Friday, May 16, 2014

LCAS (No Kill) vs. FAS (Greenhill) - One Volunteer's Experience With Both

Below is the written testimony of Sarah Pagen, who volunteered for LCAS when Rick Hammel was manager and Elizabeth Thompson was volunteer coordinator.  Sarah goes on to detail what it was like, volunteering at LCAS and the stark differences after Greenhill took over.  Sarah recently officially quit as a Greenhill volunteer for First Avenue Shelter (FAS).  Of her decision to quit she said, "I wanted to quit for a while now. Them killing so many animals really hurts my soul."

As a public community member, I was hesitant to take a neighbor's abandoned cat to the Lane County Animal Services (LCAS).  I was afraid that the "pound" would put her to sleep if no one adopted her immediately.  Such is the case in some places.   Her sister was M.I.A. as a foster home accidentally let the two cats out and they ran away due to a big dog residing there. This cat returned to where I had been feeding, sitting with and giving them fresh water...outside of her previous home.

I was determined to be there everyday to help make a difference in the cat's experience at the pound. I was withdrawn from the employees as I sat with the cat daily. I was skeptical of their intentions. I asked questions and requests into her care-taking like clean litter box, fresh water, soft and fresh blankets and good food.  Every cat there was allowed to come out, four at a time to prevent chaos, of their kennel and wander in the cattery room. 
My girl liked to rest atop of the kennels and look at the birds, people and other cats. I could tell that the cat that had returned to her previous home was missing her sister and resenting being locked in a kennel. I apologized daily to her.  She became withdrawn until the day before she was adopted.  She was playful, friendly and full of joy, in my opinion.  A nice couple with a farm adopted her as well as a male cat a few days prior to her adoption. 

It took a month for my girl to get adopted, but now, looking back, I realize that is not very long for a cat to be adopted from the facility.  I was continually asked to volunteer in the cattery as I also helped take care of other cats there while care-taking my girl.  I decided that I would volunteer and help my new cat and human friends.  I found myself going in whenever I had free time.  I realized that the help was needed and well received. 

One employee was overjoyed one day when I came in due to the lack of employees.  She had said it was like having another employee there.  I was able to do many jobs and help many dogs and cats by this time.  Employees took me under their wings and trained me for simple tasks that helped the animals. 

Because it was a County, government, run facility, they closed their doors at 6.  Not 6:01.  There was always a rush to get out and the doors and gates were locked frequently upon me.  They got used to making sure I was out before locking it up after a while. 

They treated me with respect and consideration. 

When animals that I knew, or not, were to be euthanized, I was consulted and asked to comfort the animal prior to the act.  I was so sad and asked why each time.  Why kill this one?  Is there nothing else that we could do for the animal?  In the whole World, is there someone that could help?  Didn't we owe it to the Creator of Life to sustain a life as best as we know how? I quickly found out that I
was not the only one with these thoughts.  I found out that the previous manager of the "pound" was a high kill manager in that he would kill animals to make space for the new animals coming into the facility.  That manager was dismissed and the new one was more of one that would support care and utilized resources in the community, state, etc. to give each life it's due health and lifespan.

Employees were full of dread when the news came of LCAS being shut down and a new owner would be found.  Greenhill Humane (GH) Society was mentioned from several mouths in assumption that they would take over.  I thought "what is so bad about that?" and continued my volunteering.  I attended several board hearings to put in my say along with other volunteers and employees/ex-employees of LCAS.  Other community rescue groups were there too.  Many people kept using the word "transparency". I had no idea what they meant.  Not until later when volunteering with Greenhill at their new facility called First Avenue Shelter (FAS). 

It did not take long to hear about 3 kittens who had just come in and were residing in the "isolation" area where volunteers are not allowed.   They had ringworm.  I had thought they would send them to the fosters who handle ringworm cases.  The kittens were quickly euthanized.  I found out that it was the new veterinarian brought over from Greenhill who made that decision.  I mourned, but still volunteered for the cattery. 

I was told by the Volunteer Coordinator for Greenhill that things would be run the same way at FAS.  I was reassured that I could continue on in the same manners.  Meetings with all of the volunteers and the Coordinator were set up to have all of our questions answered. 

One question was were we able to comfort animals before they were euthanized.  The Coordinator was reassuring, smiling and led all all to believe that we were an integral part of the workings and yes, we could comfort. 

