Tuesday, July 4, 2017

[Contra Costa County] Keusch: Grand Jury Report on Antioch Animal Services Latest Document to Encourage Change

Depending on whom you ask Antioch Animal Services has needed change for some time.
Some say decades, some say years and others say they are doing just fine. Many rescue groups and animal advocates have come forward in the last couple of years with complaints of mistreatment of animals, lack of adequate management, no intake protocols, animals going unvaccinated, sick and injured animals not receiving medical care, microchips being missed when and if scanned , inhumane  overcrowding, no true lost and found  program or website, inadequate marketing and sometimes no marketing at all, adoptable animals being euthanized without ever being seen by the public, volunteers being bullied when speaking out about conditions, rescue groups not being allowed to pull animals from the shelter or not being allowed into the shelter at all.
Recently, a new Contra Costa Grand Jury Report was issued and it confirms a lot of what was being said by these rescue groups, volunteers and the public was in fact true.
According to the report:
  • Animal Animal Services provides below the recommend standard of care due to lack of staffing.
  • The shelter keeps its animals longer than other shelters
  • The shelter does not post photos of animals found or available for adoption
  • the Shelter has limited hours of operation
  • The Shelter does not have appropriate software.
Erin Pina co-founder of Furry Friends Food Relief Program says the report vindicates what has been said and now is the time to begin making appropriate changes.
“It was a bitter sweet moment for all of us, on one hand it was nice to be vindicated but on the other hand it hurts to see it written in black and white like that. We would rather it not be true but the fact is, it was  and has always been the truth, no matter how hard it is to hear or how bad others want to claim it’s a lie to save face with the city or protect their ego,” said Pina. “I however do see this as a chance for the city to redeem them self’s and do what is right for the animals and finally make the changes that have been suggested.”
Animal rescue advocate Kathleen Ellis explained the report highlights what most volunteers and animal advocates have stated for years.
“I am both sad and grateful that the report is finally out. Sad that it proves what most knew for such a long time regarding the egregious conditions and neglect that have been allowed to go on unchecked for such a long time,” said Ellis.  “But, I am grateful that they have agreed that major changes are needed including an experienced shelter director”.
It seems sadness yet hopeful for the future is the consensus.
One of the problems currently with the Antioch Animal Services is the lack of leadership and direction. There is little also little to no comradery between staff, volunteers and rescue groups.
In the most recent Grand Jury Report:
Currently, the Shelter is overseen by a police lieutenant, with no animal shelter or management experience, who spends about twenty percent of the time in this role. A Shelter Supervisor spends most of the day providing animal care, handling adoptions, and rescues. This Leaves little time to train or supervise staff.
The Shelter lacks written policies and procedures regarding animal care  to help new  hires or volunteers become familiar with Shelter operations. As a possible result, the Shelter experiences high staff turnover.
While the Shelter has a list of approximately 40 volunteers to help with routine tasks such as grooming, cleaning and dog walking, it has only 10-12 volunteers who can be counted on to work regularly.  If more volunteers were available, the Shelter ACA’s workload could be shared with some of the volunteers and, as a result, the animals would receive the amount of care and time recommended by the Guidelines
There is no formal community-based oversight committee that regularly visits and monitors animal welfare and Shelter conditions and provides regular reports regarding same to the Council.
Some animal advocates and rescue groups have had difficulty establishing collaborative relationships with the Shelter.
As someone who was a very loyal volunteer of Antioch Animal Service, I left in 2015 due to what I can only describe as feeling bullied. The bulling began once I started to ask too many question and would not leave suggestions as just suggestions.
It became apparent to me that my suggestion where viewed as stepping on toes and made a lot of people that I view as very complacent feel very uncomfortable about having to do more work.  I was torn between leaving for my own sanity and staying for the sake of the animals.
As with anything, working or volunteering at a facility you learn not only the ropes of how things work, but also who the people are and what their motivations are for being there. For example, some go to work and make a difference, others because its something to do, others for socialization, and various other reasons.
Needless to say, there was tension between those who wanted to work and others who had other motivations for being at the facility–it came down to having thick skin for those who wished to continue working there. The atmosphere and moral was not good and there would be days I would go home crying.
I decided it was time to leave and so I gave notice and returned my card.
Within weeks of speaking out about what needed to be changed, I began to hear stories about how I was fired because I didn’t follow rules and how I had stolen the key card that was actually given to me by management–it was both defaming to my character and slanderous.
After word began to get out, I stared being approached online and in person by other animals rescue groups and individual that had experienced the same things I did. With the help of some of these people and a lot of digging I came across a Citygate report from 2009, a UC Davis reports from 2014 and the city’s own strategic plan 2009-2012 after reading them all 1 thing became VERY clear there was no accountability in this department.
If all the reports are pretty in-line with each other and suggesting almost exactly the same things and they are not being changed, something is wrong! The city hired Citygate to come in and asses the shelter and asked for suggestion but then never changed things they suggested.
Antioch residents should be concerned because the City wasted money and little change occurred.
After countless meetings with the city manager, city council, the police department which included many animal advocates speaking out at council meetings, animal advocates finally were being heard.
The city asked Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) to come in and help and they have been here for almost one year.  ARF themselves had made many suggestion and even offered to pay for things out of grant money.
This past February, ARF asked for a part-time in-house vet to be hired. Four months later, no vet has been hired. It feels like one-step forward and two-steps backwards.  ARF has done some amazing things and I can say I think us rescuers all breathe a little easier knowing they are there but once the MOU (memorandum of understanding) is over and ARF leaves AAS we are back to the same place we started.
I am hopeful that with a new police chief, new city manager and new council members the buck will not be passed and the city will this time change the things that need to be changed.
The citizens and animals of Antioch will see a brighter day and I feel like the sun is just about to peek from behind the clouds. But most importantly, moral needs to be changed and volunteers should be embraced, not ran out of town by bullies.
The Grand Jury Report is just the latest document shedding light on what those close to the situation already know.
July 2, 2017
By Kristy Kusch

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