Animal Shelter Accountability and Transparency

By Elisa-Black Taylor

Today I’d like to address the situation going on at the high-kill shelter where my daughter Laura and I used to do rescue from. This is going to be a complicated article, but I’m hoping some of you familiar with how an animal shelter operates can offer some suggestions on how to fix things.

Every cat rescue Laura and I have done, whether as a rescuer or a foster, has been from Greenville County Animal Care Services, located in upstate South Carolina. They have a Facebook page by that name https://www.facebook.com/gcanimalcare, but the page with animals who need a home is on the Greenville County Pet Rescue page.

Greenville cats that need homes

Greenville cats that need homes

It was on the photo album in memory of the cats and dogs who didn’t find a home that finally broke me from turning a blind eye on how many animals needed a home. I began by looking at all of the beautiful cats shown in the “urgents” album, and would pick out the cats I’d really love to see helped. Either by private adoption or a rescue removing the animal from the shelter. It was heartbreaking to return to the site and find many of those same cats a few weeks later in the “Rainbow Bridge” album. The Greenville shelters official name for the album of the dead was “they will be our friends always.”

Up until this past week, there were two albums with that name on their Facebook page. One had around 430 photos, and the more recent album had 266 photos. Now both albums have been taken down, and those in rescue are demanding answers.

I find myself wondering not only why this has happened, but on how many people may be led to assume the shelter is no-kill instead of high-kill because the album is now missing. I also wonder how many will miss the opportunity to go in to adopt or foster since the shelter apparently feels this album is no longer needed. Although the Rainbow Bridge album was heartbreaking, it was necessary because it showed how many beautiful pets never found a home.

There has also been an email list sent out by the shelter that we, along with others who support the shelter, are on. It was a more up-to-date list than looking in the album to see which cats and dogs had found homes and which hadn’t. The last list to be sent to supporters was on September 5. On the cat list, two black siblings named LK Junior and LK2 and another cat named Terri were euthanized/died from panleuk.

It’s disturbing not to know for a fact whether every animal coming into the shelter was vaccinated on intake when you see three deaths from panleuk. It worries me there were more deaths. A certain percentage tend to come in with the illness, which is around 90% fatal in young kittens.

There’s a big disagreement on whether vaccinations on intake are done, because a few fosters have come forward that say the animal was in their care and not at the shelter the day a vaccine is listed on the shelter records as being given.

The shelter was closed for 10 days last month, due to one case of canine influenza. An expert came in from Atlanta and that was the advice given. To close the shelter to the public, volunteers and rescues while everything was disinfected.

Greenville County Animal Care Services had a great week last week with a special adoption event. Two hundred dogs (actually 203) and 199 cats and kittens were either rescued or adopted. Another 150 went into foster care. The staff did an awesome job, as did the Greenville community who stepped up to adopt these animals.

The Greenville shelter has also assisted with at least 300 dogs seized in two puppy mill raids over the summer. Between the shelter and the community and rescues, the dogs were cared for and almost all of them found homes, from what I’ve heard. This was a major positive step in the right direction, and news media even came out to report on the wonderful things the shelter was doing.

Now for the bad news. A beautiful dog named Jax was euthanized because of what shelter director Shelly Simmons calls “human error.” A rescue was in the lobby to pick up the dog at the time this happened. The staff who are the best at keeping up with which animal is where etc. were off work the day Jax was mistakenly killed.

Did the shelter check emails to see if he had been rescued before euthanizing him? From what I’ve learned he had two different rescues wanting him, with one being told another had already spoken up for him. We can’t even honor his memory, since the album has been removed from their page.

Word got around on September 9 that 44 dogs and 80 cats were euthanized. Another source says only two cats were euthanized. I imagine unless you’re a staff member, the correct number may remain confidential. Did any more cats lose their lives to panleuk, or did time just run out for them. Until the shelter decides to make this information public, rumors and half-truths are sure to flourish.

