Shannon Hill http://shannonlhill.com Fri, 22 May 2015 02:07:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 The Town Hall Meeting http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/the-town-hall-meeting/ http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/the-town-hall-meeting/#respond Thu, 21 May 2015 03:45:02 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1162 Last night I attended a town hall meeting to address the ongoing issues with Care Corp’s management of the Montgomery County Animal Shelter. Commissioner Clark hosted the meeting, with Drs. Ross and Blue as the featured speakers. Ostensibly, the purpose of the meeting was to address the community’s concerns. In reality, it was a sad […]

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Last night I attended a town hall meeting to address the ongoing issues with Care Corp’s management of the Montgomery County Animal Shelter. Commissioner Clark hosted the meeting, with Drs. Ross and Blue as the featured speakers. Ostensibly, the purpose of the meeting was to address the community’s concerns. In reality, it was a sad attempt at propaganda to convince us that they’re doing a good job.

 

They failed miserably.

 

First, we were all very amused that Commissioner Clark found it necessary to bring along several armed law enforcement officers – just in case the crazy animal welfare people got out of hand. It was very apparent that the commissioner and the Care Corp folks were not expecting such a large turnout. It was equally apparent that Drs. Ross and Blue were extremely under-prepared for the meeting. They didn’t even bother to bring the Powerpoint presentation advertised in the meeting announcement. In fact, Dr. Ross opened with this statement: “I didn’t know that Dr. Blue and myself were going to grace you with our presence.”

 

Commissioner Clark was clearly very concerned that the assembled crowd would be unkind to his buddies. He repeatedly warned the audience not to be negative because “we’re all here for the animals, aren’t we?”

 

(Commissioner Clark went on to demonstrate his absolute ignorance of the animal welfare community by describing an event at which he bought a puppy at a fundraiser auction and gave it away to the District Attorney. If the commissioner had the slightest grasp of animal welfare ethics, he would have known that most of us do not approve of auctioning puppies at fundraisers, nor do we approve of gifting animals when you win said auction by accident. Fortunately, this particular puppy ended up in a good home where he is loved.)

 

Those of us who wished to address the commissioner and the Care Corp management team were assigned numbers to be drawn in a lottery, in a futile attempt to contain the number of speakers. Honestly, they should have known better. The audience was packed with angry, emotional animal welfare people who wanted answers.

 

Dr. Ross and Dr. Blue gave a halfhearted presentation of the shelter’s numbers, policies, and plans. Dr. Ross was barely audible and sounded remarkably like a nervous ninth grade boy stumbling through an oral report on a subject he doesn’t really grasp. Although Dr. Blue was definitely a stronger speaker, he clearly conveyed a tone of condescension, as he defined the words “change” and “shelter” (in case we were unfamiliar with these difficult words.)

 

I was very interested by the claims that the shelter has implemented antiparasitics, vaccines upon intake, and “more medication than they’ve ever had.” Their claims simply do not match my research. I’ve spoken with fosters and seen kennel cards that clearly show animals who’ve gone days and weeks without vaccinations or antiparasitics. I was also rather taken aback by their attempts to present the introduction of antiparasitics as something new and innovative. The truth is that under the previous administration, all animals were vaccinated upon intake and treated with antiparasitics provided by the Society.

 

One of the more outrageous claims presented by Drs. Ross and Blue was that they did NOT terminate their relationship with the Society. Yes, they did. I have seen the email in which they stated that they and the Society would no longer be able to work together. Their ridiculous response in last night’s meeting was that they just weren’t going to receive and facilitate donations to the Society, because the Society can get donations elsewhere. And yet they seriously think the Society should continue to fundraise and pay vet bills on their behalf?

 

Once Drs. Ross and Blue were through with their presentation, questions from the audience began. Multiple speakers asked the doctors to address concerns including lack of communication, attempted intimidation and dismissal of volunteers, the negative changes in the atmosphere of the shelter, the constant requests for donations to support a for-profit management company, and the extremely limited availability of vet care and sick clinic hours. Most of the pseudo-answers given by the doctors and the commissioner fell into two categories: “We’re new. Give us time.” and “We’re working on it.” One of the few real answers we were given came from Commissioner Clark in response to our questions about why Drs. Ross and Blue were being allowed to interrogate, insult, and dismiss volunteers. Clark told us that volunteering is a privilege, and that the doctors have the right to refuse volunteers that criticize or don’t agree with their policies.

 

Clearly, Commissioner Clark and the doctors have overlooked Supreme Court cases that specifically and completely invalidate this position. (See this link for details: http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=728)

 

When the audience tired of the vague generalities and began to demand concrete answers, Commissioner Clark and the doctors became obviously flustered. Much to my disappointment, Commissioner Noack chose that moment to intervene. He spoke about his support for the new management company and then called up another speaker for “their side.” His selected speaker was not on the program and did not have a number. She claimed to be a long time volunteer, but promptly negated her own statement by saying that she hadn’t been to the shelter to volunteer in years because she doesn’t like the smell. She went on to say how wonderful everything is now, because it smells better.

 

Even if that’s true, what does that have to do with the questions raised above?

 

We left the town hall meeting disappointed by the poor preparation, the lack of knowledge, the unwillingness to give genuine answers, and the utter lack of humility. I am appalled by the ignorance that allows these men to prioritize their egos over the well-being of the animals and the desperately needed unification of our fractured community.

 

Hubris is not an attractive quality in a commissioner…or in a shelter manager.

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Is No Kill The Answer? http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/is-no-kill-the-answer/ http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/is-no-kill-the-answer/#comments Thu, 14 May 2015 04:31:41 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1156 One of the biggest issues in the animal welfare world is the reality that animals die because they are homeless. And in the eyes of the general public, one of the most popular and appealing “answers” is the No Kill movement.   The No Kill concept is a very attractive one. Theoretically, in a No […]

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One of the biggest issues in the animal welfare world is the reality that animals die because they are homeless. And in the eyes of the general public, one of the most popular and appealing “answers” is the No Kill movement.

