by Judith Fairly -
When I read about the crisis at the animal shelter back in January,I called City Manager Jerry Blaisdell and Steve Bates, who was then Director of the shelter. I asked what I could do to help. Both of them advised me to become a shelter volunteer.
That was almost 3 months ago. In the interim, the volunteer program was abruptly canceled. Rescue groups were told they couldn’t photograph animals at the shelter in order to network them. Volunteers who have given generous amounts of their time and money over the past six years were no longer welcome.
Speaking at the City Council meeting on March 27th, some of these volunteers voiced their concern that the ban on volunteers coincided with the return of the shelter manager, Dianne Daniels, who had been absent on some sort of leave for a number of weeks. The City refused to tell them what kind of leave she was on. It seemed like a reasonable question; after all, as an employee of the City of Weatherford, the taxpayers pay her salary.
I visited the shelter last week.
I hadn’t been there for awhile. I always leave with a sense of despair for all the animals who are certainly going to die. Last week was no different. There’s a sense of sadness and hopelessness that hangs in the air.
The kennels were full. Most of them were littered with feces. The stench was horrible. The manic energy of the dogs and sense of desperation indicated that none of them had been out of their kennels for some time. That’s a service that the volunteers provided — one dedicated volunteer walked them every day.
The animals in the cat room hid or slept when I approached their cages, a sure sign of stress.
No one at the shelter greeted me or even made eye contact, with the exception of one of the Trustees. That’s another service the volunteers provided — they knew the animals and helped guide visitors to pets that might be a good fit for their families. There were two Parker County animal control officers on the premises, one of whom was helping a Trustee bathe dogs.
One of the shelter employees told me they’re getting 150 dogs every 5 days. You can imagine how that translates into an unconscionably high kill rate. I asked if I could foster one of the dogs. I was told that you have to be a volunteer to foster. But there’s no volunteer program. I learned that you can foster through an approved 501c3 rescue. I asked if I could have Barbara Pursley at Parker Paws, which is a 501c3 group, pull the dog so I could foster it. They told me she could only pull cats. Why, I asked? “Because she quit.”
Why does the city prefer to kill those animals than to let those of us who want to help do so?
The Assistant City Manager, Sharon Hayes, is now in charge of the shelter. She tells me that there will be no volunteers at the shelter until the city comes up with a volunteer agreement. I’ve emailed a copy of the very practical volunteer agreement used by the City of Austin to City employees twice. At the City Council meeting this week, neither Hayes nor Blaisdell were able to give an indication of when the volunteers will be allowed to return.
So I ask again, why does the city prefer to kill all those healthy, adoptable animals when there are alternatives: Extending shelter hours, using the donated adoption trailer to bring shelter animals to the community, working with rescue groups, a foster care program, a high volume, low cost spay/neuter clinic, Trap/Neuter/Release program for feral cats, community involvement, pet retention programs, medical and behavioral rehabilitation, a program that welcomes volunteers, and most importantly, a compassionate shelter manager.
After 3 months, there is still no volunteer agreement. The Magna Carta, the foundation of parliamentary law that inspired the framers of the US Constitution, was written in four days in 1215. The Declaration of Independence, perhaps our nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty, was drafted by Thomas Jefferson in seventeen days during the summer of 1776.
I share other citizen’s outrage that the City Manager, who has presided over the abuse and mismanagement at the shelter, has been charged with investigating what went wrong. That’s like asking the fox that killed your chickens to rebuild your henhouse.
Mr. Blaisdell’s lethargic response to this crisis has been to scapegoat Parker Paws volunteers with nonsensical and defamatory charges rather than to accept responsibility for what happened on his watch. Dianne Daniels, the shelter manager who ordered the killing of 40 healthy puppies before Christmas needs to be held accountable. Retire her or reassign her NOW.
And why doesn’t the City Council demand accountability from the City Manager’s office? Who really runs the city of Weatherford — the City Manager, who serves at the pleasure of the City Council, or the Council Members who appointed him to his position? And I ask again: how many more animals are going to die while the City makes excuses?
If you agree with Judith, and want to be a part of the solution to this issue that has cast a shameful shadow over Weatherford and Parker County, sound off!!! Call your County Commissioner or members of City Council and express your outrage at the horrendous treatment of these helpless victims of apathy and complacency!