Several in the rescue community are pulling out from wanting to help the animals. They believe there’s a coverup since any new emails will have to list whether the animals got out alive, or were put down due to illness. Taking away the “Rainbow Bridge” album was agonizing to those of us who follow and support the shelter. If a new one isn’t started, does this mean there are secrets the shelter doesn’t want us to know?

I’d like to say I’ve never had any trouble with the shelter or any of its staff. Susan Bufono, who is over community relations, emails me media events to write about. The staff has always been nice to us, and the inmates from the jail who work cleaning and caring for the cats have always been respectful. I try to write short articles about different animals needing homes, and will continue to do this. I support the shelter, but right now I’m like everyone else and very confused.

This mess is causing a lot of friction between those who want change at the shelter, including absolute accountability as the how the shelter is run, and those not wanting to damage the reputation in the eyes of the community. No one wants to tarnish the shelter’s image, because it’s feared the community will lose faith in them.

Rescues and foster homes are just as important as regular adoptions, and now many are debating whether or not to continue being there for the dogs and cats, should things fail to change at the shelter.

I know of several people who are contacting city or county council members, and many will likely go to their next meeting, which I believe is sometime next week. Many believe a “house-cleaning” of management needs to be done. That may or may not be necessary. A wake-up call that the shelter is being watched closely may help more.

Record keeping needs to improve as well. And whoever is over euthanizing the dogs and cats need to do a last minute check to be sure an animal hasn’t been spoken for.

Do any of the readers have any advice on what would benefit the shelter, the animals and the community? Have any of you dealt with a similar situation? Should taxpayer funded animal shelters be accountable to the public and totally transparent in their operation?

Greenville County Animal Care Services, you’re welcome to comment as well, because you’re the ones facing these problems on a daily basis. Sadly, it’s the animals who pay the ultimate price in situations like this.

Elisa

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Animal Shelter Accountability and Transparency — 34 Comments

  1. I was informed that almost all animal shelters in the USA are funded by local government i.e. the taxpayer.

    On that basis animal shelters have an obligation to be fully accountable to the people who fund them – the public – and that means keeping accurate records and publishing them widely.

    There is no other conclusion one can come to as far as I am concerned. If it causes bad publicity and damages the image of the shelters, the solution is to improve performance and keep publishing fresh information showing the improvements.

    That may entail a change in management. I sense some complacency. The knowledge that a shelter can hide bad news encourages bad behavior, doesn’t it?

  2. I think they should put a big sign in front saying any animal going in has a ….% chance of being killed within 3 days. Then people might stop bringing them in.

    I’d prefer that. MAybe some would actually keep their animals and maybe others would dump them somewhere but if I were a cat I’d rather a chance to live than be put in a concentration camp.

      • I can’t understand how anyone can just dump their cat at a shelter and walk away, not knowing (and maybe not caring) what will happen to the cat?
        Reading about the horrors at that Caboodle shelter a while back, comments like ‘Where is my baby?’ ‘I’m heartbroken’ etc, shocked me, because you don’t just dump ‘your baby’ and I don’t see how the hundreds of cats there could all have been dumped for good reasons.
        Nothing will change until cats are looked upon not as possessions but as living feeling beings and once in the family with the right to be part of that family for life through thick and through thin!

        • ‘Thinking’ their cat will be put up for adoption is like leaving a kitten for declawing, people shouldn’t just ‘think’ they should find out for themselves, but maybe they would rather not know the truth, just go on ‘thinking’ so that they don’t have to feel guilty.

  3. Elisa, I have read several of your posts about your local shelter. All in all, they seem to be one of the few exceptional kill houses. Even though they are not being as open now, at least they have and do give out some info. We get ZERO in this area.
    The only time I have seen some changes made concerning animal welfare here is when there has been a LARGE public outcry. That happened with some ducks here. As far as shelter cats (and dogs), the public just won’t jump on our band wagon. It’s crazy. But, again, they may get more attention if shelters came wide open and came clean with all of their doings. I don’t understand why taxpayers don’t demand to know how their money is being spent.

