MCAS: The Wheels Are Turning

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:

We’re Tired of Waiting.

I had intended for tonight’s blog to be a feel good piece in honor of National Dog Day to promote the fundraiser for Smart Rescue. Unfortunately, I am far too angry to do a feel good piece, but I will do a short plea for them right here:


In the last couple of months, Smart has pulled literally dozens of animals from MCAS and other sources. The vast majority have been seriously ill or injured. Over 30 cats with severe upper respiratory infections. Animals who came with incorrect diagnoses that had to be properly diagnosed and treated by Smart’s vets. Animals who went untreated for several days or longer before Smart pulled them.


Smart has incurred massive vet bills in the effort to treat all of these animals in need, and now they need our help. The funds go directly to vetting the animals in Smart’s care. I’m attaching a link to their fundraiser here.


Please, please, donate and share. If every person who sees this donates $5 and clicks share, we could meet the goal within a couple of days. It’s an easy way to make a tremendous difference to a great organization.


By now you must be wondering what would make me angry enough to cut into my fundraising time. You guessed it. The problems at MCAS are heating up.


On August 11th, the County Commissioners voted UNANIMOUSLY in open court to commence proceedings to revoke Care Corp’s contract to manage the shelter. The motion that they voted on specified that there would be a thirty day notice period; I believe it’s required by the contract. Our volunteer community was thrilled by their decision, but we have quickly become very concerned by the lack of forward motion.


Fifteen days later, we have not been given an exit date for Care Corp.

Fifteen days later, the Commissioners have not announced an interim plan or a permanent plan.


Yesterday was the first Commissioners’ Court following the vote to revoke the contract. The courtroom was full of people who purported to be pro Care Corp. Where have these so-called supporters been for the last 8 months? Many of those present appear to have been current Care Corp employees and relatives of the management. I have to wonder…were those employees on the clock? Were they assigned this task? Was it voluntary? Were they being paid BY OUR TAX DOLLARS to leave their jobs at the shelter, spend half the day in Commissioners’ Court, and tell the Commissioners that they want Care Corp to stay?


First, of course some of them want Care Corp to stay. Care Corp signs their paychecks. They’re scared. What they may not realize is that most of them would be better off if their jobs became county jobs, because they would be protected by civil service rules. The many GOOD employees would have nothing to fear from a return to county management.


Second, if so many employees were in court, exactly WHO was at the shelter? Who was feeding animals, filling water bowls, vetting animals, cleaning kennels, handling adoptions, administering medications, and keeping animals safe? I’m told that there were exactly FOUR employees present in the entire shelter during Commissioners’ Court, which takes up at least half a business day.


Third, a longtime shelter employee was fired today. This employee was hard-working, devoted to the animals, and had been there for over seven years in a job that tends to be very high turnover. She was also one of the four employees who did not abandon her duties to go to Commissioners’ Court and speak for Care Corp. Coincidence? You decide.


The other group of people present to support Care Corp came from OPA, Care’s “designated nonprofit.” That status undeniably attracts donations, so of course they want Care Corp to stay. If Care Corp goes, they will almost certainly lose a lot of perks, including their exalted status as the “designated nonprofit.”


The way I see it, there is only one group with no financial interest in this mess: the volunteer community. Our volunteer community is large, diverse, well-informed, and dedicated. We fundraise, network, transport, groom, bottle feed, walk dogs, host events, do publicity work, educate the public, and often pay for vetting out of our own pockets. All we get out of it is the satisfaction of making this shelter the best it can possibly be, to save as many lives as possible.


Dear Commissioners, you listened to the volunteers and the unhappy public. You voted. Please don’t let us down. More importantly, don’t let the animals down.


Their lives matter.

Secure Your Pets!

This morning I was in my garage, about to leave for work, when two dogs suddenly appeared at my feet. They were wet, muddy, and very friendly. And I was wearing my good work clothes. As I looked at two wagging dogs with wide canine smiles, all I could think was “Well, hell.”


One of the dogs was wearing a collar with tags. The other may well have been, but she was so muddy (and very happy about it) that it was impossible to see. I was relieved to see that the tag had an address just a block or so away, and a phone number.


I called. No answer.


So with a martyred sigh, I decided to load the mud puppies into my truck and take them home, if I could figure out how to do so without getting covered in mud myself. I always carry large dog towels, so I covered the seat and then turned to call the visitors.


