Discussion: Letter from Greenville Pound Vet Responsible for Kitten Killing Policy

In the past week, since I posted about the Greenville Co pound’s horrific policy on kitten killing, readers have been sending me e-mail exchanges they’ve had with the pound’s veterinarian, Teri Worl.  Dr. Worl is the person reportedly responsible for the decision to take newborn kittens of certain weights away from their mothers to kill them.  I am sharing one exchange here, sent to me by Diana Riglet, director of Foster Paws Rescue.

Ms. Riglet told me she forwarded an e-mail she had received from Austin Pets Alive celebrating three years of no kill and wrote her own letter along with it. This e-mail was sent to Paula Gucker, assistant county administrator, Shelly Simmons, division manager of the Greenville Co pound, and board members of Foster Paws Rescue. The e-mail was then apparently forwarded by someone to Dr. Worl. Here is Ms. Riglet’s original e-mail:

On Thursday, February 20, 2014 11:14 AM, Diana Riglet wrote:

Hi Paula:

As you can see GCAC doesn’t have to “reinvent the wheel”, but simply model their life saving efforts after a successful shelter.

When I see a situation unfolding at the shelter as I write this e-mail I wonder how dedicated to No Kill GCAC actually is. The cat sick hold kennels are full and there are several cats with ringworm. Rescue groups have been advised to pull these cats or they will lose their lives. I don’t understand why the shelter isn’t also reaching out to the cat loving public for help. I posted on the shelter FB pet rescue page, not the shelter, me personally, for foster homes for these cats. I also posted on Foster Paws Rescue FB page. So far this week my group has pulled seven cats and we are trying to secure foster homes to pull more. FYI four of the sick hold cats we thought well enough to go into the adoption center at Pet Smart. Why then were these cats not in the adoption kennels where they could be seen and possibly adopted by the cat loving public?

Why doesn’t the shelter have a ring worm ward and a URI ward? The cat loving public will adopt these cats!

The question also begs to asked, if the shelter is vaccinating on intake and has revamped its cleaning and medical protocols why are we still seeing so many cats with URI and ring worm?

Finally it seems that some momentum has been lost in terms of moving toward increasing the live save rate at the shelter. I’ve seen your 2013 stats. If accurate, a 50% live cat save rate is unimpressive. If all the programs and services of the No Kill Equation had been implemented with gusto you would have a 90% or better live save rate by now. Many shelters have achieved just such a live save rate within a year or sooner of implementing all the programs/services. It doesn’t take five years! In fact those who say they’ll be No Kill in five years never achieve No Kill.

Diana Riglet

This is the response she received from Dr. Worl who, to reiterate, was not one of the intended recipients:

On Friday, March 7, 2014 8:39 AM, “Worl, Teri” <tworl@greenvillecounty.org> wrote:

Dear Diana,

I would love to respond to your concerns regarding the veterinary care of our animals. It would be much easier for me to do that if you would direct your questions to me, a veterinarian, rather than asking someone without veterinary training to comment on veterinary questions. With that said, I will address each of your points.

A question I would like answered about the “successful shelters” to which you are referring is how many healthy cats do they have awaiting adoption? While we would love for all of our cats to find loving homes it is very difficult to justify using more resources to rehome sick cats when healthy cats are being euthanized due to space constraints.

But more to the point, we do reach out to the public for help rehoming sick animals. In fact, all you have to do is walk around our shelter to see signs pleading for foster homes for sick animals. There are hundreds of animals in our foster care program, most of them there because they are ill. We don’t, however, adopt out sick animals to the general public as that would not only be very irresponsible of us, but sick animals cannot undergo surgery and should not receive vaccinations. Instead, we encourage customers to foster-to-adopt, as many of them plan to adopt the animals when they return to health. The foster-to-adopt program has been very successful; in fact nearly 100 cats have been saved by it in just the last two and a half months that might otherwise have had to be put to sleep. This is in addition to our regular cat adoption efforts.