  4. The shelter has been better than any I’ve ever read about. The rescue coordinators worrk their butts off to find homes. There’s more going on there than I can put in this article. Maybe it’s because the shelter has been so great at keeping it’s supporters informed and now it’s like they’ve slammed the door in our face all of a sudden.

    • A lot will hopefully make it out of there alive. The system is bottlenecked. There aren’t that many adopters, and the shelter has to depend on rescues to take them and fosters to take them. Individual rescues have foster homes than work with them to keep the cats until they’re big enough to be spay/neutered and then the cats go up for adoption. The older cats already altered may have to stay with a foster until a rescue has an open spot. Rescues depend on the public adopting their animals on weekend adoption events.

      There’s also a foster system through the shelter. This is what Laura and I did last year. We would get the cat off of death row and give the rescue coordinators time to find a rescue willing to take the cat. Then the cat would go back and we’d get another. Where usually the rescues who have fosters furnish food etc., the shelter doesn’t offer. I learned to at least get a bottle of antibiotics because almost all cats came with a URI or had one by the next day.

      The problem with fostering through the shelter is a lot of fosters are now afraid to bring their cats back to be altered. They get the surgery and end up back on death row. This creates a stressful situation, because a lot of the fosters pick up new cats when the ones they had go back. The shelter said 150 animals went into foster. Then they have the album of fosters needing rescue or adoption that has around 80. Do you think these cats will take priority over cats at the shelter? No. These cats are considered safe so the shelter rescue coordinators focus back on getting the cats in the shelter out.

      Fosters are full up now. Rescues are full up now. The shelter likely has 4 times as many cats needing homes as on the urgent page on Facebook. The shelter also has an agreement with animal control in the next county. Spartanburg pays Greenville to take their strays, which I believe may be around 4000 per year. This brings Greenville total to between 18000-20000 intakes. Spartanburg needs to get their act together because it’s hurting the Greenville shelter, its hurting people in Spartanburg who have to drive to Greenville to hunt for a lost pet.

      The entire system needs an overhaul. They have great great people at this shelter. It’s a shame they have a few bad apples that are contaminating the shelters good reputation that they’ve managed to hang onto, despite being high kill.

      • the recent adoptions of well over 150 , via the volunteers getting the word out of an impending mass kill saved lives. You won’t get adopters in if you don’t market the animals. Too much dependence on rescues overwhelms the rescues and promotes the idea that their aren’t enough homes. The shelter should be doing more.

  5. We desperately need independent oversight on our shelter to give closure to the many complaints made against the Greenville shelter. They hide far too much, obscure the truth, and ignore complaints. It’s time to rethink the operations top level. The staff works double time to cover the administrations shortcomings.

    • Good comment. Shelters should never hide anything. They have no right to. They are providing a public service. I am surprised there is no independent regulator or “obudsman” to ensure shelters abide by some basic standards. I guess there are no universal standards for shelters. There should be. There are so many shelters and so many unwanted cats.

      Change the management. Have a clear out.

  6. I was at the shelter in the past few days and its mass confusion due to one side being shut down for cleaning. I also know that almost one year to the day Jax was killed, three other dogs were killed that either had rescue or had not been publicly networked. A “note” was posted to Greenville County Pet Rescues FB page from Shelly Simmons stating that this was also a mistake. It was exactly a year. So when do we expect changes in this facility? Obviously, lack of organization and human error continues to run rampant.

  7. Elisa this is a great artical.. I do believe that the shelter should have to make it public who & why they were killed i.e. out of time, sick or what not. Its not fair for the public to be left out of the loop & it does show the appearance to be no kill if there is no PTS album. Its great that Greenville will work with rescues & will have a FB page. My local AC actually threw me out & told me never yo come back!! I spent hours every day there working my butt off & taking photos of all the animals to put on their pet finder. They had 2 animals listed when I started because of laziness, nothing more. I decided since I was there so much & I was able to take pics I could make a FB to help… Bad idea! That’s when all hell broke lose for me. Adoptions picked up, rescues were calling & people from out of state even wanted to adopt! Once my FB page was mentioned to them I was forced to shut it down. The fact that people were PLEDGING to rescue made them believe I was collecting money for the shelter or under the shelter & they lost item I tried to explain how other pages work & showed them but they didn’t care. I was thrown out, forced to shut down the page & told that they were thinking of pressing charges for collecting money… Never once did I personally collect.. As we all know a pledge is a promise to help an animal if a rescue steps up.