They were gone. I heard a commotion coming from the side of the house…One dog was sitting angelically between my house and the next, but her grubby companion was nowhere to be seen…until her head popped out from under my fence. That’s right, she dug INTO my back yard.


So I decided to try to call again while I backed the truck out. No luck. And no dogs! Where did they go now? I heard splashing sounds, and two mud covered faces popped out of either side of the culvert under my driveway. They looked at me. They looked at each other. And they dove back into the culvert.


It was time for Plan B, which is how I found myself knocking on a stranger’s door at 7:00 am. The door was opened by a very attractive man who was still half asleep. He was sure his dogs were in the back yard, but very politely agreed to go check. About 30 seconds later, he was back, and much more awake. I told him how to find his dogs, and he thanked me profusely in a delightful South African accent.


As I turned to leave, he asked me the all-important question: “ Pardon me, miss, but how did you know the dogs lived here?”


THEY HAD TAGS. And the tags had a phone number, as well as a physical address.


Had at least one of them not been wearing tags, I would have had to catch two waterlogged, mud covered dogs on an adventure, load them in my truck at the expense of my upholstery, haul them to the vet’s office to check for a microchip, figure out what to do with them while I went to work, arrive late to work, and hope that there might be a chip with current information.


Don’t get me wrong. I love microchips. But I’m also very glad that one of my early morning visitors had a tag I could read easily. Because she was tagged, her people were notified of where they were before they even realized that their pets had escaped.


I’m sharing this story for a couple of reasons. First, it’s further confirmation that stray dogs (and feral cats) gravitate to my house for reasons I don’t pretend to know. Second, it’s a serious reminder of the importance of keeping your pets secure.


The nice man thought his pets were safely enclosed in his newly fenced back yard. Turns out the new fence had some weak spots, and one of the dogs is a master escape artist, as well as an absolute mud hog. He was incredibly lucky, because the dogs showed up at my house. They didn’t wander onto the highway. They didn’t get injured or stolen. They had proper identification, and were reunited with their daddy in a matter of minutes.


Friends, never assume. Do your pets a favor. Check your fences for holes and weak spots. If they’re not chipped, get them chipped and register the chip. Make sure their visible identification is accurate and current. (My dogs wear stainless steel Boomerang Tags, which give me enough space to include my phone number, the vet’s phone number, and any medical conditions.)


I see missing posters in my neighborhood every week. Most of those pets never make it home. Please keep yours safe.

Commissioners’ Court: Really Big Day

Yesterday, August 11th, was Commissioners’ Court. The volunteer community has been to Commissioners’ Court many times to talk about the problems at the animal shelter. The commissioners have received literally thousands of phone calls and emails from the vast network of supporters and volunteers.


The group that showed up for court yesterday was the largest yet. Volunteers in black filled a large portion of the courtroom. There were also two speakers from Operation Pets Alive and one lone shelter foster in favor of the current management. Before the session ended, eleven individuals spoke against the recent changes at MCAS.


The story I brought before the court yesterday came from a lady who adopted a beautiful dog on July 31st. The dog had kennel cough – or so she was told by the foster and the shelter clinic. Ten days later, after multiple visits to the shelter clinic and one final tragic visit to her personal vet, her new pet was euthanized. Why? Because she was in the final stages of distemper. We all know that distemper happens. No matter what precautions are taken, sometimes it happens. In this case, the problem was that the shelter was treating the dog for simple kennel cough. The foster was told, and in turn told the adopter, that she would be fine in a few days.


A wrong diagnosis can have tragic consequences. And this time it did. For the dog who died. For the family who loved her. For the heartbroken eleven year old who had saved his money to pay for a bed, a collar, a tag, and an adoption fee. The family sent me a devastating photograph of the little boy sleeping beside his sick dog the night before she died.


Other speakers told their own tragic stories and addressed a variety of issues. One of the hardest speakers to watch was the young woman who had adopted a dog named Topher. Topher died of parvo a few days after adoption, and his adopter was there to express her dissatisfaction with how the shelter had treated both her dog and her family.


After everyone spoke, Commissioners’ Court adjourned to an Executive Session. We waited. And we waited. And finally they emerged to formalize the votes on the action items they had discussed. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what the other items were, because all I remember is that the commissioners made a motion to rescind the county contract with Care Corp in 30 days. And they voted unanimously to do so.


