Thursday, June 18, 2015

Animal Shelter's Longstanding Stench Lingers

Most local organizations would love to have a volunteer kickoff meeting with sixty highly motivated people in attendance.  They'd be thrilled with volunteers cleaning their workplace to the extent that it abated a five year stench.  They would be joyful over volunteer groups conducting fundraisers, providing needed supplies (such as food and medicines) and using their talents to help sick animals return to health.  Who wouldn't love volunteers videoing adoptable pets for the public to see online?

The City of San Angelo is not most organizations.  New managers James Flores and Bob Salas, known for successfully working with volunteers on an annual community cleanup, threw up their bureaucratic hands when volunteers shared concerns or asked questions about the care, treatment and euthanizing of shelter animals.

James Flores calls it "my shelter", telling language in and of itself.  Bob Salas is more refined, but clearly volunteers are not to use their significant skills and intrinsic motivation to help the plight of San Angelo's incarcerated animals.

The Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, formerly the Animal Services Board, sets overall policy.  One of those is volunteer use.  Rules can made to include or exclude as new leaders "develop a robust volunteer program." (priority #5 on the city's website). 

For five years Assistant City Manager Rick Weiss and Health Department Director Sandra Villareal allowed a literal house of horrors to exist in San Angelo's animal shelter.  There is an answer as to how dogs became pregnant in the shelter, courtesy of Charlotte Farmer's cheap inmate labor.  The list of abuses under former Director Julie Vrana is long and stomach churning.

City leaders need to come clean with the Animal Shelter Advisory Committee, because the Board has an obligation to ensure a more competent, humane course.  Most of the sixty new volunteers worked outside the auspices of the Animal Shelter the last five years.  Former Director Julie Vrana shut them out and it looks like her replacements may do likewise. 

When leaders are more concerned about image everybody suffers.  It's a travesty that innocent animals end up bearing the greatest burden.  I hear the stench has already returned.

Update 6-20-15:  San Angelo city ordinances clearly spell out what police department volunteers can and cannot do.   That means City Council will take up any Animal Shelter volunteer ordinances.  I imagine Council will want to know the Animal Board's position.

Update 8-4-15:  While the city continues working on its Animal Services volunteer program two groups, West Texas AFA and Critter Shack raised over $3,800 to provide cots for every animal in the shelter.  Their kindness and generosity means shelter animals will not have to sleep on a cold concrete floor.  The lack of publicity from the city on this effort is remarkable.  It will be interesting to see if they're used.

Update 6-23-19:  The Animal Shelter reopened kennels to the public for the first time in nearly four years.  Ironically the move is intended to appeal to volunteers, the very group the city shut out long ago.  The City later opened the door to PAWS volunteers via its 2017 contract for adoption services.  PAWS added veterinary services to the shelter in 2018

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