Volunteer animal shelter worker banned for criticising the shelter on Facebook

NEWS AND OPINION: This is a story about an animal shelter volunteer whistleblower who was banned from the shelter. It is about ‘gagging’. And it has happened before, quite a lot in the US. Rhonda Girard was a volunteer at the Beaumont Animal Care shelter. She criticised the shelter management on her Facebook page for unnecessarily killing animals when there was space to look after them. And for unnecessary killing animals described as poorly behaved or aggressive when they weren’t poorly behaved or aggressive. The latter is a very typical problem at shelters. It is an excuse to get rid of animals.

The shelter describes themselves as a no-kill shelter but she says they are not. Her criticism is that they are a classic kill shelter. In defence, the shelter says that there are other elements to their decision-making which sometimes results in animals being euthanised. They disagree with her criticisms.

Girard being interviewed by news media and an extract of her Facebook post which led to her being banned from working at the shelter.
Girard being interviewed by news media and an extract of her Facebook post which led to her being banned from working at the shelter. Images: screenshots from news media video.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

RELATED: Silencing volunteers at animal shelters in the United States

Specifically, she says that at one time there were 21 empty kennels at the shelter but animals were being euthanised. Girard attended a local council meeting in September to plead her case to get her ban lifted and she asked for an update on the investigation into the shelter.

The director of the shelter is Matthew Fortenberry. He reviewed the matter and responded in an email by saying: “After reviewing the matter and conferring with shelter staff and reviewing operational policies, we did not find any wrong-doing or violation of policies.”

The director wouldn’t respond in detail about Girard’s ban from the shelter because the information is confidential and it is a “personnel issue”.

He added that: “Empty space doesn’t mean that there’s space for the animals. We have to have a certain number of empty pens here to house incoming animals. You can fill every pen up and still not have room for the animals that are here.”

He argues that it was necessary to euthanise the animals but that he can’t explain why. He also said that he can’t disclose what specific policies Girard violated. And he wouldn’t answer the question as to whether it was a good policy to ban a volunteer when they need volunteers.

He claims Girard’s Facebook post was a clear, “violation of the Volunteer Waiver and Code of Ethics forms that you signed upon becoming a volunteer. Because of this, you will no longer be allowed to be part of Beaumont Animal Care’s programme, in person.”

Girard can assist the shelter by sharing posts on Facebook and trying to get the shelter animals homes in that way but she is no longer allowed in the shelter.

The critical clause in the shelter states that “should a volunteer display unprofessionalism, dishonest, or disrespectful behavior, or exhibit a lack of self-discipline, the volunteer will be asked to leave the premises.”

Comment/opinion: it’s hard to see how Gillard was in breach of that requirement because she’s not been unprofessional. Arguably she’s been very professional in trying to save lives. She is not been dishonest or disrespectful. She is not lacking in self-discipline. I don’t see the problem. I don’t see how this requirement applies to her in this instance.

Girard, as a consequence, is considering legal action. It interesting to note that this story is all over the news media. For example, I’ve got this information from 6KFDM. And Nathan Winograd, American’s no-kill advocate and a very high-profile animal advocate in general in America has taken up her case and written about it.

Comment/opinion: this is a case of a whistleblower being trodden on by management to shut her up. We see this an awful lot in many institutions and businesses. For example, in the NHS it is endemic. Every time a surgeon whistle blows about poor policies and unnecessary deaths in the NHS in the UK, they end up being sacked or suspended permanently.

When management do this, they are being defensive to protect themselves. That’s understandable but ultimately it works against the organisation. In this instance the way the management has sacked Girard as a volunteer has seriously backfired on the shelter because they are getting an awful lot of bad publicity.

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