It’s been quite a week for animal welfare in Montgomery County. A contingent of volunteers was in Commissioners’ Court today to address ongoing problems with the current management at MCAS; they were hoping to ask the Commissioners to set an exit date, since there is a vote on record to rescind the contract.
But the Commissioners had a surprise up their sleeves. They announced in court that as of September 19th, the shelter management will go up for bid. To the best of my understanding, that means they will officially open an RFP (Request For Proposals) on that date. I don’t know yet what date they will close the bids, nor do we know what date Care Corp has to vacate the shelter. (I’m told that information may be in the minutes from Commissioners’ Court today, so I’ll be watching for it.)
Under the circumstances, opening it to management bids is not a bad move on the part of the Commissioners. The plus side is that it’s a big step toward removing Care Corp. The down side is that it creates tremendous uncertainty in an already destabilized community. We have so many questions.
Who will put in a bid?
Will any of the organizations submitting bids be qualified to take on and repair this mess?
If none of the bids is strong enough, what will happen?
Will the commissioners limit bids to nonprofit organizations?
Will the volunteers have a voice in the process?
When will Care Corp be required to vacate?
What safeguards, if any, will be put into place to protect the animals during the transition process?
What consequences, if any, will there be if Care Corp does not serve the best interests of the animals during the transition process?
Meanwhile, Care Corp continues to alienate our community. Last week, a long time employee was fired under questionable circumstances. We all know what those circumstances were because other employees posted inappropriate commentary online revealing what should have been confidential information.
This week, Care Corp took the unbelievably stupid step of banning Smart Rescue from pulling animals from the shelter. Smart has been an active part of the MCAS community for ten years or more. They pull many, many animals, both dogs and cats, of a wide range of breeds and sizes. Smart is well loved by the community because they are always willing to take the sick, injured, and old. They do an excellent job of vetting their animals, their foster program is very strong, and they are both thorough and careful about approving applications to adopt animals in their care.
So why ban them? Good question. Smart was informed via text message from an employee that they would no longer be allowed to pull animals from MCAS.
Bear in mind that Smart has pulled literally dozens of sick animals from MCAS in recent months. Smart has spent THOUSANDS in vet bills to heal animals that arrived sick or got sick while in county custody. Their animals are well cared for. Their adoption events are efficient, clean, and well managed. Their reputation is impeccable.
Smart volunteers have also spoken publicly and loudly against Care Corp. Since there is no way to fault their performance as a rescue, the obvious hypothesis is that Care Corp banned Smart in retaliation for speaking out. They would not be the first volunteers or (former) employees “punished” in this way.
It amazes me that neither Care Corp nor the Commissioners seem to appreciate the ramifications of this retaliatory behavior. I have mentioned Section 1983 in a previous column; it’s the federal statute that protects whistleblowers from retaliation. There are precedent-setting cases on record specifically prohibiting animal shelters from banning volunteers who speak out against wrongdoing or bad management practices.
Short of changing the locks and hiring an emergency transition team to run the shelter during a proper search or bidding process, the best thing the Commissioners could do at this point in the process is to install a county employee whose job is to monitor everything that happens in the shelter. Someone with the authority to intervene on behalf of the Commissioners could help protect the animals, ensure volunteer and rescue access, and might even protect the county from additional liability created by this constant campaign to ban, block, and remove anyone who doesn’t sing the praises of Care Corp.
As the situation evolves, we will continue to advocate for the animals of Montgomery County. And we will be heard.
PS: Smart is still paying huge vet bills on the last batch of sick animals they took. Most were from MCAS. If you’d like to help them, you can donate here: