Critics worried their voices won’t be heard during sweeping review of county animal shelter

Nov 26, 2018

By Chris Stewart, Staff Writer

Critics of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center say that when a team arrives this week to assess the operations of the facility, their voices won’t be heard and the consultants’ report will just paper over serious problems alleged at the shelter, including that too many animals are put to death.

“There’s no opportunity for public input or a public hearing,” said Paul Leonard, a member of the Coalition for Animal Justice and attorney representing a Kettering couple suing the county over the facility’s euthanasia practices. “They need to hear from the people who represent the animal-friendly community — organizations like ours, rescues, people who have had personal experiences with the Animal Resource Center (ARC).”

But nothing will be overlooked by the team during the examination of the Animal Resource Center’s operations, said Dr. Sara Pizano, the Florida-based animal welfare strategist and creator of Team Shelter USA who is leading the assessment.

The review will take into account the facilities, staffing, policies, procedures as well as its budget and statistical measures including the number of shelter intakes and percentage of euthanasia cases. All help shed light on how well a shelter is performing, Pizano said.

“We look at every step along the way,” she said. “It’s a puzzle. Everything matters.”

The assessment team, which begins its work Monday morning interviewing ARC staff, also includes Cameron Moore from the University of Florida and Dr. Kim Sanders, director of Anderson County (S.C.) PAWS. They will conclude site work Friday and will provide a written report with recommendations a week following.

Costing $15,000, county officials say this will be the most sweeping review of the shelter in 15 years.

The Montgomery County Animal Resource Center has been a lightning rod for years – including court cases alleging neglect in preventing the dog-mauling death of Klonda Richey in 2014 to a more recent incident claiming that a companion animal was put to death with little effort to find the owner.

But what animal welfare advocates say is most troubling about the Montgomery County shelter is the sheer volume of animals euthanized.

“Change isn’t coming quick, because they euthanized 204 animals total in October, and that’s more than a modern shelter with about the same intake euthanize per year,” said Corey Bearzi, a board member of the Coalition for Animal Justice, a group formed over the summer in direct response to alleged wrongdoing at the shelter.

Aninal rights advocates say a live release rate of 90 percent or higher is more in line with modern shelter standards. Last year, the ARC rate was much lower: 56.7 percent. The number has improved this year, topping 75 percent in July, but dipping to under 63 percent last month.

“Euthanasia is a tragic reality of animal control. Each and every decision to euthanize a dog or cat at the ARC is taken very seriously,” said Michael Colbert, Montgomery County administrator. “These difficult decisions must be made for animals who are gravely ill or injured and animals who show aggression. It is the humane means to end an animal’s suffering and protect the public.”

Last month, the county announced ARC oversight will shift from Administrative Services to Development Services when a new assistant county administrator is hired for that department.

Some ARC policies were updated as recently as Nov. 2. The facility will no longer “fail” animals for growling during food bowl exercises, a behavior that can increase an animal’s candidacy for euthanasia, according to the county.

The county is also in the process of hiring a full-time outreach specialist that will augment existing adoption and recruitment efforts as well as work to expand relationships with area rescue groups. The specialist will also work with area jurisdictions on trap, neuter and release programs as the county has notified the municipalities that cat contracts will not be extended beyond this year.

On Tuesday, Pizano will conduct an open meeting, but it will not be an open debate about the animal shelter, she said. Her talk at the downtown Dayton Metro Library will focus on best shelter practices discovered through her professional work and the results from about 60 other shelter assessments, she said.

“I will not allow this presentation to become a complaint session for attacking the shelter. I understand there are people that are not happy with what is happening, but that’s not what this particular presentation is about,” she said. “We are, I promise you, very good about getting all the information that we need to help the shelter.”

“This is not a session for complaints to be aired,” said Pizano. “I will certainly take questions on what I’m talking about, but I will not entertain complaints about the shelter because it’s not my role. I have no authority.”

Pizano said she has already heard the many criticisms leveled at the Montgomery County facility but the “statistics tell a story.” Local and state ordinances, shelter policies, intake and euthanasia numbers all “tell us a great deal of information.”

“I want them to trust the process,” she said. “I don’t mean this in an arrogant way, I’m just saying we are really good at identifying the upstream issues.”

Leonard, a former Dayton mayor and former Ohio lieutenant governor, said 30 years in politics has left him skeptical the firm’s report to the county will ring true.

“The first problem is the consultants are being paid by the people they are taking a look at,” Leonard said. “You generally are tempted to be soft in making tough recommendations or offering tough criticism.”

Leonard is representing Lindsey and Josh Glowney of Kettering, who sued Montgomery County for negligence and other claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, after their dog Dyson was seized by a Kettering animal control official in October 2016 and euthanized five days later.

Beth Miller, president and CEO of Wagtown, said she’s not worried about Team Shelter’s qualifications in conducting the examination or bias reflected in its report. Miller, leader of the non-profit organization that advocates for dog-friendly communities, came to her conclusion through conversations with the organization and others it reviewed.

What’s more critical is the level of support the recommendations receive after the report is issued, Miller said.

“The big concern of people on the other side of the issue is not so much will they get an investigation, but will the investigation yield a better environment for the animals in our area,” she said. “I don’t expect it to be hugely successful if the community members in general are not involved. I think that will be a recipe for if not failure, it will not be as robust a solution as we were hoping for.”

Mark Kumpf, Montgomery County’s Animal Resource Center director since 2006, is a named defendant in the wrongful death lawsuit of Richey. Court documents filed in the 2014 dog-mauling death also allege the destruction of truck logs from 2013 and 2014, potential key evidence during the period just preceding Richey’s death, her estate claims in suit.

Leonard said nothing short of an overhaul of the ARC, including dismissal of its director, will change the outcome for animals.

“I really believe the Animal Resource Center cannot make wholesale, substantive changes without a general change in the leadership at the center itself,” he said.

A county spokesman last week said Kumpf was unavailable for comment.

Pizano said no Team Shelter assessment has ever called for a direct change in leadership, but many of the reviews include recommendations for staffing adjustments.

“We do look at what the staff is doing — tasks — and there are a lot of times we find that staff could be used more productively, so we may make recommendations about that, which ultimately that process could end up in reclassing staff. It’s different everywhere depending on the state and what they are doing, depending on the organization.”