The four cats in sick hold to which you referred were not on the adoption floor because a trained veterinarian had examined them and determined that they were not yet healthy enough to return to the adoption floor. There are many very subtle signs of illness displayed in cats and dogs which typically go unnoticed if not specifically checked for. In addition, if full courses of medications are not completed the animal is at higher risk of relapse. Furthermore, cats continue actively shedding viruses beyond resolution of clinical signs so we take extra precautions in our sick animals. Taking an animal straight out of sick hold and putting them into a stressful environment such as PetSmart is highly unadvisable as it increases viral shedding by 60% and puts other animals at risk.

We would love to have specific wards for different illnesses. But we do not even have enough wards to house all of the healthy animals we have here, much less the sick animals.

Illness in cats is a multifaceted issue. It takes several days for a vaccine to prime the immune system of an animal. Generally speaking, it is a minimum of 5 days before a vaccinated animal would respond well enough to a vaccine for it to be effective. Depending on age, an animal may require between 1-3 booster vaccines given every 2-4 weeks to be considered immune to the disease against which we vaccinate. This is best case scenario and assumes a healthy animal. Cats and dogs are vaccinated prior to entering the general population, however, since the vaccine will not be effective for several days the cats may still be susceptible to any disease to which they are exposed. Unfortunately, this is the least of our challenges with cat illness.

While vaccines are important in preventing illness in cats stress reduction is infinitely more important. About 60-75% of cats coming into the shelter will already be harboring viral diseases. This is the same percentage of cats harboring illness in the community. They are in carrier states. However, they do not shed these viruses consistently and do not show signs of illness until and unless they become stressed. Stress suppresses the immune system and allows secondary bacterial infections to take hold. This is when cats start to show signs of illness.

The same is true for ringworm. Many cats will be in a carrier state and never show clinical signs of the disease. But when they become stressed they may start losing hair. Once ringworm spores are shed an entire room can be quickly infected. To give ringworm the opportunity to spread in our shelter by keeping infected cats in adoptable areas would not only be unfair to unaffected cats but, as a zoonotic disease, is also a public health risk to those individuals entering our facility. Should we someday have a ringworm ward, where special precautions can be made when entering/exiting the area to protect healthy cats as well as people visiting, adoption opportunities may then be a conceivable option.

We have taken many steps to help reduce stress in our cats. In my last correspondence with you I invited you to come in and discuss the efforts we have made but you did not respond.

Finally, I will leave you with the following:
Animals being euthanized in shelters indicates a problem in the community.

In the two emails I have read from you there has been considerable criticism and negativity. Constant badmouthing by rescue groups and other individuals in the community is not only detrimental to the shelter but it directly harms the animals you say you want to help.

The animals here get sick because we are overcrowded. Not because we don’t care properly for them. If you want to save the cats then help us get the healthy cats out of here BEFORE they get sick. Pull healthy, highly adoptable cats quickly and get them into homes. It is a chain reaction. If you take a healthy cat you will get it rehomed much more quickly and use fewer resources. Once that cat is rehomed then pull another cat and do the same. If you can place two cats in the time that it would take you to get one cat healthy enough to adopt then you have saved double the number of cats. And if you’ve pulled double the number of cats from the shelter then that reduces the number of cats in the wards which, in turn, lowers the level of stress and illness in the cats and fewer cats are at risk of euthanasia due to illness or space constraints.

Every person in this shelter is here because they love animals. We have the same goal that you do: to save the lives of these innocent animals! So instead of criticizing us why won’t you get behind us and listen to some of our ideas about how to help? We could certainly use your help.

Dr. Teri Worl
Shelter Veterinarian
Greenville County Animal Care Services
328 Furman Hall Rd
Greenville, SC 29609

Ms. Riglet states that she replied by e-mail that she would be happy to meet with Dr. Worl. Further, she says she stopped by the pound one day and asked to see Dr. Worl but was told she wasn’t there. Ms. Riglet says she left a greeting card with a note requesting a meeting, plus a bound copy full of material on no kill. She never received a response.

