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Volunteer blasts new investigation of Animal Services practices

BROOKSVILLE — Laurie Boynton wants to know why the county is allowing Peggy Caskey to conduct the audit of Animal Services.

For one thing, the county has already had several investigations there including one that produced a 360-page report detailing problems and solutions done by five veterinarians through the University of Florida.

For another, Caskey has a conflict, according to Boynton.

Boynton is the most vocal of the core group of volunteers at Animal Services who brought to light the unfortunate case of Zeus, the dog immediately euthanized at the shelter last month, and other issues of animal mistreatment.

In an email to county commissioners and other officials, Boynton said late Wednesday that Caskey "is biased in favor'' of Animal Services. Not only is she a county employee "and not likely to want to do anything that might harm or embarrass her employer, annoy her superiors or impact the budget" but she has a relationship with the Humane Society of the Nature Coast and its executive director Joanne Schoch.

"She (Schoch) and her husband Dennis have repeatedly and recently made glowing statements about the Hernando County Animal Services shelter, its management and its staff,'' Boynton wrote. "They have made such statements even in the face of evidence of inhumane treatment by HCAS.''

Boynton concludes that "Caskey's connection to such blindly avid proponents of the very entity she is investigating, as well as her being answerable to the county government, makes her involvement as chief investigator of an audit improper and inappropriate.''

County officials and animal welfare group representatives said they have complete faith that Caskey will conduct an unbiased audit.

As soon as the County Commission approved Caskey to conduct the audit at the recommendation of interim County Administrator Ron Pianta, Caskey disclosed her involvement with the Humane Society, Pianta said.

She has served on the board of the organization and has helped the group get its own processes and documentation in the sort of order that an auditor would approve. In addition, Caskey volunteers as a foster parent for the Humane Society specializing in fostering Chihuahuas with aggression and behavior issues, Schoch said.

Pianta said the disclosure would be in the final audit and that he did not believe Caskey's involvement would color the outcome of the audit.

Schoch said that she believed Caskey's love of animals would make her take an even more careful look at the animal shelter's treatment of the dogs and cats housed there.

"You cannot ask for a stronger animal advocate than Peggy Caskey,'' she said.

Schoch acknowledged that she has had good experiences with Animal Services and that she thinks employees there have gone out of their way to try to place animals with the Humane Society to avoid euthanizing them.

At the same time, she also has some serious questions about the many findings of fault in the earlier report conducted by the veterinarians, especially findings of improper procedures used to euthanize animals at the shelter.

They included failing to check if animals were fully anesthetized before giving lethal injections into the heart, allowing them to wander freely in the room after giving them the anesthesia and euthanizing in front of other shelter animals.

"I was in tears'' after reading the findings, Schoch said. "I couldn't sleep. I know they're short-staffed and short on resources, but if there is one thing that's got to be gotten right, it's that.''

Schoch also said she doesn't know whether recent incidents at the shelter cited by volunteers actually happened because Boynton has refused to show her proof.

Schoch also noted that Caskey does not work for the county commission as Animal Services does. She works for the Clerk of the Circuit Court.

"My experience with Peggy Caskey is that she takes her job very seriously, she is the consummate professional and a dog lover,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins. "I believe Peggy Caskey will do the right thing, an absolutely fair and honorable job.''

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes believes that Caskey will do a good job on the audit because that is what she has done in the past. He said he is more worried about the tone of the letters from volunteers than any chance Caskey would be biased.

"I think that is going a bit far. It's almost a character assassination of someone you don't know,'' Dukes said. "I think it's doing more damage than good, all this name calling and threatening.''

Richard Silvani, executive director of PetLuv Nonprofit Spay and Neuter Clinic supports the volunteers' efforts to make needed changes at Animal Services. But he said raising questions about Caskey was "totally uncalled for.''

Caskey said she disclosed her relationship with the Humane Society and in that disclosure she wrote, "I do not believe I have a conflict or existing impairment that would affect my objectivity or independence in this audit.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.

Volunteer blasts new investigation of Animal Services practices 05/17/12 [Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2012 10:21pm]
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