I know some of you have been following the story of this Shelter Pet of the Day kitten from earlier this week. I want to bring it to the forefront because this cat’s life matters.
From a comment by reader Kristi, this is part of a plea from a shelter volunteer that was posted online:
The little black kitten ID 11/26-4886 has an amazing story. He was 15 feet down in a narrow well shaft, our on call officer rescued him over the Thanksgiving holiday by lowering a net with a can of cat food [in it]…
When I look at this baby cat’s face and hear how he was rescued, I immediately think ADOPTION BOOM! Typically, this is exactly the sort of local interest story the newspaper and/or radio and/or TV station will pick up. (And the Henry Daily Herald already has a Pet of the Week feature so they’d be first on my list to contact!) Many people will run down to the shelter to save the Well Kitty but of course there’s only one of him. It’s up to shelter staff to turn all the Well Kitty adopter-wannabes into Other Kitty adopters.
First we need a better picture – not one where he’s in his litter box in a cage. Second, we need a great blurb for the media. I’d want to highlight the compassionate actions of our own ACO who went out on Thanksgiving to fish this kitty out the well. And of course mention what a wonderful pet Well Kitty will be for someone. And most importantly, put in a word for Well Kitty’s friends and neighbors at the shelter – each with their own special story and all of them ready to interview you for potential future cohabitation arrangements. While the director works on this, the staff and volunteers can rush around putting that extra sparkle on the place – rhinestone collars on the black cats, spit shine on everybody, everything tidy and in its place. Make sure we have plenty of adoption applications, clipboards and pens on hand. And don’t forget the dogs. Some people may hear about our kind-hearted ACO and feel motivated to come down and look at the dogs since they’ve been thinking about getting one recently. Lots to do and so exciting! Well Kitty is going to get a home and hopefully lots of other shelter pets too!
But that’s just me. Apparently what happened in real life is a shelter volunteer got a picture of the cat in his litterbox and posted it on Petfinders with his story. From the shelter director, we got a resounding meh. And Well Kitty, according to commenters claiming first-hand information, got needled with Fatal Plus, along with a bunch of other cats. Valerie, the reader who submitted Well Kitty for Shelter Pet of the Day, contacted the shelter at Henry Co to try to follow-up on him. This is what she sent me:
I asked about the kitten by id number and the person who answered the phone (Cindy) said he was “not available”. “We don’t have any more 11/26s anymore.” I asked what had happened to him and she said that there was “no way to go back and look”, and she was “just filling in” and would transfer me to her boss, which she did. The boss (Geri Oder?–not sure of the spelling) repeated that the kitten was not available and told me that they are “not computerized”, so the records are all on paper, filed by month, not by id #. I mentioned that this kitten had fallen down a well, but that didn’t ring a bell with her.) She said that you could file an Open Records request, which would require her to “pull an employee off their job” to look for the paperwork pertaining to this kitten by hand, something she seemed a bit miffed about. Never mind that it is a state law that the public has a right to know, and hence part of her and her employees’ job. I inquired about the cost of such a request since she indicated that there would be one and she said that it would reflect the pay of her lowest-paid employee, which was $13 per hour. I asked approximately how long it might take to retrieve this information and she said that they handle 500-600 animals per month and the employee would have to sift through all files by hand, but didn’t give me a time frame for how long that would take.
She said that you’d have to “come down” to file an OR request, but my understanding is that they can be done by mail or email and that fees must be reasonable and that if you wanted to look through records in person they have to provide a place where you can do that at no charge.
So, do you want to do an OR request?
Several things here bothered me. First, the director didn’t remember a kitten her own ACO had fished out a well on Thanksgiving? This should have been the shelter celebrity cat! Second, no one would need to go rifling through hundreds of records if they simply filed them by date and/or number. It seems illogical to think they use a “filing system” akin to tossing their records into the air and letting them fall where they may. Why would a shelter do this?
For background information on the Henry Co shelter, I contacted Nathan Winograd who went there a little over 5 years ago. What he told me about the shelter was shocking:
I did go there back in 2005, October or November-ish. I harassed them to close down that ghastly gas chamber. I think they ultimately did, but I can’t take credit for that as they ignored most of my other suggestions. Keep in mind that I was not there at the invitation of the shelter. I was brought there by two community advocates/rescuers for one day. But I did meet with the county manager and the head of the shelter and ultimately sent them about 40 pages of recommendations if memory serves.
I am enclosing some photographs I took just to give you an idea of what the place was like. There is one where food is mixed with litter and cleaning chemicals, sitting right next to the gas chamber that was being held together with duct tape and the freezer where they put the bodies.
The physical facility was actually better than many I have seen. It was new, opened that year, though it was not built by an architect who specializes in shelter design. Although they had rooms where young animals were separated from adult animals, a separate room for sick animals, and a visitation room where potential adopters can meet and greet shelter animals, the internal programs and policies undermined any utility the building had. But that is not saying much to begin with. The dog kennels were much too small to allow species typical behavior, the HVAC system should have been designed as a closed system with 12-14 air exchanges per hour, with 100% outside air, and outdoor exercise facilities should have been incorporated into the design. There was a “feral pen” which was as filthy as it could be, with no protection from the elements. I begged them to close it down as every cat that went in there was killed (including friendly ones who were nervous on intake, misclassified as “feral,” and never reevaluated.) They had tons of office space. I suggested converting some of it to a “feral” room so that cats could be kept clean, safe, reevaluated, and protected from the elements. Ultimately, they refused and cats did end up dying of exposure.
