Friday, May 1, 2015

Guest Viewpoint -- Accountability key to animal shelter’s success

By Debi McNamara
For The Register-Guard
April 16, 2015

No Kill Lane County formed in 2012, when the Greenhill Humane Society began administering our taxpayer-funded First Avenue Shelter in Eugene. Since then, hundreds of employees, volunteers and community members have reported to us shelter wrongdoing they have witnessed.
Some have allowed us to post their testimonies on NoKillLaneCounty.org and our Facebook page. We are contacted frequently because people trust our discretion in reporting their disturbing experiences.

Many accounts of poor veterinary care have been reported, ranging from inadequate to abusive practices, and we’ve posted medical records proving this. No Kill Lane County finally took legal action to review Greenhill’s records. The Lane County district attorney recently ruled in our favor, finding that First Avenue Shelter is subject to public record requests. Greenhill’s attorneys are appealing this decision.

Here is a sampling of what volunteers have recently reported to No Kill Lane County: “There’s a shortage of staff, and most seem to work very hard and are sincere in their compassion for the dogs. Staff turnover seems high, as is volunteer turnover. I think foster [homes] are low in number due to Greenhill’s attitude and restrictions... .”

“The staff in the kennel has always been very nice to me, but several have told me they ‘can’t say’ when I ask them questions about specific dogs. Sometimes I try to find out about medical conditions of certain dogs and just get the run-around. Several I’ve been so concerned about — concerned that they will get killed rather than treated — but I can’t seem to get through for more info... .”

“Greenhill seems so withdrawn and covert — like they are separate from the public from whom they want money, not help. They appear to have an ‘us-and-them’ attitude and are constantly on the defense. Because this attitude was pervasive years ago when I volunteered at their facility, it isn’t going to change overnight with the current management.”

Greenhill’s policies and practices alienate community members. Greenhill turns away animals daily and has failed to help thousands of pets in jeopardy. But accountable and effective leadership could quickly transform this shelter culture to one that is able to generate and maintain an outpouring of community support.

Last September in Canon City, Colo., innovative leader Doug Rae became the director of a high-kill shelter, the Humane Society of Fremont County. Three months later, the shelter was saving 100 percent of adoptable pets.

New Mexico Pets Alive’s ambitious goal is to end the killing of adoptable animals in that state. With a rescue, foster and training program currently in place, the group is now enthusiastically building an adoption/rehabilitation center. Programs will include wards for animals with contagious illnesses and bottle-fed baby animals; pet retention assistance; and the PawCore program, which hires veterans to rehabilitate dogs.

The Nevada Humane Society’s stunning statistics overview showcases record numbers of volunteers and life-saving programs. Hiring a skilled director with no former shelter experience immediately changed the organization’s culture and practices. Honesty and accountability became the norm. Seven years later, enormous community support continues to pour in, with high numbers of volunteers, foster homes and donations.

Greenhill’s board of directors has a choice. A change in leadership and a commitment to transparency would reverse this downward spiral. Instead, taxpayer and donor dollars are being used to wage a desperate and costly legal battle to conceal legitimate public records, which Greenhill’s managers know will further expose their failings.

No Kill Lane County has launched a local and national fundraising campaign for legal fees and to pay for records requests. Our current requests include medical charts and records dealing with behavior assessments, euthanasia and animal transfers.

Our taxpayer- and donation-funded shelters should be accountable to the people they serve. The public has a right to know how animals were cared for in shelters and what became of them. Community members can — and should — expect from Greenhill a much higher standard of leadership and success for our shelter workers and homeless animals.

We are asking for community support in requiring of Greenhill honesty, transparency and accountability.
When public trust is restored, records requests won’t be needed — because there will be no doubt about the integrity and intent of our shelter board and management.

Our amazing community will then enthusiastically support a dynamic leadership team and staff who are capable of building and maintaining programs that provide a safety net for all of Lane County’s stray pets — a goal that Greenhill’s board of directors can choose to make a reality.

Debi McNamara is a spokesperson for No Kill Lane County