 

The No Kill concept is a very attractive one. Theoretically, in a No Kill shelter, no animal will ever be put down for space or because he is “out of time.” Theoretically, in a No Kill shelter, every animal who can be saved, made healthy, and safely adopted out will be.

 

I wish theoretically worked. Now let’s talk about reality.

 

No Kill is not as clean a concept as the general public would like to believe. There are several ways to achieve an ostensibly No Kill shelter, all of which rely on a little numerical sleight of hand. Here are two of the most common:

 

Option 1: Many No Kill shelters are able to avoid euthanizing for space because they are not open intake. Basically, when these shelters get full, they simply stop accepting animals until some get adopted out. Please note that I’m not saying that’s wrong. In their particular management model, closing intake is the proper and responsible thing to do, because it prevents overcrowding and allows them to save every animal in their custody.

 

The down side, however, is that the animals they do not accept are likely to end up dumped at the nearest open intake shelter. They become someone else’s problem.

 

Option 2: Some shelters try to achieve No Kill status on paper by skewing their numbers. Remember that the theory driving No Kill is that no ADOPTABLE animal must ever be put down. Think about that for a second…how does one skew statistics to fit that model? One simply declares surplus animals unadoptable, which then allows the shelter to euthanize them without losing their No Kill designator. How do they justify declaring them unadoptable? They mark them aggressive or otherwise behaviorally unfit, or they deem them too ill to be saved.

 

Another ugly trick that some shelters use to control their numbers is the controversial late term spay/abortion procedure. Simply put, if the shelter spays a pregnant animal carrying 6 puppies, those 6 puppies never officially exist. Because they were never born, they never appear on an intake list, and they never appear on a euthanasia list.

 

Most animal welfare folks agree that true No Kill is the holy grail for those of us who work to save animals. We would all love it if every animal who ended up in a shelter were to find a wonderful permanent home. In some parts of the country, the pet population is low enough that the community can absorb every stray or surrendered animal that goes up for adoption. Unfortunately, this is not true everywhere.

 

There are only two shelters in the county where I live. One is a very small city shelter, and the other is a large open intake county shelter. Montgomery County has one of the fastest growing populations in the country. As the human population grows, so does the animal population – or in this case, overpopulation. The county shelter takes in between 23,000 and 26,000 animals every year. That’s between 63 and 71 homeless animals every single day of every single year.

 

Some of the animals arriving at the shelter are lost animals who will be returned to their owners, but it’s a tiny percentage of the total. Some will arrive too sick or injured to save. Some will genuinely be too aggressive for anyone to handle safely.

 

But not the majority. The vast majority arrive needing some vet care, some training, maybe some socialization. They all deserve a chance, but not all of them will get one.

 

The county shelter holds around 750 animals at maximum capacity, and it’s pretty much always full. There are also hundreds of county-owned animals in foster care. Now factor into that equation the constant arrival of new animals, at an average rate of 63 or more per day. To save them all would require moving 60 to 70 animals to rescue or adoption, seven days a week.

 

Now I’m hearing that Care Corp is espousing the No Kill philosophy promoted by the nonprofit organization recently designated as their new partner. It makes a great sound bite, but frankly I don’t believe they can do it. Here’s the quote from their website (www.mcaspets.org):

 

“C.A.R.E. is striving to move toward a no-kill community and hopes that the addition of OPA will serve to further that mission. Dr. Ross knows that building a no-kill shelter will be an uphill battle, but feels it is one worth fighting. ‘What we want to do is save lives. Period. The only way to do that is through innovative programs – programs such as transports and TNR – things that OPA is already doing.’  Through their partnership, OPA and MCAS hope to put in place the programs that have demonstrated success in achieving the goal of a no-kill community. Generally, a shelter is considered to be a no-kill shelter when they are saving over 90% of homeless pets.  Euthanasia is reserved for those animals with a grave prognosis for recovery or those considered dangerous to public safety.”

 

It sounds great, until you go back and read about ways to skew the numbers. Then read that last line of the quote REALLY carefully.

 

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Relationships and Resources (What Makes A Good Shelter, Part 5) http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/relationships-and-resources-what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-5/ http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/relationships-and-resources-what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-5/#respond Thu, 07 May 2015 05:05:21 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1152 Any experienced shelter person, whether volunteer or employee, knows that relationship building is a critical component of a successful program. Shelters never have enough resources available to cover the needs of every sick, injured, malnourished, neglected, unsocialized animal that comes through the doors. So inevitably shelter workers have to depend on volunteers, rescues, community donations, […]

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Any experienced shelter person, whether volunteer or employee, knows that relationship building is a critical component of a successful program. Shelters never have enough resources available to cover the needs of every sick, injured, malnourished, neglected, unsocialized animal that comes through the doors. So inevitably shelter workers have to depend on volunteers, rescues, community donations, and nonprofit groups to bridge those gaps.

 

Volunteers foster animals, walk dogs, socialize cats, bathe filthy animals who may never have had a bath in their lives, work adoption events, answer phones and emails, do laundry, take pictures, network, and a host of additional tasks. Without them, more employees would be necessary, and most shelters cannot afford more employees.

 

Rescues take animals off the shelter’s hands and assume financial responsibility for them. When an animal leaves the shelter to enter a rescue program, it opens a spot in the shelter that another homeless animal can occupy, which in effect helps save two lives. Rescues are also able to spend more time on an individual animal, which is why shelters rely on them to take sick or injured animals who will need time to recover before going up for adoption.

 

Community donations are a particularly special part of the shelter world. Some come from elderly people who like to make blankets or beds for shelter pets. Some come from children who ask for donations in lieu of birthday presents. Businesses, students, and service groups might hold food drives or collect blankets and towels. All represent unselfish giving for the sake of giving, and all deserve the greatest respect and appreciation, no matter how humble the donation.

