing levels, added “Front Street” to the shelter’s name to increase brand awareness and made fundraising a priority to help cover medical costs for animals.

She also gave any animal that entered the shelter an improved likelihood of leaving alive.

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When Knepp took over Front Street, only 20 percent of animals were leaving the shelter alive. Then, early into her time there, Knepp read “Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution in America” by Nathan Winograd.

She later went to see Winograd speak at an event in Stockton. She was able to meet with him and that encounter led her to buck conventional wisdom and change the shelter’s philosophy. She also started working with national groups such as the Best Friends Animal Society, an early proponent of adoption over euthanasia.

There was some initial push back to her approach, Knepp said, but she remained true to her convictions and the mainstream ultimately embraced the ideology. These days, Front Street is considered a national model, with a life-saving rate of nearly 90 percent thanks in large part to the dramatic increase in adoptions during Knepp’s tenure. 

“I have worked with the City of Sacramento for 33 years and managed three distinctly different organizations,” Knepp said. “This is by far the one where I feel the most love.”

Knepp’s last day is Oct. 11. Moving forward, she said she plans to stay connected to Front Street by speaking and teaching at national conferences. The City is currently working to hire a new manager for the shelter.

Front Street Animal Shelter is located at 2127 Front St. and is open seven days a week.