I tried to get information about how many animals were being impounded, adopted, killed, etc. but they could not tell me as they were a paper-based system and no one had gone through them. All I had were “approximations” but what they did give me was downright scary. In one month, for example, they had somewhere in the neighborhood of only 40 adoptions, 500 or so killed, and about 65 or so animals who “died in kennel” or were missing. Not only is that 40 to 500 ration downright scary, but that last number is truly frightening. Deaths in kennel should never be above 1 or 2% of the total or you have serious neglect going on in the shelter.
They used to be computerized at one time, but since community activists were using the data against them, they actually got rid of the computer system (though they left the computers) and went to a paper based system. Whenever anyone asked for data, the response was an “approximation” as it would cost too much manpower to go through the individual animal records and provide that information. I kid you not. It was the first shelter and still the only one I have ever seen go from computerized data entry to a paper system. And it was by design to thwart community oversight.
The staff were terrible. The animal control officers were lazy and cruel, ignoring injured animals, not responding to neglect and cruelty calls in a timely manner or at all, while the actual shelter care was done by prison inmates with no supervision. The officers were required to clean in the morning and then go out on the road, but they didn’t clean while I was there. They sat around smoking cigarettes and talking before heading out.
The shelter did not vaccinate or do physical exams. And the officers did not try to assist needy animals. I remember during my visit that a dog with a bloody club foot (missing all toes) was brought in by a field officer who did not identify the injury or flag shelter staff. Another dog had an injury from a tight chain around its neck, and a third dog (a puppy) had bloody diarrhea and was a potential parvovirus risk to the rest of the population. No one cared. No one responded. They just sat there until I raised hell and called the head of public safety who oversees the shelter.
They complained of frequent parvovirus outbreaks which are almost always preventable. By employing a rigorous cleaning protocol, vaccinating on intake, and segregating puppies, a shelter can control the spread of parvovirus. They did none of these things. They didn’t even really clean or disinfect, just hosed down kennels. They cleaned cats and kittens without washing hands or using gloves. Water bowls were not cleaned and disinfected and I had to tell the inmates cleaning that day to give fresh water to the animals.
Even while I was there, some of the care I saw was incredibly hostile and I feared what it was like when I was not there. I remember seeing an inmate slamming a kennel cage door repeatedly out of frustration, further inciting an already traumatized dog because he could not restrain the dog. I also witnessed an inmate removing a cat from a cage with a catch pole secured around the cat’s neck and lifting the cat off of the ground, choking the cat. I had to order him to stop. I tried to explain to him (and later the head of enforcement) that control poles should never be used on cats. I later sent the head of public safety information on humane feral cat restraint systems which are incredibly inexpensive. If you are going to use a control pole (which you shouldn’t), but nonetheless, you loop it around the neck and a forearm, not just around the neck. He was literally hanging the cat to death.
For lost and found, they had a bulletin board where people posted lost animals, but no one in the shelter ever checked or matched them with animals brought to the shelter. It was a joke. I suggested procedures to increase the reclaim rate. They refused. Since they were not proximate to retail and residential traffic, I suggested partnering with local businesses like Walmart to do offsite adoptions. They refused. I suggested a TNR program. They refused. I suggested and provided them oversight forms to make sure animal control did their job, protocols were followed, and to increase save rates. They refused. I suggested off-the-shelf shelter management software (the computers were still there, just not being used), including free software in order to provide oversight. They refused. In the end I gave them about 40 pages or so of recommendations, everything from data entry to vaccinations to how to conduct physical exams to adoption policies to matching lost with found pets. I was completely ignored.
I forgot to mention that only staff had access to the feral pen in the back. A few months after I was there, the animal advocates who brought me out demanded that they close the “feral pen.” After they went public, several of the cats in the pen were found dead. The advocates managed to get one of the bodies which they took to a local vet for a necropsy. The cat had been poisoned by anti-freeze. Retribution for complaining? That was the consensus and it really caused a chilling effect. In fact, one of the advocates gave up afraid that any effort to help the animals would just cause more harm. Truly ugly.
Here are some photos Nathan took at the shelter during his visit:
Given this revolting report of what the shelter was like 5 years ago and how resistant the powers-that-be were to making changes, it’s not too surprising Well Kitty was killed there. But it should be. We should be shocked and horrified and disgusted any time a healthy, adoptable pet is needlessly killed in a place calling itself a shelter.
I’m sorry that this life was so brief and full of misfortune for you Well Kitty. Your life matters. Even if the people being paid to care for you didn’t recognize that, we do. What could have been for you, was not. You are loved. You are missed. You are remembered.
We are a humane society of pet owners who don’t want adoptable pets killed in shelters. Join us.