I am opening up the floor for your impressions. Does reading this letter from Dr. Worl make you feel better, worse or the same about her policy to take newborn kittens of certain weights from their mothers to kill them? If you are a rescuer, foster, or other shelter pet advocate, how does Dr. Worl’s letter make you feel as far as partnering with her to save lives? Based upon this letter, what do you believe is the likelihood of the Greenville Co pound achieving no kill under Dr. Worl’s leadership? If you were advocating for no kill in Greenville Co, what might be your next steps?

32 thoughts on “Discussion: Letter from Greenville Pound Vet Responsible for Kitten Killing Policy

  1. Is the veterinarian an employee of the shelter or under contract to perform services at the shelter?

    1. I asked about the position and was told she is the shelter vet. I think you are trying to distinguish the position from some where we see a small shelter contract with a local vet in private practice to treat their pets on the side. Greenville Co is a very large shelter and it’s my understanding Dr. Worl is the full time vet for the facility.

      1. Yes, I’m curious as to her status from a financial point. At one time, a large county shelter here in coastal SC used a vet with a private practice. During that time period, basically he was the kill vet, and was related, through blood or marriage, to the shelter director. When the direction of the shelter changed two years ago, after a period of time, he quit. His income had dropped.

    2. I think Dr. Teri Worl is a County employee, not a contractor. I wonder if we can verfiy her status at the shelter on the County website. I’ll check. I know that the vets who work in the clinic are contractors for the most part. I don’t believe they have any say regarding this policy. I have been told by Shelly Simmons-division manager, essentially the shelter manager or executive director, that the kill list is put together by committee. Several people decide which animals will go on the list. I encourage everyone to monitor GCAC’s Face Book page: Pet Rescue at Greenville County Animal Care. The page is targeted at the rescue community. If you monitor the page, it will give you something of an insider’s view of goings on at the shelter and their regressive approach to sheltering. For example, many animals on the kill list are listed as rescue only puting tremendous pressure on already maxed out rescue groups instead of reaching out to the animal loving public for help. Of course we know this limits their chance of rescue.

      Diana Riglet/Director Foster Paws Rescue

      1. Diana, she is an employee and as such has no control over policy. You need to look to Paula and Shelley for that.

      2. “Diana, she is an employee and as such has no control over policy.”

        The vet is at least responsible for providing the fake science declaration that the kitten killing policy is based upon, if not directly responsible for the policy itself. Let’s not mislead anyone into believing she has no blood on her hands.

  2. She sounds worse than uninformed. She clearly has no idea how to aim for the direction of No Kill, but acts like she’s got it all wrapped up. Her position that they’ve done all they can but the rest is up to the public is just more of the same old kill shelter promoting rhetoric that has maintained the status quo.

    And maybe it’s because I haven’t had my coffee yet, but I didn’t see her address the killing issue at all.

    1. Yep, she’s making the same old excuses about how there are just SO MANY animals and obviously these successful no kill shelters don’t have as many and can’t possibly understand what they have to deal with.

  3. If she wants healthy, adoptable animals out of the shelter as soon as possible, why not send a mom and kittens home with a foster? There is no cat more adoptable than a young kitten (when they are old enough to adopt out) and taking a mom and kittens is essentially removing four to six (or more) cats at one time from the “stressful shelter environment”. Wouldn’t it make sense (even from her point of view) to get moms/kittens out of the shelter and into foster as fast as possible?

    Otherwise, with her plan, you’ve now killed the kittens and created a highly stressed mother more susceptible to disease (including mastitis). Now you’ve got a sick, adult, unadoptable cat taking up a cage.

  4. Where is the response from the shelter administrator? Obviously a vet is not in charge of the shelter. Where is Shelleys response, as the letter was addressed to her?

  5. No, nor did I, Tara. I’d love to hear Dr. Worl’s explanation for taking newborn nursing kittens and killing them. Even runts of a litter can grow to be full grown healthy cats so the lame “underweight at birth” excuse doesn’t fly.