 

Nonprofit groups with the ability to award large grants or pay vet bills are another critical resource. When a shelter needs equipment it can’t afford, a donation from nonprofit is often their only hope to get what they need. When an animal needs expensive veterinary care requiring equipment or expertise not available in house, shelters rely on nonprofit groups to get those animals the help they need.

 

Over the last several years, my own local shelter has benefited tremendously from nonprofit and community support. One local nonprofit was directly responsible for fencing and equipping the dog park area behind the shelter. Another, the Montgomery County Animal Society, has spent the last several years paying huge amounts of vet bills for shelter animals. Last year alone, they spent over $100,000 on veterinary care for animals in the custody of MCAS, managed by Care Corp.

 

$100,000 is a tremendous amount of money, especially coming from a single local nonprofit. That money paid for everything from exrays to bloodwork to surgeries and medications, for dozens and dozens of dogs and cats who needed help that MCAS either could not or would not provide. Lives were literally saved by those funds. Not one or two lives. Dozens.

 

Any sensible shelter management team would be overjoyed to have such deep open pockets at their disposal. Any sensible shelter management team would treasure the heartfelt donations from elderly ladies who handmake blankets and pillows. They would genuinely appreciate the toys and bags of food from children who gave up birthday presents to help animals. They would recognize the incredible value of organized community donations, which both save them money and afford them a tremendous opportunity for good publicity and networking.

 

Care Corp apparently doesn’t get it.

 

Since the “new” management purchased Care Corp a few months ago, we’ve seen Dumpstergate. That was the day that shelter staff threw away piles of donations over a two day period, even after being reported to “new” management, who apparently couldn’t be bothered to go see for himself what was being thrown away. Volunteers have been insulted and ignored and generally alienated. Good rescue groups are complaining about the poor treatment and bad manners they’re experiencing since the takeover. Relationships that took years to build have been irreparably damaged. Employee turnover continues to soar.

 

And now, just when I thought Care Corp had to be nearing their quota for bad decisions, Dr. Ross has announced that he is choosing to sever the shelter’s relationship with the Society. Here’s what that means:

 

No more paid vet bills.That’s over $100,000 for direct animal care that he is rejecting.

No more Society funded publicity to promote adoptions.

No more Society sponsored food drives, fundraisers, and special events.

No more Society funds to repair fences, kennels, and beds.

No more donations of equipment and supplies.

 

In a world where most shelters are begging for funds and supplies, I just do not understand what kind of veterinarian, shelter director, and human being can casually reject six figures worth of annual financial resources.

 

Or why.

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Vet Care: More Than Vaccinations (What Makes a Good Shelter, Part 4 of Many) http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/vet-care-more-than-vaccinations-what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-4-of-many/ http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/vet-care-more-than-vaccinations-what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-4-of-many/#comments Thu, 30 Apr 2015 04:26:54 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1147 The average layperson tends to think that any animal shelter being run by a veterinarian must be in the best possible hands. I used to think that too…but I’ve learned.   One of the biggest complaints from the general public about shelters is that “they just let sick and injured animals sit and suffer.” I […]

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The average layperson tends to think that any animal shelter being run by a veterinarian must be in the best possible hands. I used to think that too…but I’ve learned.

 

One of the biggest complaints from the general public about shelters is that “they just let sick and injured animals sit and suffer.” I wish it weren’t true, but it often is. Often it’s not because the shelters don’t care. It’s because they literally do not have the equipment, medications, resources, and funds to do anything about it. Most small open intake shelters do not have a veterinarian on staff at all, and no money to pay for treatment at a regular clinic. If an animal too sick or injured for them to treat in house comes in, often their only choice is either to try to keep the animal comfortable (but untreated) while they try to find the owner or a rescue placement, or to euthanize.

 

On the flip side, some larger shelters are able to hire their own veterinarians. Shelter medicine is a completely different world. In any given day, a shelter vet may see contagious disease, starvation, skin conditions, broken bones, lacerations, trap injuries, gunshot wounds, and any number of other atrocities. And unlike private practice, there is rarely a concerned owner to foot the bill.

 

Sadly, in most shelters, IF there is a vet in house, that vet will probably have very minimal resources with which to treat serious health problems. That very lack of resources tends to drive really good vets out of shelter medicine and into private practice, where they can have access to the equipment and supplies they need to take proper care of their patients, as well as to a salary worthy of their education and student loan debt. Don’t get me wrong – many shelter veterinarians are incredibly dedicated. But the burnout rate is very high, largely due to the high stress environment and lack of resources.

 

Some veterinarians try to go into shelter management, with the idea that they can allocate resources better and make sure that more money goes to veterinary equipment, staff, and supplies. The brutal truth about this model: it’s usually a train wreck. Managing a shelter is not like managing a regular veterinary practice. It requires a completely separate skill set, which includes the ability to stretch a tight budget, network animals out to adoption, foster, and rescue as fast as possible, provide excellent customer service, maintain a healthy shelter population, keep the public officials in charge of your shelter happy, and still find funds to vet your animals.

 

There is no way that a shelter clinic can address every possible situation. But a properly equipped clinic can certainly handle the most common types of problems that come through the door. Of course the initial investment to purchase equipment and set up the clinic would be substantial, but the payoff would be priceless. Animals could be diagnosed and treated faster, which would in turn reduce suffering and decrease recovery time.

 

So let’s talk about what a good full service vet clinic in a shelter SHOULD have.

 

  1. A microscope and centrifuge, along with the proper supplies to collect and process fecal and blood samples. Parasites, bacterial infections, anemia, and any number of other conditions can be properly diagnosed with these simple tools. A machine capable of CBC and blood chemistry analysis would be nice too, but is almost certainly cost prohibitive.

 

  1. A basic exray machine. So many animals come into shelters with signs of HBC – shelter shorthand for hit by a car. And then there are the abuse cases, the old injuries that may or may not be broken bones, the unexplained lameness…With the advent of digital exray machines, this technology should be much more accessible than it once was.

 

  1. A clean surgical room with the proper equipment to do spays, neuters, amputations, wound repairs, dental cleanings and extractions, removal of cysts or growths, and simple orthopedic surgeries. And let’s not forget the need for trained veterinary technicians to assist the staff veterinarians.

