Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Advocates Seek Shelter Reform

In an effort to offer solutions to the problems at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C shelter in NC, I reached out to Lisa Easton – the whistleblower who reported the abusive photos – and to Samantha Laine, a local animal rescuer.  I asked each of them for a list of suggestions of how to bring meaningful reform to the shelter.  They each provided me with a well thought out list and gave me permission to share their ideas on the blog.  I hope these ideas could serve as a starting point for a discussion within the community about reforming the shelter.

Below is my summary of Ms. Easton’s suggestions.  Quotation marks indicate portions directly lifted from her document which can be read in its entirety here.

  • Terminate all employees visible in the abuse photographs as well as those who posted the photos on Facebook, made “funny” comments about the photos, and any other employees determined by the investigation to have been involved and/or knowledgeable of the abuse.
  • Replace shelter management team.  They haven’t taken responsibility for this incident nor have they accepted responsibility for the oops-killing of two family pets.
  • Specifically, shelter director Mark Balestra “advised employees to purge evidence [of online abuse photos] thus jeopardizing the integrity of the investigation”.
  • Mary Blinn is the on-site shelter vet who failed to provide care for the hairless ferret in the photos.  “This facility contracts Spay/Neuter services to the Humane Society of Charlotte.  Replacing Mary Blinn with a progressive veterinarian willing and able to perform routine surgery will not only save tax dollars but lower euthanasia rates.”
  • The shelter’s Public Information Specialist Melissa Knicely is paid $56,000 a year and yet “volunteers post adoptable animals on PetFinder while positive use of social media aka Facebook, YouTube and Twitter is prohibited”.
  • “Demand The City Council establishes an animal welfare subcommittee to focus on the reform of Animal Care and Control.  A citizen’s advisory board is needed to ensure accountability and transparency throughout a complete revision of sheltering operations, policy and procedures.  Ensure every animal is treated humanely at all times and all but the terminally ill and tragically injured are made available for adoption.  Working towards the goal of implementation of programs consistent with The Companion Animal Protection Act as published by No Kill Advocacy Center.”

Here is my summary of Ms. Laine’s suggestions for reform.  Again, quotes are items lifted directly from the original document which can be viewed here.

  • Make public the findings of the Internal Affairs investigation into the abuse photos.
  • Clarify the shelter statistics publicly available online.
  • Clarify the Pitbull stats since the shelter doesn’t adopt out Pitbulls.
  • “Animals are not given pre-euthanasia injection or oral medication to anesthetize prior to injection of substance which kills animal.  Animals — specifically dogs— which are considered potentially dangerous and liable to bite are “blanket jumped.” Given a “blanket party.”  Dog has blanket thrown over body, is jumped from behind by one worker while other worker pulls out animal’s arm and injects substance which kills. This if slip lead tightened around neck, yanked, then roped around muzzle does not work to restrain animal.”
  • Temperament test currently used by shelter is derived from Sue Sternberg’s testing protocols which have been largely discredited.  “Tests are performed by volunteers on the weekends. Tests are performed in a room without windows in close proximity/almost adjacent to the holding ward, where animals recently brought to shelter for processing are housed. These animals are in distress. In rooms leading off of holding ward animals are euthanized. These animals are in distress. Hence severe auditory and olfactory impact to animals being temp tested.”  Dogs not given 10-15 minute walk prior to the test which negatively impacts results.  A more appropriate temperament test would save lives.
  • Independent review of management needed.

I think it’s relevant to include here the shelter’s stats, as posted online.  In fiscal year 2009, they killed nearly 66% of the pets they took in – that’s close to 14,000 animals killed.  In fiscal year 2010, the shelter killed almost 65% of its pets – that’s just under 13,000 killed animals.  Fiscal year 2011, which began in July 2010, has been removed from the webpage in recent weeks – perhaps because no one was updating it.  The only month that had been filled in was July.  That month indicated a nearly 68% kill rate – just shy of 1300 pets killed.

Hopefully they will put the information for fiscal year 2011 back on the website soon, with the months of August, September and October filled in so the public can get an accurate idea of how the shelter is doing currently.  CMPD-ACC describes itself on its website as “one of the top ten agencies in the nation”.  As such, I’m sure they are eager to maintain accountability and transparency to the community they serve as well as AC shelters all over the country.

I attempted to contact Mark Balestra for comment before finalizing this post but haven’t heard back.  If I do, I will update this post or create another to reflect his comments.  In addition, the comments section is open to readers under the regular guidelines so if Mr. Balestra or anyone else from the shelter would like to respond, that’s an open avenue.

12 thoughts on “Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Advocates Seek Shelter Reform

  1. YB, while you did a fine job of challenging the city and the pound with an objective presentation, this just leaves me thinking, “So what?”

    There’s nothing new here. CMACC is just another example of backwards people running an operation they have no business being involved with.

