Have you been banned from an animal shelter for speaking out about conditions or policy?

Gagging animal shelter contracts
Gagging animal shelter contracts
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

This is going to be an in-depth article, but I’ll try to condense it as much as possible. Today I’d like to talk about Section 1983 as it pertains to volunteers, staff, fosters and rescues who attempt to speak out against shelter cruelty, only to lose their job in the process.

There is an excellent PDF download from the Nathan Winograd no-kill website and it will help you pursue legal action if you so wish.

I personally know of several shelters who have “gag order contracts”, meaning that the person working in any capacity for the shelter may be terminated, should that person speak negatively against the shelter concerning animal welfare. More than a dozen former shelter volunteers, rescuers and fosters have contacted me with how they were terminated once they publicly announced problems with the shelter they were working with to save lives.

While shelters do try to a certain extent to save lives, most don’t want to hear ways of improvement if it means tarnishing the golden image they’ve created for themselves in their community. This is where Section 1983 can come in. Section 1983 was created in 1871 as part of the Ku Klux Klan act to protect African Americans in the south from the lawlessness that occurred after the Civil War ended.

This pertains to animal rescue by defending an animal rescuer’s First Amendment right to speak out against abuse and violation of the law created by a government entity. The person speaking out also has the constitutional right to expect the government to fix problems reported to them, and the right to file a lawsuit against the shelter if the conditions aren’t corrected.

Shelters that force volunteers to sign gag orders, are in direct violation of this basic right, if they are government funded in any way. That would include holding animal control contracts. It has been argued , and won , in several instances. More and more volunteers are attempting to force transparency, and are suing shelters for their right to do so. Shelters should be advised that many volunteers, fosters, and others kept or kicked out of shelters ARE winning these lawsuits.

Nathan Winograd recently had two comments on his Facebook page that hit the nail on the head.

“To save lives, animals in shelters need for people to do two different things: 1.Directly take animals out of harm’s way through rescue and 2. Reform shelters through legislation, litigation, and political advocacy.”

How can this be done when shelters are kicking out the very people most capable of saving the thousands of unwanted cats and dogs coming through their front door? Without volunteers, fosters and everyone involved having the freedom to speak up for reform, more animals will be going out the back door in body bags than out the front door in the loving arms of someone who loves them. Sickness is rampant, illegal killing is out of control, including not waiting the state mandatory time period under the guise of “illness” and “contagious disease.”

There are many, many cases I know of, but without the proof to write, I’m forced to approach cases with caution, because these shelter have big-time attorneys hired by the city in their corner.

Nathan doesn’t believe in supporting big animal groups. Direct your support to local reputable rescues whom you research beforehand and know they are saving lives. He also has a good solution to stop the killing using his no-kill guidelines. One statement that caught my attention was

“We need less Facebook petitions and less check writing and more people willing to stand up and expose the truth. We need more people willing to directly save animals from shelters intent on killing them through rescue. And we need more people willing to walk the corridors of power to lobby for reform.”

Yet how can the savers save when they’re removed from volunteering, removed from fostering, removed from rescuing because they saw something the shelter wants kept quiet? Some shelters have even gone so far as to put rescuers on no trespassing notice to keep them quiet and banned from shelter property.

Unfortunately, the desire to present a pristine image to the public results in thousands of shelter kills a year, simply because those who previously got the animals out of the shelter and into a safe environment are no longer allowed to do so.

Do you have a horror story to tell of being kicked out of a shelter? Please feel free to leave a comment.

Suggested reads:

  • https://www.facebook.com/nathanwinograd

Please search using the search box at the top of the site. You are bound to find what you are looking for.

105 thoughts on “Have you been banned from an animal shelter for speaking out about conditions or policy?”

  1. I vice president of Petits Pawz Cat Refuge in Montreal Quebec Canada. My partner Susan Mackasey, president have been working on this nightmare regarding animal abuse in a so called rescue shelter here in Montreal..

    If you go on to…No Voice for the innocent animal warehousing hoarding and related issues you’ll see a nightmare!

    If you can’t log on please check out Petits Pawz Cat Refuge in Montreal – warning explicit pictures..please share help us help the innocent ones!

    All our statements are of facts only respect! A.R.N.Rosemount Montreal Quebec Canada is an institutional animal hoarder..we support no kill shelters just not slow kill ones..there comes a time when quality of life is no longer and we believe that at this point we should help them on their way to rainbow bridge..not this place..animals are just put into cages to wait to die…please help be our extended voices!

  2. I was fired from the shelter I worked at. I kept going to the judge executive because the director was abusive. One time we were euthanizing a dog. I had trouble finding a vein. So I gave the injection intraperitoneal. I don’t care what they say , I think it burns. The dog turned to bite at its side. The director holding the dog is not animal savvy. He thought the dog was trying to bite him?? Idk. But he couldn’t control the dog so he took the dog forceably and rammed it’s head hard into a wire cage. The judge executive told me I needed proof. ?!? Please ram the dogs head again so I can get a picture!!!!!! Ultimately I was fired because I gave a sick dog sub q fluids without a vet present. But there were a ton of write ups also used against me. They were in retaliation of me ratting him out, some were even made up. 1-2 years later his resignation was forced. I still work elsewhere. I volunteer by taking pictures of the cats under the new director. But the animals care, while not abusive, is definitely subpar.

