Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Audit says Hernando Animal Services did nothing wrong in dog's euthanization

BROOKSVILLE — Poor record-keeping, a lack of procedures to benefit animals and too much work for too few workers are among the problems identified in an audit of the troubled Hernando County Animal Services operation that was released Tuesday.

In fact, the auditors said they had a difficult time determining the level of care and supervision being provided at the Animal Services shelter in Brooksville because of inadequate records.

Marketing the animals so that more of them can be saved "is unfocused and gets little attention,'' the report said.

But the 55-page report, which was three months in the making, discounted that the shelter did anything wrong when workers euthanized a black and white dog named Zeus just minutes after it was surrendered in April.

And while the auditors visited the facility numerous times, they said they saw few signs of the neglect and abuse that shelter volunteers have reported there.

County officials who responded to the report had little argument with the audit's conclusions, but qualify many of their responses, noting that there is not enough funding for staff and facility upgrades suggested in the report.

Officials responded to the audit with a series of planned actions, some with deadlines as short as 30 days while others would not be done until staffing and funding are available.

Short-term plans include doing rounds of the animals two to three times a week with the shelter manager and senior kennel officer.

Among the actions promised within the next 90 days is moving forward with some sort of public/private partnership that would provide a humane shelter for animals and an increased emphasis on marketing adoptable animals.

County officials ordered the audit after the April 13 incident involving Zeus, an 8-month-old pit bull mix surrendered to the shelter by a relative of the owner. Volunteer Laurie Boynton took his picture to post online in hopes of finding the dog a new home. And within hours, she had found someone interested in adopting the dog.

But when the adopter showed up at the shelter, no one could find Zeus. Paperwork indicated that the dog had been euthanized just 12 minutes after he was brought to the shelter.

The case drew an outcry from volunteers, the public and from Richard Silvani, the executive director of PetLuv Nonprofit Spay and Neuter Clinic, which had been providing free medical services for shelter animals.

But the audit determined that there was no proof of Boynton's charge that Zeus was pulled by his leash back to the room where he was euthanized. The report also noted that Boynton and Animal Services staffers disagreed on the dog's temperament and adoptability.

The policy at the time would have allowed the euthanasia, the audit report said, because there were not enough empty kennels at the shelter. But the report noted that "the audit team could not substantiate whether or not this dog was more or less adoptable than other dogs housed at the facility at the time.''

The audit report recommends better documentation of how such decisions are made, and management responded that the county already has put a new computer program in place that uses a numerical adoptability rating for each animal.

The report also incorporates recommendations made by several other groups that have evaluated the shelter, including the June 2011 review by the University of Florida Maddie's Shelter Medicine Program and one requested by Silvani.

Silvani has previously told county commissioners that Animal Services manager Liana Teague should be removed and that the county needed to change the "culture of killing'' at the shelter.

The reports all concluded that the shelter could have provided better treatment for animals and done more to find animals homes. The audit also notes that the reports recognized that employees at the shelter were trying to do the best they could for the animals in their charge.

The full Maddie's Shelter Medicine report was especially critical of the way animals were euthanized at the shelter. The audit also recommends improved euthanasia procedures.

The auditor's review demonstrates the disconnect between some of the volunteers at the shelter and the shelter staff. While employees thought many of the volunteers were helpful, others were deemed to be disruptive and unpleasant to work with.

"They perceive this group as not being volunteers, but as animal activists with an agenda that does not align well with the department's mission to provide public safety,'' the audit report states.

Employees also were offended by the volunteers' Facebook site, which "has called them murderers and killers,'' the report states, creating a "difficult work environment.''

The employees said they did not have faith in management's ability to oversee the volunteers.

Likewise, most volunteers thought the employees were hard-working and compassionate. But a few had a different viewpoint.

They expressed distrust and concern about the dysfunction of basic tasks such as record-keeping and kenneling. The staff mislabels animals and includes incorrect information in records regarding behavior and medical conditions, some volunteers said.

And, the report states, some volunteers also believe "certain management and staff members are resistant to change.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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