 

  1. A well stocked pharmacy, with a reliable supply of antibiotics, antiparasitics, antifungals, vaccines, fluids, antidiarrheals, and any other medications needed to treat conditions that commonly present in your geographic area.

 

  1. Isolation space for contagious or immunocompromised animals, which should ideally have a separate air supply from the rest of the shelter.

 

  1. Daily rounds, during which the vet techs and veterinarians treat and follow up on any sick or injured animals in the shelter.

 

  1. Daily sick clinic hours, during which a veterinarian is available to treat foster animals and recently adopted animals.

 

The management contract for my own local shelter was purchased by a veterinarian a few months ago. So many people were hopeful that having a veterinarian in charge would mean good things for MCAS. But as I look at that list of things a good shelter clinic should have…we don’t.

 

The shelter clinic is currently not doing basic fecal or blood work, ostensibly because they lack the equipment. There is no exray capability that I’m aware of. Their surgery capabilities are extremely limited. Their pharmaceutical inventory is much reduced, and continues to shrink. Vaccination protocols have become lax and spotty. Sick clinics for fosters are sporadic at best, and multiple credible sources report untreated injuries and rampant illness in house. My own observations confirm reports that staff turnover is at an all time high, too. And all this is happening in spite of the fact that the shelter’s budget is the largest it has ever been, thanks to an increase that accompanied the sale of the contract.

 

Apparently the veterinarian who bought the management company is learning that managing a shelter (especially for profit) doesn’t leave much time to be a good vet.

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Vaccinations (What Makes a Good Shelter, Part 3 of Many) http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/vaccinations-what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-3-of-many/ http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/vaccinations-what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-3-of-many/#respond Thu, 23 Apr 2015 04:00:46 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1141 One of the major problems that animal shelters contend with is the inevitable presence of disease. Some animals come in obviously ill, and they can (hopefully) be isolated to prevent spread of disease while they’re treated. Some animals are not obviously sick upon arrival, but are incubating an invisible illness that will show up a […]

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One of the major problems that animal shelters contend with is the inevitable presence of disease. Some animals come in obviously ill, and they can (hopefully) be isolated to prevent spread of disease while they’re treated. Some animals are not obviously sick upon arrival, but are incubating an invisible illness that will show up a few days later. In the interval, they can infect dozens of other animals, who will in turn silently incubate disease while spreading it through the shelter.

 

Adopters really hate it when they go home with an apparently healthy animal who becomes expensively ill within days of arrival. All too often, this results in a failed adoption, the return of an actively infectious animal to the shelter, and the subsequent euthanasia of the sick pet. When it happens frequently, the shelter develops a reputation as a “sick” shelter, which drives away adopters and even makes rescue groups reluctant to pull animals from a shelter with a high frequency of contagious disease.

 

What kind of diseases are we talking about?

 

Parvo:

Canine parvovirus is one of the ugliest viruses to ever decimate a shelter. After an incubation period of four to seven days, it attacks multiple bodily systems; the affected animal will simply purge – nonstop diarrhea, vomiting, fever, lethargy, refusal to eat, rapid dehydration. Untreated, the mortality rate can be as high as 90%. Once upon a time, it was presumed to be a death sentence, and affected animals were quickly euthanized to prevent suffering and further contagion.

 

The good news is that parvo IS treatable now. Supportive care in the form of intravenous fluids is a critical step in the process. Further treatment includes antibiotics, antiemetics to slow the vomiting and diarrhea, and vitamins and electrolytes in the fluids. New and promising treatments including Tamiflu, Cerenia, and Convenia have further improved the odds of successful recovery.

 

Distemper:

Distemper is another highly contagious virus that attacks its host from every direction. The virus can appear up to eighteen days following exposure, which makes it especially nasty and tricky. It usually begins with respiratory symptoms, heavy eye and nose discharge, and high fever. Gastrointestinal problems follow, and then the hideous neurological stage, in which the brain and spinal cord become inflamed. Once a dog enters the neurological phase of the disease, the prognosis is very poor indeed. Survivors of distemper often show odd neurological twitches and tics for years, and I know of one survivor who lost her eyesight to the disease. Other signs that a dog is a distemper survivor include damage to the teeth resulting in rapid enamel erosion, and weirdly thick or hardened pads on the feet.

 

Untreated, distemper has about a 50% mortality rate among adult dogs. The corresponding rate among puppies and young dogs can be as high as 80%. Aggressive supportive care can greatly improve the animal’s odds of survival, but no one has identified a specific effective medication that will cure the virus. It has to run its course.

 

Bordetella:

Kennel cough, or bordetella, is another highly contagious illness common in shelter environments. The incubation period runs anywhere from two to fourteen days. The disease usually presents as a hacking cough accompanied by a runny nose. Most animals recover with or without antibiotics within a couple of weeks. However, they continue to shed the active virus for several weeks afterwards.

 

While kennel cough is usually a fairly mild illness, it does spread like wildfire in the kennel environment. And some of the weaker, more immunocompromised animals may end up developing pneumonia, which becomes a much bigger deal to treat.

 

What do all of these illnesses have in common?

*They spread like crazy in the crowded environment of a shelter.

*They have an incubation period during which no one knows the dog is ill.

*They can be readily prevented by vaccinating the animals.

 

Certainly a multitude of other illnesses can show up in a shelter’s population as well. Leptospirosis, parasites, a variety of bacterial infections like coccidia or giardia, mange, and that least likely but most dreaded disease, rabies. But the three outlined above are some of the most dangerous and most common.

 

So let’s talk about those vaccinations. If every animal is vaccinated upon intake, the spread of disease in the shelter drops drastically. Animals do not develop their full immunities until several days after vaccination, but an unvaccinated animal in a shelter environment is going to get sick. An animal vaccinated on intake, going into a shelter full of vaccinated animals, is much better protected. Result over time: the entire shelter population gets healthier.