One day at FAS, the Vet Tech alerted me of the vet's plans to euthanize an elderly, skinny cat who just came in. I was asked to comfort the cat. I pet the animal and realized that he was very frail and did not touch him afterwards.  I just prayed with my hands near his torso, but not touching.  He settled into a position, after his head was rubbed to his liking, with four paws under his body. It was like
he was praying too.  Then, alarmingly, the vet came up from behind and barked at me to not to touch this animal!  She told me that touching the animal was too stimulating.  She informed me that she had just given him a sedative and did not want touch to interfere with the sedation.  I replied that I thought that what I was doing was calming him.  She smiled and laughed and replied that it was the
sedative that was calming the animal.  I sharply withdrew my position.  I was very offended by her demeanor and her comments.  I felt very disrespected.  I am a massage therapist and calming beings is my job! 

I mourned and continued volunteering. 

I stopped volunteering for a couple of months.  I could not stand the heartache and disrespect.  There were more new employees than old.  The vet tech was dismissed.  The former Volunteer Coordinator from LCAS quit from her office job that they offered her in the transition to FAS.  It was demeaning to her.  The previous employees from LCAS all tried to their jobs as they were in the impressions to help each animal individually and to their best abilities.  FAS (Greenhill) denied their previous pathways and shut down viable opportunities for animals to be fostered, fund raised for, transferred, or to be alive. My heart felt squashed and the light to follow dimmed. 

I mourned and returned and put on my visors to only help the cats.  I trained people whenever I could.  I answered questions for the public the best that I could, but I was only volunteering once a week for two hours.  FAS employees no longer asked me to do more, but tried to explain to me what I had been doing for years.  They watched over my shoulder and it made me feel very uncomfortable.

 They brought in more volunteers during my shift to do my job while I was doing my job.  I confronted the Cattery manager and she just thought there was plenty of work to do.  I could do my job in two hours. I felt disrespected and discounted.  I found that I had to lead volunteers to the mid ISO and quarantine areas to socialize with animals.  Cats were let out in the cattery in huge numbers.  Volunteers were trained different ways so there was conflict and disarray in the way things were done.  Volunteers seemed to verbally set things straight within  the room.  Many other volunteers found it was too difficult to go through FAS' new hours long trainings just to do a job.  LCAS volunteers who were loyal and helpful stopped coming in, refused to go back while others did what they could do, like me, to help the animals. 

I started loathing going in for my shift due to the FAS employees.  I knew there was political issues with the new shelter, but I hate politics and just did my job.  I found such satisfaction in relating with the cats and dogs and people who I knew from LCAS time. 

In the beginning of the transition, 6 pm came and I was told that I could stay longer if I wanted.  By the time I quit my volunteer shift, FAS employees were trying to herd me out of the cattery at 5:50 pm.  FAS (Greenhill) changed the way the public could view or adopt animals. They limited time for animals to be viewed and shut down the adoption opportunities early.  It made no sense to me to limit animal adoption opportunities. 

FAS kept changing the routine set up so it was difficult to find materials and to adjust every week.  They even changed my job title to that of another job and dissolved my job even though they reassured me that I was to keep doing my job as it was. 
Moses was an adult cat from LCAS who was adopted then returned. Why? Because he pee'd all over things and the walls. He was a sweet boy. Stuck back in the mid ISO area, FAS let him out of the kennel to drink streaming water from a faucet daily. He was there for months and months. Finally, FAS had his blood tested and it came back with kidney disease. They put him to death. Did they ask me to come in to comfort him? Did anyone? I hope so. I heard that he had some "good food" (canned commercial, low grade, I am sure) before they injected him.  If I were a vet, I would know that drinking a lot of water and peeing everywhere were signs of something wrong. He was described as being unhappy, but when I had a kidney infection, I was too! No, my doctor did not put me to death. I could see a foster home or hospice care home, but not euthanization. This was a cherry on top of a pile of crap that I had dealt with at FAS. 

I had the view (from experience) that FAS (Greenhill) employees thought they were superior, too busy to chat, and non inclusive in decisions.  The first thing I told the Volunteer Coordinator when she called me to harass my freedom of speech on Facebook, was that I quit being a volunteer there. The rest is hearsay and perspective about "negative" comments made by me vs. their inability to hear the need for changes at FAS of the public, myself included. Anything that I have ever posted was my opinion and my perspective. I told her my opinion.  I am done with them.

In the end, LCAS was run really well for the animals of our community in that they got their needed shelter, medicine, chance to live, and a friendly, stress managed area. FAS (Greenhill) seems to offer less than that.  Is that because of the budget cuts of the County?  Why would they refuse fundraising in which former employees had found success? I would like to see the community's pound to be no kill.  That doesn't mean that there is no euthanization.  Only the animals that are a danger to humans or are in a state of dying and pain that cannot be managed.  FAS (Greenhill) abuses those guidelines.  They deny medicine for days.  They euthanize adoptable and treatable animals.  They deny kittens with ringworm a foster for health. They denied the elder cat a hospice home.

I am not full of answers. I wish that I were considered, however.  FAS is not the place for my time or efforts. I will help the animals in another way.

Sarah Pagen