By Judith Fairly -
This is an election year. In a matter of weeks, local residents will have an opportunity to exercise their right to vote. Historically, the turnout for city elections has been cringingly low, which works in favor of the incumbents. I’m sure those on the City Council who are up for re-election are counting on that.
What is most remarkable about the Weatherford City Council meetings I’ve attended over the course of the past three months is the amount of time the current City Council has devoted to evading questions about events and actions by employees of the Weatherford/Parker County Animal Shelter and making excuses for the City’s inaction via bland platitudes, deferring instead to the City Manager, whose habit of engaging in rambling feats of oration never addresses the questions put to him.
In a shorter span of time, the City could have accepted responsibility for events that led to the crisis at the shelter, engaged former volunteers and county residents in an honest dialogue to address our concerns, and devised a plan not only to fix problems that caused this crisis but to move forward with an improved shelter supported by the community. By casting us in the role of adversary and stonewalling our attempts to understand what has happened at the shelter, the City’s ill-advised course of action has succeeded only in fomenting suspicion about their motives, in highlighting questions of mismanagement, and in generating more ill will.
Sharon Hayes, the Asst. City Manager who is currently responsible for the animal shelter, presented a report at the last meeting of the City Council. She attended a No Kill workshop last month in Dallas, as did a member of the shelter advisory committee and a number of former shelter volunteers. Though none of them went to the workshop, Hayes says that the shelter staff is “behind” WCPAS going No Kill.
Hayes has been saddled with the responsibility of explaining euthanization numbers at the shelter, particularly the cull of adoptable dogs and puppies that had been vaccinated and cared for in preparation of Christmas adoptions. She lassoed a panoply of statistics and regulations to justify an act that the shelter manager, Dianne Daniels, described as a need to “assert control” over the shelter. As I understand it, this was an act of terrorism and not a necessity, intended to demoralize the volunteers and to exact revenge on Barbara Pursley at Parker Paws for not giving Dianne Daniels money she wanted to build a bird aviary at the shelter. (A shelter visitor will note the large number of birds at the shelter who are not available for adoption.)
At that same meeting, the City invited a friendly veterinarian to discuss the ubiquity of Parvo and thereby exculpate the City in the recent deaths of puppies at the shelter. I don’t dispute that what he told those gathered at City Hall was accurate, but what the City did not know (but should have) or did know (but withheld from those gathered) was that Dr. Kaiser had established protocols when she was the shelter vet that were effective in reducing and/or eliminating Parvo during her tenure. That’s the point of having an experienced full-time veterinarian on the shelter staff, a position that the City says it can afford but doesn’t think it needs. I continue to be astonished that no one at the City — with the sole exception of Heidi Wilder — has ever spoken to Dr. Kaiser to learn why she chose to sever ties with the shelter.
I can tell you why. Dr. Kaiser was undermined by shelter employees who didn’t have her credentials, experience, or education, and the City Manager allowed it to happen. She felt that she was ineffective because she wasn’t allowed to do the job she had been hired to do. Like Barbara Pursley, she could no longer endure the unremitting hostility from shelter staff which the City Manager knew about and therefore condoned.
In what can only be construed as psychological projection (in which a person ascribes his own unacceptable thoughts and actions to other people, including blaming them for his own failures), the City Manager has talked about those volunteers creating a “hostile working environment” for shelter staff. How is that even possible? And, if the volunteers were indeed “disruptive” to shelter functions, why weren’t they disciplined or ask to leave? That would suggest a lack of oversight by the City Manager’s office and poor management at the shelter by Dianne Daniels.
If only the City made similar efforts to police its own paid staff. Dr. Kaiser and Barbara Pursley and her volunteers are gone but the City still employs one person who was arrested for impersonating a police officer, another who used Dr. Kaiser’s license to order drugs, and a shelter manager who has taken a “stress” leave twice this year. I would think that these are not the sort of people who should be in positions of authority over voiceless, helpless animals, many of whom are already victims of abuse.
Throughout the crisis dating back to January at the Weatherford/Parker County Animal Shelter, the City of Weatherford has responded to community demands for answers with statistics, procedures, and evasions. The well-being of the homeless animals in care of the shelter whose well-being should be at the forefront of this controversy was never addressed by the City except on the rare occasion where one of its number felt compelled by public criticism to mumble some cliché about how much they “cared” about them. Without those animals, shelter staff would not have jobs, nor would the City be receiving close to half a million dollars every year from residents of the County to care for them. It’s a classic case of losing sight of the forest for the trees — the City doesn’t seem to get that this is about those animals and not about them. Its message to those of us in the community who have been calling and writing the Mayor and members of the City Council, attending City Council meetings, and asking how we can help is that it cares more about saving face than it does about saving lives.
As I understand it, Hayes believes that it is going to take a lot of changes in the volunteer program to lower euthanization rates at the shelter. I’ve spoken with former Parker Paws volunteers who believe that the City’s new volunteer policies are intended to make them feel unwelcome. If the shelter is unable to recruit volunteers who meet the new criteria, it can blame the community for its own failures. But an active group of volunteers is only one part of the No Kill equation.
Volunteers have been banned from the shelter since late in February. I picked up a golden retriever named Owen to foster on Easter Sunday that had been at the shelter for a couple of weeks and was in danger of being euthanized for lack of space. During that time, no one at the shelter contacted Golden Retriever Rescue, an organization that can be relied upon to take dogs from the WCPAS. I fostered Owen through Parker Paws, which pays for vetting their rescues; when Barbara Pursley of Parker Paws brought Dr. Pamela Kaiser, the former veterinarian at WCPAS, to check out Owen the next day, they discovered a phone number scratched on his tag, the owner was located, and Owen was returned to him. I can say with great confidence that, had the Parker Paws volunteers been at the shelter, Owen would not have languished at the shelter for several weeks to the point of near-euthanization.
The appointment of Dustin Deel as Interim Shelter Manager can only be viewed as a positive step forward. But “interim” is a worrisome designation because of the City’s refusal to comment on whether Dianne Daniels will return as shelter manager. In my favorite moment of vaudeville at the last City Council meeting, that question was put to the City. The mayor looked to the City Manager, then down the row of council members to the City Attorney. It was obvious that no one wanted to say anything on record. The buck was passed back to the Mayor, who lobbed it back to the City Attorney. It took Mr. Zellers several moments to close his laptop and adjust his microphone. The audience held its collective breath and waited for an answer. Mr. Zellers leaned forward and said, in a deliberate manner, “I don’t know.”
I hope that Dustin Deel will be allowed to succeed as shelter manager, lowering euthanization rates and restoring the community’s faith in the shelter. I hope that the City will not hamstring him from making any changes that might highlight the failures of the past. I hope the shelter staff steps up and supports him.
I don’t understand why the City of Weatherford embraces failure. I don’t understand why it blames residents for its failures. I don’t understand why it uses fear of failure as an excuse to maintain the status quo, instead of doing the right thing. At the animal shelter, the status quo equals death for the thousands of healthy, adoptable animals that could make it out alive if the City mandated that the shelter embrace No Kill concepts, as other cities large and small across Texas have done. If she was paying attention at the No Kill workshop, Sharon Hayes should have learned that zeroing out kill rates at the shelter is more than just “a goal we need to be looking forward”; it’s achievable. And it’s achievable now.