    Many shelters need a change & some need a huge one at that. Greenville isn’t the worst but they really need to not hide stuff from the public.They will lose all the support & be back at ssquare one with nobody to help them & the only ones who will suffer are the animals…

    • In Britain the government believe that performance league tables promote competition and therefore better performance. I don’t think it always works but there seems to an argument for an animal shelter league table based on a number of criteria, one of which is percentage killed. I don’t know which shelters are truly no-kill or which are the best of worst based on sensible criteria.

    • Would it really be so hard to snap a photo of an incoming animal and upload it straight to Facebook saying stray, turn in, needs a home or whatever. It would take 1 minute out of someones day to do that and every animal would be listed.

  8. Good article. The shelter needs to change. I believe they owe the public complete transparency since we, as taxpayers fund it. I have had many experiences with said shelter and find much chaos, disorganization and frankly – downright lies within. It’s time to have an independent, third party go into the shelter and find out exactly what is and is not going on. And someone should force them to put the Album of the Dead back on their public page.

  9. When I was (a lot) younger, I took a dog to the shelter because I “didn’t have time” for her anymore. I took her to Greenville because I swear I read in the paper they were a no kill. I now am a firm believer that once you get an animal, there are very few circumstances in which the animal should leave your care. When you know better, you do better. I always thought of the Greenville shelter as one of the better ones in the area, this has been very eye opening.

    • Knowing what I know about shelters through reading, I would never take an animal to one. I mean that. Way too risky. You think your dog will be rehomed but there seems to be a good chance that he will spend his last few days there. If someone really has to rehome a companion animal the only sure way is to do it is to do it yourself and know the person well, who is taking on responsibility for the dog or cat.

  10. Would it really be so hard to snap a photo of an incoming animal and upload it straight to Facebook saying stray, turn in, needs a home or whatever. It would take 1 minute out of someones day to do that and every animal would be listed.

    • For me what you are hinting at is making improvements in marketing these cats and networking, which I totally agree with. Shelters should consider the rehoming of cats a business and use all the marketing tools that are out there together with first class networking and cooperation with other shelters. The target is “homes for healthy cats”. Hey, that is quite a good catchphrase 😉

  11. I gave up on GCACS a long time ago. I used to pull from them and transport for them, but it seemed like every time I went there there was a mixup, some sort of drama, or I had to answer to some false accusation about my rescue. Then I became affiliated with a national rescue and the shelter pretty much quit talking to me altogether – not because of any problem with my shelter or the animals in my care, but because A TRANSPORTER DIDN’T LIKE OUR RESCUE PARTNER. Too much drama. I wrote a blog on the Mauldin Patch a few weeks ago about all of the problems I had just getting someone from the shelter to communicate with me on a number of issues. This isn’t something recent, this has been ongoing. Back in April another rescuer discovered a room full of “feral” cats, many from Spartanburg, that were in small cages with scratched-up plastic fronts that could barely been seen through (which means you can’t take a clear picture), that no one was networking. So what happens? They come in, they sit there five days, they’re killed. Some people from Spartanburg even came to Greenville looking for their missing cats, were told that GCACS didn’t have them, and then later found out they were in the feral room all along, and had been killed.