 

Likewise, if every animal coming through the door gets treated with an antiparasitic like Advantage Multi, it reduces the incidence of sarcoptic (contagious) mange, and it also functions as a dewormer and heartworm preventive. It also kills fleas infestations.

 

Sadly, the vast majority of shelters do NOT vaccinate until the moment of adoption. Those animals will sit unvaccinated and exposed for days or weeks or months, all to save a buck.

 

Some shelters have nonprofit organizations willing to subsidize vaccines or flea treatments. Some pharmaceutical companies will offer large bulk purchases at drastic discounts, or even donate batches of drugs nearing their expiration dates. Some companies offer incentive rebates or similar programs. The cost per animal can be kept to just a few dollars, and the payoff is huge.

 

A good shelter makes vaccination upon intake a priority. Because no animal should suffer or die from preventable causes while in the hands of the organization that is supposed to keep them safe.

 

Readers, have you asked your local shelter what their vaccination protocol is?

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Transparency (What Makes A Good Shelter? Part 2 of Many) http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/transparency-what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-2-of-many/ http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/transparency-what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-2-of-many/#respond Thu, 16 Apr 2015 04:26:29 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1136 Animal shelters come in a variety of models. Some are funded by local government agencies. Some are registered 501c3 nonprofit organizations. Some are privately owned.   Even within those models, there are a multitude of management arrangements. Let’s take a look at taxpayer funded shelters today. Some shelters fall directly under the control of local […]

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Animal shelters come in a variety of models. Some are funded by local government agencies. Some are registered 501c3 nonprofit organizations. Some are privately owned.

 

Even within those models, there are a multitude of management arrangements. Let’s take a look at taxpayer funded shelters today. Some shelters fall directly under the control of local law enforcement; regular police officers are charged with the care of any animals as extra duty. This is only possible in very small jurisdictions, and it’s just not a good plan.

 

More commonly, the town or county or administrative area will create a department of Animal Control. That agency is responsible for catching loose or dangerous animals, holding stray animals for a specific minimum period of time, providing appropriate care for the animals in their custody, and hopefully, for maintaining a strong adoption, foster, and rescue program to place animals in need of homes.

 

Ideally, the shelter will hire trained animal control officers, veterinary technicians, kennel staff, and support staff. Ideally, there will be a highly qualified shelter manager to oversee the whole operation. Ideally, the governing agency will provide a budget adequate to the size of the task, and said budget will increase with population expansion and demand.

 

Ideally doesn’t happen very often.

 

All too often, local government agencies hire any untrained warm body who is willing to work for low pay in crappy conditions. Local judges sentence juvenile offenders, vandals, minor first time offenders, and even drunk drivers to do community service in shelters. Free labor is good – unless they don’t do the job well or endanger the animals. Cheap unskilled labor is often dangerous to the animals and the people. Unskilled employees end up getting bitten or injured, or making mistakes that put the animals at risk.

 

Some local governments choose a different option. They allow privately held management companies to bid for a contract to run the shelter. In theory, this can be a great deal for both the management company and the government agency. The management company handles the mountains of paperwork and minutiae in exchange for a fee, and the government agency simply allocates the budget and saves countless man hours for their elected officials. The management company has the time and resources to train their personnel properly, and that burden is thus lifted from the governing agency.

 

Want to know the biggest problem with this concept?

 

Any public institution is required to maintain a certain amount of transparency and accountability. A privately held management company…not so much. So now we have a public institution, which should be completely transparent, being managed by a private enterprise, which is not held to that standard.

 

This is a recipe for corruption.

 

Taxpayers have a legal and moral right to know exactly how the funds set aside for the animal shelter are allocated. When a government agency runs a shelter, that agency is required to itemize its budget. Line items will show how much goes for every possible expense: facilities maintenance, utilities, insurance, employee salaries, veterinary care, food for the animals, and any other expenses. The interested taxpayer can actually request a copy of that itemized budget and study where every dollar of the budget goes. Financial accountability becomes very important.

 

Nonprofit groups operate under similar restrictions. As nonprofits, they are subject to open records requests as well as to audits by the IRS. They too are required by law to account for every penny they spend. In fact, the rules for nonprofits are quite strict because they are designed to protect donors who want to know that the money they donate is going where they want it to go.

 

For profit management groups have no such legal mandate. They are NOT legally required to make their itemized budget available to the public. No legal safeguards exist to prevent the CEO of a for profit company from doing the contractual minimum and pocketing the rest of the budget. Yes, a wise or careful government agency could include such safeguards in the written contract. (Wise government agency? Okay, I’m being hypothetical. But still.) Realistically, it’s a huge loophole that allows a for profit company to loot the hell out of a taxpayer funded budget at the expense of the animals that budget is meant to serve.

 

Does this mean that all for profit management companies are bad or unethical? Of course not. But it certainly means that any for profit management company needs to be held – both by contract and by public demand – to a very high standard of transparency and ethical behavior.

 

Not only are we talking about our tax dollars, we’re talking about the safety and well-being of our most vulnerable population. Animals don’t vote. Animals don’t write letters or run email campaigns. Animals depend on us to be their voice, to hold their caretakers and custodians accountable for their well-being.

 

At an absolute minimum, the following information should be made available to the public in detail each month, and regularly audited by an independent third party:

  1. The total budget supplied by the taxpayers.
  2. Where every single dollar is spent. I want to see an itemized list of ALL expenses and expenditures.
  3. How any donated goods, services, and funds are used. This becomes especially important to the for profit model, since every donation frees up funds which can be added to the profit margin.
  4. The exact condition and outcome of every animal to enter the shelter. Did the animal come in healthy? Sick? Injured? Did the animal go to foster, rescue, or a home? Was the animal treated by a veterinarian? Who paid for it? How much? Is the animal still alive? If not, why not?
  5. Verifiable documentation of standard of care. I want to see records proving that all animals are vaccinated on intake. I want to see proof that any sick or injured animals receive appropriate and timely veterinary care. I want to know what the ratio of animals to direct care employees is, so that I know there are enough employees to reasonably care for the population.