    It’s quite clear this director, Mark what’s-his-face, is a lump who doesn’t have a clue how to the job he’s paid (with tax money) to do. That’s a clear indication his bosses don’t have a clue, either, and probably couldn’t care less.

    Nothing will change until the citizens stand up and scream at these boobs in a one single unified voice that they want a change NOW! A new manager, a new management team, and new employees. Clear them all out. They’re absolutely useless. Children could do a better job without any training at all.

    Anything short of that it’s gonna be more “same old, same old…”

    1. I would see it as more of a “So what?” if no one spoke out about the abuse or if no one tried to initiate a discussion regarding reform. To me, THAT would qualify as same old, same old. Exposing abuse and putting your name to it is no small thing. It’s so difficult in fact, that most people who witness animal shelter abuse keep quiet about it. That’s what the abusers count on. When someone brave enough to weather the storm does step up, the abusers typically try to paint that person as a disgruntled ex-employee or discredit them in other ways. Which is another reason why people don’t speak up. And so it continues.
      Speaking out is the first step toward breaking the cycle, and I applaud those willing to stand up for the voiceless pets in abusive shelter environments.

  2. what wonderful thoughtful ideas.. and what shocking information.. a “blanket PARTY”..?? how disgusting..just as bad as the pictures.. accountability is the key here.. and it looks as though no one is willing to step up to the bar.. it makes me ill to think of dogs being “evaluated” by the Sternberg torture system that kills so many needlessly..I have long thought she should be out of business.. glad to know I am not alone.. nice post.. great ideas.. hopefully follow up will be positive

  3. I know we are far from perfect at the shelter where I work, but we are making strides toward becoming a “guaranteed adoption” facility. Any staff member that took part in any kind of abuse, particularly with photographic evidence, would be fired on the spot. I’d also wager that any staff member caught giving positive comments about such photos would be out of a job as well.

    We also do publish our monthly stats – I think it helps hammer home to people how many pets are NOT finding homes, hopefully spurring more people to spay and neuter and prevent those unplanned litters. Or to help them realize that good breeding is a serious business, and if you don’t do it right, YOUR puppies could very well end up at a high-kill shelter.

    I understand having guidelines about how to appropriately post animals on social networking sites, but to me, no legitimate shelter would prohibit them from being posted at all. The goal of any shelter should always be to save as many as possible. We euthanize many animals where I work, but if any staff member can get an animal on our euth list out (unless they are clearly terminal – late-stage parvo puppies, mortally wounded by a car, etc.) we are encouraged to do so. I work mostly with cats, we have gotten some untouchable declawed kitties in where my boss will come to me and say that I need to get someone to come for them by the end of the day. I don’t always get them out, but I usually am given the chance to try.

  4. Unfortunately many shelters have waivers that have to be signed across the country which states if you have a problem with anything come to “administration” and don’t whistleblow is essentially what the waiver is asking one to do. Why is that necessary in of all places an animal shelter. These waivers need to be stopped. This is the final stop for many animals and a safe haven.

  5. I agree that it’s no small thing for a shelter employee to step forward and report abuse. It’s also the first step toward reform … and this is how several shelters end up overhauling the old guard and moving toward no kill.

    Never underestimate the power of publicity and public pressure. If you want to email Charlotte-Mecklenburg PD and City Council calling for shelter reform, you can do so here:

  6. This is a disgrace and I’m so glad you’re bringing it to light. A whole bunch of people at that house of horror, aka “shelter”, need to be fired.

    Here’s some contact info:
    Charlotte Police Chief, Rodney Monroe:

    Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx: 704-336-2241

    Charlotte City Council
    Warren Cooksey:
    Michael Barnes:
    James Mitchell:
    Nancy Carter:
    Edwin Peacock:
    Patrick Cannon:
    Andy Dulin:
    Patsy Kinsey:
    Jason Burgess:
    David Howard:
    Warren Turner:

  7. Ok. Ocean’s 11 time. “Are you in or out?” If we want answers to questions about Mr. Smith [YB post 11.29 “How did we get here?”] here’s where we start. We need help. From all of you. Please see links in this YB post: paragraph two “here” and paragraph three “here.” We all know there are many Mr. Smith’s in this country. It starts with this one.

    “… of the Public Information Officer (PIO) is to facilitate the flow of factual information from CFD t … requests for information and service from (but not limited to) the media, the business community, a … Public Information Officers…” Us/Pages/PublicAffairs.aspx – 43KB – 7/20/2010

    1. @Samantha

      “Are you in or out?” You know I’m definitely in! Readying documents for City Council….Please contact me!

  8. According to this document,

    Melissa Knicely is employed by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care and Control Division as the Public Information Specialist. If transparency and accountability are an important part of Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department’s Animal Care and Control Division their Public Information Specialist Melissa Knicely should be able to address any questions and/or concerns. She can be reached at 704-336-3627 or

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