    1. To draw a parallel to current events in mainstream media: Did you see any interviews with or mention of Cliven Bundy on Fox News yesterday? No you did not.

      Cowards don’t talk about what they don’t want to acknowledge. Because then they might be held to account.

    2. Yes! Just to give you an example, my rescue group pulled six litters of kittens and two single kittens and placed them in foster care, ranging in age from under a week old to five weeks old. That was three weeks ago. We have had only two fatalities. As painful as that was, we prefered to try to save them. As you can see this is hardly the big kitten mortality rate cited by Susan Bufano defending Dr. Teri Worl’s and Shelly Simmons horrific kitten policy.

  6. Regardless of he vets’s buck passing, the truth is in the puddin’, alot of bad things coming out of this so call shelter, sick cats for one….my family has adopted 2 cats at different times from this place & both were sick, in fact the vet did not think one of them would live, but by the grace of GOD he did, & these were NOT the only two cats the vet had seen sick that came from Greenville Cty Pound, Greenville Cty Animal Shelter, whatever is the correct name they use, BUT alot of cats/kittens sick. Cowards talk out both side of their mouth & this Dr. Teri Wohl is a prime suspect…..use common sense folks…..too much bad in this G’ville Cty Animal Services NOT to know something is bad WRONG, no matter what the so called vet, manager officials say…money talks….

  7. She never directly answered the question about the kitties. She stepped entirely around the issue before giving you a “Vet 101″ lesson. I could have written her response from the materials we had in our No Kill management program WITHOUT the benefit of 4 years of vet schooling! The bottom line is she is trying to divert attention away from the fact that they have no real plan and are trying to keep up with a tsunami of animals they have no compassion for. Typical response ” Every person in this shelter is here because they love animals. We have the same goal that you do: to save the lives of these innocent animals! So instead of criticizing us why won’t you get behind us and listen to some of our ideas about how to help? We could certainly use your help.”
    They don’t want help, they want to do what comes easiest to them. They would LOVE IT if YOU, the irresponsible public, came in so they could tell you what to do. She clearly has no interest in seeing what other shelters, like in Austin and Reno, have implemented. The info is out there and easy to find, you just have to start reading.

    1. Her “vet 101” lesson also sucks. They must not vaccinate everything on intake, since she asserts that the vast majority of incoming cats are already carrying diseases and that sick animals cannot be vaccinated. Huge fail right there. Oh, but they vaccinate before putting them in “general population”, whatever that means. Do incoming animals go to a special disease-catching-and-spreading ward first?? Are the staff cleaning and disinfecting every inch of every cage? What about protocols to prevent cross-contamination when staff move between cages? She also claims that it takes days, no, WEEKS, for vaccines to become fully effective, when most vaccines begin to provide some protection within 1-3 days, or less, of being given. And ringworm is, like, so contagious and scary. Because ringworm.

  8. This is interesting. To me, the tone of the letter comes off as exasperated yet polite, which is what I would expect. She does have some good ideas (pulling healthy cats to prevent illness could be an appropriate implementation, for instance). However, it doesn’t make me feel any more comfortable about her pulling small kittens away from their mother. The “let’s kill them in case they die” logic doesn’t make any sense to me.

  9. Every Vet working at a shelter has to open their minds to the different needs of health in a closed population that is transitional everyday – as compared to the model they are taught in school. In the beginning as an AC Director I didn’t think it was the Vets’ fault – they just weren’t taught about shelter issues and protocols. But in my first 90 days I took many online shelter best practice classes…Koret, UC Davis, American Humane, AVMA, HSUS – and all I could find. It was interesting how much info is out there – including just asking Austin Pets Alive and Jacksonville and others about their protocols and models. It was about my 4th month that I realized that as the Director I was going to have to buck a hard core medical structure to make life saving changes at my two shelters.

    Is there anyone in the work force that wouldn’t get canned or atleast reprimanded for not keeping up on current practices?