 

I’m certain there is much more that should be included in the transparency requirements. But I know that I would have much greater confidence in any management team willing and able to provide this documentation consistently.

 

Why should we accept less? The animals deserve transparency, and so do we.

 

My challenge to my readers: find out how easily these five pieces of information can be obtained from your local shelter. (Hint: There’s this neat thing called an open records request…)

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What Makes a Good Shelter? (Part 1 of Many) http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-1-of-many/ http://shannonlhill.com/animal-welfare/what-makes-a-good-shelter-part-1-of-many/#respond Thu, 09 Apr 2015 04:08:55 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1132 I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes a good shelter. Most animal welfare volunteers start out thinking that a no kill shelter is the holy grail. If they don’t kill animals, they must be awesome, right? I thought so once too. But it just isn’t that simple.   Fact: Not every […]

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I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately about what makes a good shelter. Most animal welfare volunteers start out thinking that a no kill shelter is the holy grail. If they don’t kill animals, they must be awesome, right? I thought so once too. But it just isn’t that simple.

 

Fact: Not every animal that walks into a shelter will walk out alive.

 

Let’s look at reasons an animal might not survive a shelter.

 

Some reasons make sense:

Terminal illness

Irreparable injury

Extreme aggression

Completely feral animals

 

Some are less comprehensible:

Lack of space

Treatable illness or injury that the shelter doesn’t have the resources to treat

Illness or injury acquired in the shelter

Moderate behavioral problems

 

Some are downright evil:

Breed restrictions

Age restrictions

Arbitrary personal preferences of employees charged with choosing who lives

Arbitrary rules that force employees to euthanize after a set number of days, regardless of space, health, and adoptability

Refusal to work with rescues or fosters

Refusal to institute an adoption program

 

The average, reasonably well-informed civilian knows these problems exist. But that same civilian also tends to casually glom onto the idea that a no kill shelter can magically solve all these problems, without much thought given to HOW a shelter becomes no kill.

 

All too often, some well-intentioned but sadly uninformed person finds himself in a position of authority, and uses that platform to “magically” make a facility no kill, without any transitional work or contingency plans. And then what happens?

 

Intake continues. Animals keep coming. Kennels get crowded. Overcrowded kennels create volatile situations in which animals turn on each other. Weaker animals don’t get enough to eat because their kennel mates take their food. Animals get injured or even killed in their own kennels.

 

Sounds like human prison, doesn’t it?

 

But there’s more. Those same overcrowded conditions encourage and facilitate disease transmission. Animals that come in sick spread their germs, because there is no room to isolate them. Animals that come in reasonably healthy get sick. Next thing you know, employees are talking about an “outbreak.” And outbreaks often end in mass euthanasia.

 

A good shelter knows that some animals won’t make it. A good shelter fights HARD to save every animal they possibly can, through adoption, foster, rescue, special events, and constant networking. A good shelter understands the importance of vet care, vaccinations upon intake, isolation of contagious animals, proper feeding, and proper sanitation. A good shelter protects the animals by not overcrowding the kennels.

 

In an ideal world, a good shelter would be able to maintain appropriate numbers by arranging enough foster, adoptive, or rescue placements to keep open spaces in their kennels. In that same ideal world, animals would get vaccinated and treated for fleas and ticks the moment they walk into the shelter. Animals would go to isolation rooms if they showed the slightest sign of potentially contagious illness. The shelter would have experienced veterinarians on staff with the equipment and supplies to diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. Employees and volunteers would have the knowledge and ability to work with animals who needed some socialization or behavior modification. And every animal would eventually find a forever home.

 

We don’t live in an ideal world.

 

In this less than ideal world, I’ve been getting more updates about the ongoing train wreck at MCAS. The “new guy” is apparently anti euthanasia. In theory, that sounds great. To my knowledge, he’s never declared the shelter no kill, but his management practices sure look a lot like the novice no kill model. The new guy is also doing a piss poor job of networking with rescues, promoting adoptions, and working with volunteers. I personally know of fosters and rescues turned away…simply because they asked questions or were perceived as belonging to the enemy camp.

 

Meanwhile, the kennels are so full that people witnessed a fight between FOUR dogs in ONE kennel. A young volunteer who tried to break it up posted pics of her scratched up arms to Facebook, which legally marked those animals as “bite cases” because the skin was broken.

 

Overcrowding and lax sanitation and vaccination protocols have produced an apparent parvo outbreak, resulting in an entire room being “quarantined” (by the medically ridiculous expedient of hanging a sheet over the doorway). Multiple puppies have been diagnosed with parvo after going to their new homes; at least one was treated at the expense of the adopters, and at least two were returned to the shelter, during sick clinic, in a room full of pets who were thus all exposed to the parvo pups. Even better, two parvo pups were released to foster care, and an employee had to post a request to social media that the fosters identify themselves, because no one wrote down who took them.

 

And today, Dr. Ross posted a letter to the volunteers on social media, in which he says that “The transition of new ownership at CARE has not been as smooth and as seamless as I envisioned.”

 

No kidding.

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Remember what you’re fighting for. http://shannonlhill.com/uncategorized/remember-what-youre-fighting-for/ http://shannonlhill.com/uncategorized/remember-what-youre-fighting-for/#respond Thu, 02 Apr 2015 04:00:26 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1128 I’m sure my readers have noticed that I am deeply focused on the fight to save MCAS from its new management. I sincerely hope that in the near future, that fight will stop being necessary. In the meanwhile, I’d like you to contemplate something for just a moment. We see war every time we turn […]

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I’m sure my readers have noticed that I am deeply focused on the fight to save MCAS from its new management. I sincerely hope that in the near future, that fight will stop being necessary. In the meanwhile, I’d like you to contemplate something for just a moment. We see war every time we turn on the news. War is ugly, and dangerous, and involves tremendous death and destruction. So why do people go to war?

 

If you’re the good guys, you go to war to fight for what you believe is right. Or to fight against what you believe is wrong.

