Sunday, June 11, 2017

Misty's Case Falls Short of City Vision, Mission and Values

What happens when a public service organization fails to serve the public?  People speak up, sometimes in droves. 

The service failure arose last Saturday when Misty, a 5 year old rat terrier-pit bull mix escaped from her home.  Misty was deaf, which contributed to her being struck by a car and sustaining injuries.  Fortunately, a former veterinary technician lived nearby and examined Misty.  The dog needed medical attention but her injuries were not life threatening.  This citizen took pictures of the dog, which indicated the location of the tire marks and the extent of her injuries.

An Animal Control Officer responded and took Misty to the shelter.  The owner and local rescues communicated via and all stood ready to help get Misty the medical attention she needed.  Both PAWS and Cassie's Place contacted shelter staff within hours of her arrival.  Their calls were not returned.

Conclusion:  On June 3rd the Shelter knew or should have known the dog had an owner interested in her well being and several rescues willing to help Misty get medical care.  The city did not reach out to the rescues as they had done in the past..

The owner contacted the shelter Monday, June 5th to learn Misty had been euthanized and the city represented her injuries as more significant than experienced by the neighbor vet tech.  Ways to explore this apparent contradiction would be via pictures of the animal prior to euthanasia or having Misty's body back.  The city had neither.

"Unless picked up by owners, deceased animals, including most from vet offices, are surrendered to Republic."  Bob Salas - Director of Neighborhood/Family Services
In a written statement city officials said her body had been surrendered to Republic Services, our local trash hauler.  The statement did not say what time Republic picked up Misty's body between Saturday evening and the time the owner called on Monday.

Conclusion:  The city does not have evidence to support the change in Misty's condition and her body was not kept for her owner.  The city had knowledge of an interested owner Saturday evening.

Misty's owner indicated city staff threatened to cite him for neglect.  It's not clear if that was before or after he asked for her body back. 

The owner communicated with both rescues about Misty's euthanasia and all were surprised by the change in events.  They expected her to be treated for minor injuries and reunited with her owner.  The rescues, one a partner with the city on animal adoptions, consider her case to be a service failure.  Area rescues mobilized to have Misty's case investigated and are seeking support for changes in city practices.   

The City of San Angelo chose to approach KSAN and KLST News rather than explore what happened.  Animal Services Director James Flores spoke to KLST reporter Daija Barrett in defense of the city's actions.  KLST did not show Misty's owner or either of the two rescues involved in trying to help her.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela and Public Information Officer Anthony Wilson had to approve Flores going on television, which turned out to be more than once in this case.

Flores did not tell the reporter or public the city was investigating what happened and looking to make operational changes to address elements of Misty's case.  He stated he wanted to get ahead of social media reports.  The Standard Times ran a more balanced piece on Thursday, June 8th.  For that story Animal Shelter management gave written answers via e-mail. 

Conclusion:  The city is more interested in aggressive image management than good customer service.

What would good customer service entail?  Assuming Misty's injuries were as represented by the city, shelter staff could have contacted the owner that Saturday evening and shared the tragic news.  They could have offered to refrigerate her body, as other animal shelters do, and have the owner pick Misty up on Monday.

As the city did not offer this basic courtesy, the owner and rebuffed rescues wonder if Misty's injuries were as the city described.  Several months ago another former veterinary technician testified to City Council of Animal Control's extermination of a dog with non-life threatening injuries (City Council meeting 2-21-17 at 22:40 mark).  The public heard his horrific description on Channel 17 but never anything about an investigation or follow up by city leaders.

Pets are part of quality of life in our community.  Misty's story falls short of best management practices in customer service.  It fits with the city's historical view of animal control as an enforcement duty.  Our local Fox News had James Flores on again last night.  Flores remained defensive.  He referred to the groups that helped connect the stray with the owner and stood ready to help Misty get vet care as "supposed rescues."

The City's all image campaign comes at the expense of competent leadership.  City Manager Daniel Valenzuela is not known for conducting thorough investigations.  He has a reputation for avoidance in the Furniture Fiasco and Republic Services overcharging cases.  His office produced short, unsigned internal investigations for disturbing actions by city leaders.  There's not a hint of an investigation in Misty's case.  That would've made one of the city's television news stories.

Misty's case came with multiple surprises and communication failures.  Those reflect the poor customer service Misty and her owner received.  It came from the shelter that adopted out Misty, the group that should have ensured her microchip was up to date.  

The microchip focus is somewhat of a red herring as her owner had been identified by two rescues and they were trying to work with the city to see what Misty needed.  It's the shelter who didn't communicate back Saturday evening or Monday morning.  Once people shared the story and began speaking up the city communicated like crazy with local television news reporters.

The city did not bring together everyone who touched Misty Saturday evening to build a common picture of what happened, identify lingering questions and ways to get them answered.  From the city's view it euthanized a stray, injured dog that didn't have an accurate microchip.  From the rescues' view they identified the owner for the city within hours and stood ready to help an injured dog as they'd done before, but never got the call from Animal Services.  The owner is heartbroken over Misty's death and at a minimum wanted her body back and an evidence backed explanation for her euthanasia.

Questions include:  What are the city's responsibilities when an injured dog is picked up by Animal Control?  Does it document with pictures and video the animal's state prior to being euthanized?  How does it communicate with owners, those with accurate microchips and those rescues have identified for the city?  What commitments does the shelter make to hold the body for owners?  How did Misty's handling match the city's customer service aspirations?

Shelter Director James Flores is not answering the above questions.  Instead he is hurt by a social media outcry and speaking in person to a willing news media.  Excellence, service, accountability, resourcefulness and stewardship:  Misty and her owner deserved them all from the city.


Jim Turner said...

This is a sad situation. Wish I could say it was unexpected. I've written my take on some of this in two posts on my blog

This is an old problem, and a systemic one. The continued shuffling of deck chairs won't change this.

Jim Turner said...

And some additional information that needs to be tracked down, and then the public made aware of. One of the key elements of the story on GoSanAngelo was that the chip information was "outdated." Being some what familiar with how these little RFID chips work, I was wondering how the information got outdated. These little chips require no battery or other external power source. They are very durable and receive all the power they need from reader itself. What they do contain is a unique serial number that ties into a database of owner and animal information. That database is maintained by a company such as the one that supplies the city with chips, readers, and software. It contains the contact information for the dog and owner name, address, telephone number, email, etc.. From what I've found out that information only needs to be updated when the owners contact information changes. There is no periodic update required on the chip.

It might be a good idea to have the chip checked periodically. They seldom fail or fall out but it has happened. And it's easy to forget when you dump your land line or change companies/plans that the new number needs to be sent a lot of different places, including the place where your companion is registered. One or the other happened here. It is important to figure out which happened here. And even then there should probably be enough redundant information there that a bad phone number, for example, would keep an owner from being found.

Again these are my thoughts but inquiring minds want to know.

CDeLeo said...

My understanding is that Misty had been adopted by a new owner and the microchip info was never changed from the previous to the new. Therefore the microchip did NOT provide a way for the current owner to be contacted via the microchip company.

Jim Turner said...

This is one of the issues that need to be addressed. According to the Standard Times story, the owner thought he had done everything necessary to have the registration changed. If more needed to be done, then the public needs to know so that we don't see repeats.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the chip shouldn't have been the shelters only resource. Misty was reported missing almost immediately. Between various social media and sites like, Misty was identified and the rescue groups were part of the search.

It wasn't all that long ago that animal control officers were business hours only. Lost or injured dog at night or on the weekend? Hopefully the police or rescue group can deal with it because animal control would be MIA. Now there seems to be a 24/7 ACO on duty that dispatch or the police can get in touch with outside of business hours. Good start but not enough.

There should be a way that an animal rescue group or pet owner can get information on any animal control calls and contact the on duty animal control person. And animal control should always check the web pages like helpgetmehome any time a pet is brought in, and there should be a mandatory wait time before an animal is euthanized.

Bottom line is that tech like chips are great when they work but they will fail. Any public health and safety organization has to plan for when the technology fails. We obviously don't have such a plan here.

Vieja47 said...

Mandatory wait time like the 72 hour holds that even shelters like those in Houston have (and no one would brag about Houston shelters).