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.
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.