 

To win a war, you have to be willing to sustain casualties and suffer pain while making sure the other side sustains greater losses and suffers greater pain. You win the war when the other side can no longer hold their position because their losses have become unsustainable.

 

Ever notice the problem with this concept? It’s usually the noncombatants who suffer the greatest losses. In human wars, it’s the civilians. In this war for the soul of MCAS, it’s the employees, the volunteers, and especially the animals who are suffering the collateral damage.

 

Dedicated volunteers have been blocked from fostering. Good employees have been fired. Others have quit rather than participate in the toxic environment created by the “new management.” Deliberate attacks have been made against the credibility, character, and personal histories of shelter volunteers who oppose the new regime. Friendships and working relationships have been destroyed, and the level of mutual distrust has risen to Balkan proportions.

 

And now the latest salvo from the enemy camp…

 

The enemy is upset because the rebel alliance has obtained intel about their activities and aired their dirty laundry for all of the vast Facebook universe to see. https://www.facebook.com/SaveMCAS/posts/1634564276780295

 

Here’s what appears to have happened. A good volunteer offered to foster a litter of mangy puppies. New management refused, because she is one of the rebels. Then the puppies sort of…disappeared. It appears that numerous “inaccuracies” were perpetuated by the new management every time anyone asked about the whereabouts of those puppies.

 

And then…oops! Someone (I wish I knew who, because I’d buy them dinner) obtained the records from the shelter computer of what actually happened to those puppies. Let’s just say it wasn’t good.

 

The shelter management did not show any shame or embarrassment over being caught with their collective pants down. Instead, they opted for the best defense is a good offense. They punished the whole community by removing all volunteer access to the online databases. Why does this matter? Without that access, the online team cannot answer inquiries about adoptable animals. They cannot publicize animals who are in particular need of rescue or foster. It cuts off the single most effective method of networking animals to get them safely out of the shelter. Result: animals die.

 

The enemy (aka “new management”) is holding those animals hostage in an attempt to break the will of the rebellious volunteer community. Their actions are remarkably parallel to an enemy force threatening to sacrifice prisoners if the other side doesn’t give in to their demands. Their supporters spew propaganda about how the rebel volunteers are “just hurting the animals.” About how we’d go along with their program if we “really cared about the animals.” And then there are the reminders in online forums for volunteers about how any posts dissenting, complaining, questioning, (or in the words of one particularly aggressive member of the other team, “bitching and moaning”) will not be allowed.

 

Let’s call their behavior what it is.

 

Terrorism: Do what they want, and they might let you save some of the animals they’re holding hostage. Fight them, and animals die.

Censorship: They control what you do, what you say, and what you post online. Only post comments they like, or they’ll delete them and ban you. And animals die.

Authoritarianism: They decide who volunteers. They decide what animals are “eligible” for foster. Submit willingly, or they’ll ban you. And animals die.

 

My dear volunteers, if the enemy kills animals, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. The hard, ugly truth is this: We have to win this war in order to save more animals longterm than we ever could through immediate surrender and compliance.

 

Remember what you’re fighting for.

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Rescue 101 for Shelters (aka Rescue Is Your Friend) http://shannonlhill.com/uncategorized/rescue-101-for-shelters-aka-rescue-is-your-friend/ http://shannonlhill.com/uncategorized/rescue-101-for-shelters-aka-rescue-is-your-friend/#respond Thu, 26 Mar 2015 03:55:48 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1124 Well, Care Corp strikes again. This time, both of the shelters under their “management” have managed to offend good rescue groups in a variety of ways. Since clearly they don’t have a good grasp of how to treat rescue groups, I’m going to offer some suggestions on how to develop a good relationship with rescue. […]

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Well, Care Corp strikes again. This time, both of the shelters under their “management” have managed to offend good rescue groups in a variety of ways. Since clearly they don’t have a good grasp of how to treat rescue groups, I’m going to offer some suggestions on how to develop a good relationship with rescue. I’m also going to explain why it matters, because they don’t seem to get that either.

 

How to cultivate rescue groups:

Learn what kind of animals that group wants. Each group develops a following that is looking for a particular animal profile. Asking them to take an animal that doesn’t fit their profile is asking them to take on an animal that will be harder for them to place.

 

Learn who to call for what. Each rescue has someone (or more than one someone) authorized to make intake decisions. Let’s say you’re calling an all breed group that takes both dogs and cats. Don’t call their cat person looking to place a large dog. You need to know who to call for small dogs, large dogs, purebred dogs, mixed breed dogs, dogs with minor medical issues, dogs with major medical issues, dogs with behavioral problems, puppies, senior dogs, bonded pairs, unsocialized dogs, ad infinitum. Developing relationships with the right people for every possible scenario is vital.

 

Act fast. Got a dog that you know fits a particular rescue’s demographic? Call them immediately. Do NOT wait around for a week to see if a shelter foster wants the dog. Do NOT let the dog sit around the shelter to see if maybe you can get him adopted out. First, rescues love it when they can get a dog before he has spent time in the main kennels of a shelter. Why? Less exposure to diseases. No matter how clean the shelter, the constant influx of animals from unknown backgrounds means that disease exposure is inevitable. The faster the dog gets out, the less likely he is to get sick. Second, if you have an animal that a rescue will take, get him out! It frees up kennel space for another animal. And for God’s sake never let a sick or injured animal wait.

 

Respect your rescue contacts. Remember that rescues are run by volunteers, who use their own time and money to take care of these animals. They may have to take off work, drive long distances, line up transport volunteers and vet appointments, find foster homes, raise money for treatment, and make a host of other arrangements. So it’s never a good idea to suddenly tell them that the animal is no longer available, especially after they’ve already made those arrangements or driven to pick the animal up. Rescues don’t have to work with your shelter. There are animals in need everywhere. Rescues are helping you by moving animals out of your shelter and off your books as live releases. Help them by being courteous and responsible.

