PAWS Pueblo is “a non-profit 501 (c)(3), privately funded animal shelter that does not euthanize healthy animals”, per their website. The shelter also describes itself as having “a 30-year history of humane dog care”. Earlier this month, I received a thoroughly documented packet of information from Tonya Barker who was a member of the board from 2007 until she resigned this month. She alleges a pattern of neglect at the shelter and provides a large number of examples. I’m going to touch upon several of them here. In addition, I reached out to the shelter for comment and spoke with two of their executive board members – Marilyn Thompson and Chris Comins. Ms. Comins is the shelter manager. I will be including responses from them regarding the allegations throughout the post.
Ms. Barker posted pets on Petfinder for the shelter which hadn’t been done previously. When she started, she states she “was given a list of dogs with 32 names on it. Almost all dogs were long term – 14 years, 10 years, 8 years etc.” Ms. Barker reportedly had great success in adopting out these dogs.
Ms. Thompson says the current shelter population is 32-40 dogs including 3 dogs who have been there for over one year. They are not currently admitting dogs. When I asked how many dogs had been there over 6 months, Ms. Thompson was unable to answer and explained that the shelter does not have computerized records. The shelter’s annual budget is $110,000.
Ms. Barker describes the PAWS shelter as consisting “primarily of outdoor runs with gravel”. She also states there are some indoor runs and some with indoor-outdoor access. The kennels flood when it rains. I asked Ms. Thompson if the shelter description was accurate and she said it was and that they were looking forward to building a new shelter. When I asked her specifically about dogs being kept in flooded kennels she replied with a question of her own: “Does it rain in South Carolina?”
There are some of the cases Ms. Barker has documented:
Boris lived in an outdoor gravel run at PAWS for 9 years. He was visibly disfigured due to an autoimmune skin disorder documented in a veterinary report as Pemphigus erythematosis/Discoid lupus erythematosis. The veterinary document, dated 2-10-09, indicates Boris was prescribed medications and contains the following instruction: “Keep out of direct sunlight as much as possible.” Ms. Barker states Boris’s outdoor run only got shade for a few hours in the afternoon if the dog stood next to the wall. Otherwise, the dog was in the sun during daylight hours. The disease spread and Boris was euthanized in June 2009 without seeing the vet again. Ms. Thompson did not remember this dog. She did state however that if a vet had directed the shelter to keep a dog out of the sun, they would have complied.
Shadow came to PAWS at the age of 4 months and lived there for 10 years. She leaked urine the entire time but was never treated for the problem. When adopted at the age of 10, Shadow was taken within a week to a vet for treatment and the vet documented “chronic urine scald” on her pelvic area. Ms. Thompson did not remember this dog. She did however suggest the possibility that the chronic urine scald could have occurred after the dog was adopted and before the vet exam. In the case of Shadow, this would have been a matter of days.
In reviewing the shelter statistics provided by Ms. Barker for the 5 year period covering 2006 through 2010, PAWS takes in an average of 277 dogs per year. The shelter lists only about 5 dogs per year as “deceased”.
You’ll notice that Ms. Thompson did not remember any of the above dogs. I stopped about halfway through my list and remarked that apparently she was not “hands-on” at the shelter. She assured me that she was and although she didn’t visit the dogs as often as she used to, she still interacts with them regularly. Ms. Thompson offered to write down all the cases I was inquiring about, check the shelter records and get back to me.
In the meantime, I couldn’t help thinking it would be much easier to simply talk to the shelter manager who would know the dogs. Ms. Barker gave me a phone number to contact the shelter manager, Chris Comins. When I reached Ms. Comins, she asked me for the names of all the dogs I wanted to know about and said she knew them all. She only offered comment on one dog though – Trigger (the dog who died after eating his bedding). She stated that the bedding could have been ingested before he came to the shelter. I asked her if the dog had been seen at PAWS with shredded bedding and she said that was possible since puppies sometimes do that. Ms. Comins said she would get back to me that day but did not. She did e-mail me late that night however indicating she would get back to me in the next couple days but I never heard from her. I never heard back from Ms. Thompson either.
Some may look at PAWS Pueblo and say that shelters who call themselves “no kill” can not be trusted to provide humane care for pets. But this would be unfair to the many excellent no kill shelters who have a solid history of taking good care of their animals. As quickly as we condemn kill shelters who don’t reflect our values as a humane society, so too must we condemn any shelter – whether it uses the label of “no kill” or not – which does not reflect our values.
Comprehensive shelter reform legislation solves the problem of shelters which do not meet societal standards by removing the discretion of shelters to harm or kill pets in their care. This is why legislation such as Oreo’s Law and CAPA are so important. But how do we get there? What can the compassionate animal advocates of Pueblo – or those in other cities with shelters that do not reflect the values of a caring public – do to effect change? Stay tuned for a follow up post.