    • Heather, thanks for sharing your experiences. It sounds like you were very badly treated. It is shameful behavior by the management. I wish you the very best of luck. You obviously care about animals and are smart. I am glad you have found somewhere else to work. Animals need you.

      • I take pictures of the cats. It took awhile for the new director to let me in. I didn’t start right after she was appointed. My friend Susan finally convinced her to let me come in. Which is great news for the cats because they were not posting the cats on facebook or petfinder!! I was livid. They may not get adopted but they get exposure. I also finally found a cat rescue. Cats/kittens I find stray, people that surrender them or some pulled from the shelter I take in. Get to proper weight and vaccinate/deworm then bring to rescue. They alter and bring to Petcos and after applications they are adopted out. I am ok. The job I’m at im not depressed when I come home. However if I were there again there are SO many things I would change. The new regime is not up to par.

  3. The taxpayer-funded animal shelter in New Braunfels/Comal County TX (between Austin & San Antonio) is operated via contracts by a humane society. They keep all the animals they kill a secret…no photos are posted online and the general public is not allowed to see them or know anything about them. The humane society will not release information about which pets are killed or why. The only information citizens can obtain are the invoices sent to the city. In 2013, the humane society killed over 60% of the pets in their care. So far in 2014, they have killed 40% of the dogs and 70% of the cats. Complaints to the TX AG have not resulted in forcing transparency.

      • Agreed. We are focusing our efforts on city/county officials to change the contracts to require transparency, photos, access to pets, etc. This humane society has operated the shelter for 35 years and is entrenched. They currently have a 10-year contract that started in 2012. No-Kill New Braunfels has a Facebook page and web site.

          • Thanks for the link to that article. I think there is a fear in New Braunfels/Comal County TX to criticize the humane society for fear of damaging their image and their donations. But how will change ever happen if they are allowed to keep all the pets they kill and information about them a secret? Transparency is fundamental to creating a no kill community, and our tax dollars are being used to impound and kill these pets. If the humane society is not willing to release any of this information, clearly there is a problem. I sometimes think it would be easier to save pets at a true municipal shelter because they would not have the cloak of “humane society” to hide behind. New Braunfels just passed a TNR ordinance, but the humane society still continues to kill 70% of the cats at the shelter instead of implementing changes to save them. Since January 2014, No-Kill New Braunfels has been advocating for basic changes like posting photos BEFORE pets are killed. It should not be this hard just to get access to pets being killed.

            • I am totally with you on this. I sometimes believe that the shelters want to kill cats because they sell the carcasses to the pet food companies. That sounds ridiculous but no one has told me exactly where the carcasses go to (with proof) and I have stories which support what I have stated. The shelters don’t want to change the status quo. That is fairly obvious to me. Why?

  4. I used to be an employee, Grant Coordinator, and a volunteer at the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Shelter in California. After 6 years of service, myself and 3 other long time volunteers who had been instrumental in creating a dog walking program, training program for pit bulls, multi-dog play groups for big and small dogs, filming adoption videos and hosting offsite adoption events, were fired in November 2012. We spoke out against the killing of healthy, adoptable animals, and even when we proved to the current director that we were able to save the dogs that were on the “danger list, she decided she didn’t like the criticism and stopped giving the lists. Many dogs were kept in travel crates for up to 8 weeks and then killed for “behavior” reasons. We had a lot of video footage of several dogs, because we were trying to put together adoption videos for them, and then we started posting them online, because the Rancho shelter had hired Nathan Winograd back in 2005 to get the shelter to no kill. It never got there, and the killing was increasing, the poor cats fared the worse (and still are) at the shelter. The shelter fired one of the volunteers who was the “Foster Parent of the Year”, and she would literally have several dozen litters of kittens that would have otherwise been killed. The shelter didn’t care that firing her would lead to the death of hundreds of more cats since her dismissal. We have been pulling public records requests and going to city council meetings for the last two years to show how the numbers of killings have increased, and the volunteer program has become so convoluted. But the City Council is backed by our City’s powerful police and fire unions and contribute heavily to their campaign funds. Only one council member has made the effort to ask questions regarding the abhorrent treatment of animals at the shelter. Winograd recommended we sue, but the costs and corruption in San Bernardino County are high, and it would not necessarily change anything for the animals. We filled a Grand Jury Complaint in 2012, and even though we had evidence the shelter was tipped off to all the visits and worked with the Director and City Manager that the complaint was against, they came out scott free. So did the Devore Animal Shelter the year before, and anyone in San Bernardino County and Southern California know how awful that shelter is.

    We have started a website/advocacy group, in order to document our city council meetings, some of the wonderful animals that were killed, and the events that have happened at the shelter. Please feel free to check out our website and facebook page: THAT (Together Helping Animals Thrive) Group. We want to build more momentum and hopefully reach out to other groups and bring more awareness to what is happening to the animals in our shelters.


  5. The law cited applies in the USA. Need to consult a lawyer as laws are different in other countries where free speech by individuals is not viewed the same (eg. Canada).


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