 

Communicate! Answer your phone. Answer your email. Answer your smoke signals. Whatever it takes. Again, rescuers are volunteers who are usually working around jobs and other responsibilities. If you want them to pull animals from your shelter, then reply to their messages promptly. Text, email, phone, send a carrier pigeon. If you wait around, that rescue with one foster placement open may find another dog to give it to, and you lose out. And while you’re communicating, be honest with them about the animal. Tell them every single thing you know (except where to find the previous owners, if any). If you know something about the animal’s health or behavior and don’t communicate it, you are putting the other animals and possibly the people in the rescue at risk.

 

All of this would seem to be basic common sense, but recent happenings at the two local shelters under Care Corp management suggest that perhaps common sense is not so common. I’ve heard tales of shelter employees being rude, rescue volunteers being turned away by the same shelter that approved transport arrangements, designated networking employees refusing to answer messages, breed rescues getting calls to ask them to take a dog who’s been there for days and then discovering more of the same breed when they get to the shelter, rescues being interrogated about why they will or will not take a particular animal…the list goes on and on.

 

It should be such a simple equation. Every animal that goes to rescue equals an open kennel space in the shelter and vet bills that get paid by the rescue instead of the shelter. Rescues also have the ability to work individually with their animals and adopters to ensure the best possible placement for the animal. If your objective as a shelter is maximum live release outcomes, then you should be bending over backwards to accommodate rescue volunteers. Rescues are a valuable, crucial link in the life saving chain. Be the shelter they want to work with.

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The First Amendment for Shelter Volunteers http://shannonlhill.com/uncategorized/the-first-amendment-for-shelter-volunteers/ http://shannonlhill.com/uncategorized/the-first-amendment-for-shelter-volunteers/#respond Wed, 18 Mar 2015 22:03:34 +0000 http://shannonlhill.com/?p=1119 Recently it has come to my attention that Care Corp has taken up trying to get rid of volunteers who speak out about their concerns or criticisms. Some volunteers have been directly confronted and questioned about their posts to social media. Some have simply been “not allowed” to pull a dog in need that the […]

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Recently it has come to my attention that Care Corp has taken up trying to get rid of volunteers who speak out about their concerns or criticisms. Some volunteers have been directly confronted and questioned about their posts to social media. Some have simply been “not allowed” to pull a dog in need that the previous management would have been delighted for them to take. Social media pleas go out, arrangements get made, and then poof, the animal is mysteriously not available.

 

And then the new foster contract suddenly appeared.

 

A little background…for years, fostering through MCAS has been a very informal arrangement. Most fosters simply signed a basic agreement similar to an adoption contract. Many never signed anything, because they were well known to the management. They were simply listed in the computer as the animal’s foster.

 

I don’t think that any volunteer objects to a reasonable foster contract spelling out the foster’s rights and obligations. In fact, it would be a good thing to have clearly delineated expectations on both sides. But there is one section in the new contract that is definitely not reasonable. (I have photographs of this contract, and I have retyped the relevant section to make it easier to read. The following is a verbatim reproduction of the text in the photograph.)

 

Here’s the section in question:

 

“Resignations and Terminations

 

  • If you choose to resign from the MCAS Foster Program, please notify shelter management to be removed from the Approved Foster list.

 

  • MCAS reserves the right to terminate or suspend any individual from participating in the Foster Program. Reasons for termination include, but are not limited to the following:

*Failure to follow MCAS Foster Program guidelines.

*Failure to submit adoption application and fees to MCAS within 7 days following the adoption of a foster animal.

*Abuse or neglect of animals.

*Misconduct with or abuse of staff, volunteers, or citizens including the use of social media to berate or abuse.

*Falsification of MCAS records, including the Foster Application.

*Theft.”

 

Most of this sounds pretty reasonable. But there is a huge, glaring problem right in the middle.

 

“Misconduct with or abuse of staff, volunteers, or citizens including the use of social media to berate or abuse.”

 

Folks, this is a First Amendment Issue. Here’s what the First Amendment says. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (http://constitution.findlaw.com/amendment1.html#sthash.oKs7a0YV.dpuf)

 

Now, I’m no lawyer. But the good news is that a host of judges and lawyers have explored this issue for us. This is a county shelter. That means that it is a government entity, even under a private management contract. And a law commonly called Section 1983 protects citizens from retaliation by government entities AND by private management companies in response to complaints, questions and criticisms. Court cases specific to animal shelters have determined that banning or limiting the access rights of volunteers in response to criticism is a violation of First Amendment rights and a violation of Section 1983. (See http://bit.ly/STBP0B for details.)

 

As recently as January 2015, a Maryland court ruled in favor of volunteers who were subjeted to retaliation for criticizing a shelter. (http://bit.ly/1Cov6Vn)

 

And while I’m generally not a fan of Nathan Winograd’s politics, he’s an excellent source of information on animal welfare laws. Check out his letter to another jurisdiction that tried to add something similar to their volunteer agreement. (http://bit.ly/10exPNJ)

 

So dear friends, volunteers, fosters, have you complained about the management or animal care practices or rules or conditions OR ANYTHING ELSE at MCAS (or any other shelter), and then suddenly found yourself unwelcome? Have you stated your support for those who oppose Care Corp, and then suddenly found it impossible or unreasonably difficult to pull, transport, take pictures, walk dogs? Have your rights as a volunteer been affected in any way as a result of the exercise of your First Amendment rights?

 

Whether your unwelcomeness is expressed directly (verbally or in writing) or by the shelter making it impossible for you to continue by randomly making animals unavailable, arbitrarily changing rules, making rules that don’t apply to everyone, or any other such hostile behavior, you do have recourse. Call your County Commissioners. If necessary, retain counsel. Document everything.

 

Seems to me that Care Corp still thinks the unwanted volunteers will get tired or bored and wander off. I know they won’t. These rejected volunteers are dedicated. Passionate. And determined. And they know their First Amendment Rights.

 

My fellow volunteers, whatever your affiliation, those rights are there for a reason. Use them. I know I will.

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