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Ex-volunteers at New Port Richey animal control critical of program

A kennel on loan to New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit from the SPCA is shown unlocked on March 6 of this year. The city unit was asked to leave the SPCA kennels after a parvovirus outbreak that ultimately killed 10 dogs. After that, the unit rented kennel space in Land O’Lakes, but now is in the midst of a second parvo outbreak that has killed two dogs and left one sick.

BRENDAN FITTERER | Times

A kennel on loan to New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit from the SPCA is shown unlocked on March 6 of this year. The city unit was asked to leave the SPCA kennels after a parvovirus outbreak that ultimately killed 10 dogs. After that, the unit rented kennel space in Land O’Lakes, but now is in the midst of a second parvo outbreak that has killed two dogs and left one sick.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Jane Marinello held up her hand as she recalled blood dripping from a dog bite she suffered while working in city kennels.

The incident didn't stop the 72-year-old from coming back to volunteer at New Port Richey's Animal Protection Unit. But Marinello and about a dozen ex-volunteers now look back at the incident with a more critical eye.

Former volunteer Jessica Caplette said the dog bite and numerous others were never reported, and dogs were not properly quarantined after such incidents.

"It's a free-for-all," Caplette said.

The former volunteers met Monday and described conditions where they were berated, the number of dogs was overwhelming resources, medications were doled out without oversight and some dogs were kept in the kennels for months.

They blame the failed leadership of the unit's volunteer director, Sharon McReynolds.

Former volunteer Tonya Vogt said McReynolds once gave her medication to give to a dog, and right before administering it she discovered it was meant for a cat.

Vogt said when she and Caplette tried to seek a meeting with McReynolds in July, they were ignored. They then sent an email to interim City Manager Susan Dillinger asking for a meeting, only to see Vogt later removed from the program.

McReynolds did not return a call for this story.

Now the former volunteers are worried about how the city will address a parvovirus outbreak that occurred over the weekend, leaving two dogs dead and another sick. It's the second outbreak this year for the program, which was asked to leave kennels on loan from the SPCA in March after officials with the nonprofit said McReynolds failed to report a parvo outbreak that spread to its main facility, killing 10 dogs.

"It could turn into a community epidemic," said former volunteer Connie Loring.

City officials acknowledged Tuesday that the program is on its last legs if something doesn't change.

In October, the City Council enacted the volunteer program, which McReynolds has touted as the only one of its kind in the country, as a cost-saving measure and an effort to provide more hands-on service to residents. In doing so, the council canceled its contract with Pasco County for animal services and rented kennel space in Land O'Lakes.

"It looked good on paper. The volunteers have done the best they can, but the infighting among the volunteers has been terrible," Mayor Bob Consalvo said. "There have been so many other problems that right now looking at the information I've seen, it doesn't look like a viable program."

While the former volunteers say a change of leadership is the answer, the city has asked the county for a cost estimate for taking animal control duties back.

Unless the city puts substantial resources into the program the county may be the only option, said interim police Chief Kim Bogart.

"I believe it's near the end," he said.

Bogart, however, said he still supports McReynolds, who has been working to contain the parvo outbreak with a skeleton crew of volunteers. He said he has made numerous visits to the kennels in recent months and has seen nothing but healthy, happy animals.

"She's put everything she has into this. She is just being trashed by these volunteers who have left and it's unfair," Bogart said.

Bogart acknowledged that the unit needs a full-time paid employee with oversight and authority.

Another concern, he said, is the continuing drain on police time and resources.

"I can't continue to deal with this day in day out," he said. "I've got real police work to do."

Ex-volunteers at New Port Richey animal control critical of program 08/20/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 20, 2013 8:05pm]
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