    I read above that you don’t want to tarnish the shelter’s image but, unfortunately, that is already the case. Ask anyone who’s had to deal with the shelter and they will have a complaint. Some are just griping, but many have merit. Everything from rude, unhelpful staff, to emails and phone calls going unanswered, to animals shown available for adoption that “can’t be found” when someone comes to adopt them (or rescue them, or foster them), to animals supposedly immunized that come down with illnesses after foster or adoption that immunization prevents. There are too many questions, questions that have been asked for a long time and no one is answering them to the public’s satisfaction. A former employee of the shelter told me that the shelter staff believes they are untouchable, because they’ve survived several possible scandals with regards to the shelter at this point. I am one of those calling for a clean sweep of shelter staff, put in people from the rescue community who are familiar with and friendly to the community and how things should be done. Hire an Ombudsman that will deal with community complaints. Hire someone that does nothing but takes pictures, updates the webpage, the facebook page, and emails. Get your 501-c3 status so you can fundraise. This is just common sense stuff.

  12. My opinion of shelters is pretty well known. I see them as secret organizations. They have a candy coated exterior and a rotten, poisonous interior. They are not in the business of sheltering and homing animals. They are in the business of eradicating. Some more so than others.

  13. I would like to comment on the sad state of this shelter. The cat in the sixth picture, the white one with grey spots was adopted by me at the beginning of Sept. (the 7th to be exact). This cat had been in the sick room getting no or nearly no medication since June. In fact they forgot to euthanize this poor cat when they deleted his photo and just left him to die a slow death in a cage. My vet looked at the charts and concurred that the shelter was not giving him the treatment listed on the charts, which is the same treatments listed on every cat’s chart in the sick room. I truly believe that they are not medicating any of their sick cats. It was one of the worst URIs he had ever seen, this cat was gushing blood from his nose, and to top it off he was not even neutered although it said he was on the chart too. Thankfully after 2 weeks on a twice a day antibiotic he has completely turned around and is well on the road to health, just proving that the antibiotics on the chart were never given, as the turnaround was so great and immediate.

    A week later, after already being adopted, they posted his picture, the one above, on the urgent list (AFTER he was adopted) with a different name and id # saying he was female. I am 100% positive that the picture was my cat as the markings were very distinctive. When someone from the rescue community finally went up there, as they no longer respond to my emails, and told them what was going on they quickly backpedaled and said, oh that cat was different and now had been adopted, but would not show when or to whom, because she never existed. I have been involved with animal rescue for 20 years and I can say this is the worst shelter I have ever seen, and I have seen plenty. There are hundreds of horror stories from this shelter that can be told to you by asking any of the people that work tirelessly to rescue from there. Honestly this place needs to be shut down and broken up into more manageable, smaller shelters that actually can handle the amount of animals in their care. The lack of care there is nothing short of criminal.

    • Hi Nikki, from your experiences it sounds like the shelter is in chaos. They appear to be lying about almost everything. The desire to hide problems leads to more problems as we all know. I presume it is taxpayer funded. That is the community’s money being used to kill cats and mess up. It is complacency and a lack of interest in doing things properly.

      Accountability and transparency are vital. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

      • As an ending to this story the picture of my cat that was supposedly a different cat that according to them was adopted has now been deleted and not moved to the adopted folder. Sweeping everything under the rug the Greenville way.

  14. This comment from the article certainly applies to what is happening in New Braunfels/Comal County TX (between Austin & San Antonio): “This mess is causing a lot of friction between those who want change at the shelter, including absolute accountability as the how the shelter is run, and those not wanting to damage the reputation in the eyes of the community. No one wants to tarnish the shelter’s image, because it’s feared the community will lose faith in them.”

    Our high-kill taxpayer-funded animal shelter is operated via contract by a humane society, but transparency is completely lacking. The public is not allowed to know which pets are killed and why. No photos are posted of these pets and the general public can’t see them. I am so disappointed that some people continue to tolerate this secrecy instead of questioning these policies and being a voice for the all the pets being secretly killed. There are successful No Kill, open-admission shelters nearby, so there is irrefutable proof that it IS possible to save all healthy & treatable pets. The obvious response, to me at least, would be for the humane society to allow the public to try to save the pets being killed and try to get more of them back home by posting photos. But that is not happening.

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