It’s the first time I’ve ever seen people cheer, applaud, and cry in Commissioners’ Court.


To every volunteer, adopter, and concerned citizen who wrote, called, protested, and attended Commissioners’ Court, your voice mattered. THANK YOU for taking a stand.


To Commissioners Clark, Riley, Meador, Noack, and Judge Doyal, THANK YOU. For listening. For investigating. For taking action.


It’s been a long eight months. And the work of rebuilding our shelter and our community is just beginning. There will be a 30 day transition period, and we don’t know yet exactly what form the transition or the new management will take. But it’s an enormous step forward.


“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

No Bandaids

Dear Commissioners,


At the last Commissioners’ Court meeting, you announced that you would be forming an “independent” committee to review the conditions at MCAS.


Gentlemen, I appreciate the gesture, but I don’t think you thought this through. You made a public announcement that an organization is under investigation and that the reviewers are coming, and you gave them plenty of lead time. Perhaps this explains why new policies are randomly popping up, animals are being “reorganized,” and entire categories of animals are suddenly no longer accessible by the public.


If my information is correct, stray hold intake has been moved to the “outback” kennels. This is a terrible idea! There are not enough kennels in the outback to accommodate a constant daily intake of stray dogs. This arrangement also makes no provision for animals that may be less able to support the weather. The limited number of kennels will force workers into mixing animals that should not be kenneled together; I have already seen pictures in which no less than four dogs of very different sizes were together in the same outback kennel.


Volunteers who have visited the shelter in the last week or so have consistently reported that it is impossible to get access to the stray hold areas. This is a serious problem. First, if stray hold is not readily accessible, it makes it harder for people to look for lost pets. Second, if volunteers can’t get in, these animals are less likely to be networked to foster homes, rescues, and adopters. Third, and most disturbing, we are hearing reports that county animal control officers are being told to stay out of the stray hold areas, as the animals are not their concern once they arrive at the shelter.


Commissioners, these animals are in county custody. They are in a public shelter. Therefore they need to be accessible to the public and certainly to animal control. Hiding animals away behind locked doors separates them from the volunteers who advocate for them and leaves far too much room for doubt and speculation. Transparency is the best form of accountability.


Another major concern is the new policy that no animal may leave the shelter to go to its adoptive home until it has been spayed or neutered. Yes, the law requires that all shelter pets be spayed or neutered. However, it does not require pediatric spay or neuter of very young animals. It does not require the spay or neuter of sick, injured, or debilitated animals. Best practices require waiting to spay or neuter until the animal reaches an appropriate age, weight and state of health.


Historically, MCAS adopters would schedule spay or neuter surgery within a few weeks of adoption. Simple follow up from a clerical employee and good customer service can ensure a high rate of compliance. Instead, MCAS is now spaying and neutering very young animals, old animals, sick animals, because ALL animals must be altered before going to their adopters. And they are doing so in an environment that is producing an unprecedented number of cases of distemper and serious respiratory illnesses. Pediatric spays and neuters are at exceptionally elevated risk of contracting additional illnesses, given that they naturally have weaker immune systems than adult animals, even without the additional bodily insult of surgery.


Gentlemen, these are lives. This is not an assembly line or a factory.


It’s obvious that some of these changes are poorly thought out responses to complaints.

*Volunteers complained about sick and malnourished animals. Those animals are now invisible. Apparently the thought process here is out of sight, out of mind.

*Volunteers complained about extreme delays for scheduling spay/neuter appointments. Now the animals can’t leave the shelter without being altered.

*Volunteers complained about poor sanitation. An employee “sanitized” one recent visitor by spritzing disinfectant on the concrete floor and directing the volunteer to walk through the wet spot. (I have to admit – this one is so absurd that it is actually funny.)


Commissioners, while I certainly respect the need for proper procedure, the time for committees and reviews has passed. While we wait for the completion of this review, employees are openly disparaging volunteers as “haters.” Potential fosters and adopters are still reporting rudeness and incompetence. And animals who could have been saved are still dying.


Pseudo-sanitizing the problems at MCAS won’t make them go away, any more than spritzing a little disinfectant on the floor will sanitize the shelter. You don’t cure gangrene with a bandaid.