    Since every single shelter is built differently and has it’s own inherent HVAC, humidity, quarantine issues – you have to be proactive and think outside the box. More frequent filter changes, Dehumidifiers installed, new cleaning supplies…etc etc. And then you have to develop protocols for the trends you see in diseases that come and go.

    And keeping ANY prego mamas or nursing babies in a shelter is TABOO. I never let them into the shelter. I brought them to my office in front and we called our list of willing volunteers to take them immediately. It’s pretty simple when you want to do it!

    1. Karen , you are so spot on with the availability of materials. UC Davis is my “go to” for so many issues relating to shelters. I had been SCREAMING vax on intake , update cleaning protocols for almost a year before THIS happened.And I had sent links to UC Davis recommendations ,too. I got nowhere. Until the closure cost over $50K ( just cleaning costs)
      To this day , they have not released documentation on what really happened. I do know , those cleaning wore HazMat suits and NO one, other than staff, was allowed inside the facility for ANY reason. If you wanted to pick up cats ( dogs were not allowed to leave) , an employee met you in the parking lot.

  10. I’d be interested to know where the stats on “disease harboring cats” come from, because 60-75% sounds pretty high to me.
    She sounds like some physicians I’ve met, reaching down from on high to try to enlighten the ignorant masses with supercilious politeness and gritted teeth. It certainly doesn’t make me feel any better about their kitten killing policies, she sounds like someone who isn’t at all open to new or different ideas.

    1. It seems high to me too as a vet tech. It’s true that feline herpes is incredibly common, but it’s also only dangerous in some circumstances. I would consider a cat with a minor herpes outbreak (slightly watery eyes/nose) adoptable…I’m wondering if they’re pulling every single cat who shows the least sign.

  11. Can someone provide intake/live release rates from a shelter who has similar intake numbers to Greenville that practices true No Kill?

    1. San Antonio has made great gains in the last two years shooting for No Kill status. They did not get there in 2013, but they are not denying what they do and published their report recently. Grenville takes in about 20K animals, San Antonio takes in 30K.
      San Antonio 2013: http://www.sanantonio.gov/animalcare/Asilomar/2013/acs-asilomar-FY2013.pdf
      Grenville 2013: http://www.greenvillecounty.org/acs/pdf/2013CALENDARYEAR.pdf
      But look at the last 5 San Antonio reports and see what they have done and turned around their city. Let’s hope they can improve it again in 2014 and save every healthy/treatable homeless pet. This is what they say on their web site. Not ‘People are just too irresponsible”, “we are doing the best we can”. No, they are saying they are going to do “push the no kill goal even higher…” That’s what we need to demand from our community shelters.

  12. I do not have a positive or hopeful or reassuring feeling after reading this exchange. KarenJ touched on something that I think is a contributing factor, and that is the facilities themselves. GCACS facilities were originally designed and constructed when its services were being contracted through the Greenville Humane Society, and served Greenville County. Now, not only is GCACS in charge the facilities, but it’s also responsible per contract for Spartanburg County. I’ve mentioned this before … I think GCACS is struggling under the weight of an overextended responsibility and liability. At the same time that Greenville County’s own pet population is growing, someone in County Administration made the decision to take on Spartanburg County’s burden, too. This arrangement needs to end; the per-animal fee that Spartanburg Co pays to GCACS is clearly not worth the effort. The facilities are overloaded, staff is stressed, and too many adoptable animals are euthanized. This is nonsense, and I am not encouraged by the tone of this veterinarian’s letter.

    1. I like you, have no idea that this situation will ever get any better until good financial advice is sought. A/C doing a very proactive TNR, free spay neuter, involvement of the cities within Greenville and Spartanburg counties all would help to save, not only money, but very precious lives. Most cities have some sort of minor laws on their books regarding dogs and a very minimum budget to do what they do. These laws must include cats in the future. The rescuers can only do so much and irresponsible owners must be targeted. Greenville County Council must take their blinders off and step up to the plate.

  13. That was the longest note ever to say, “We are not changing a thing. We will continue to kill and make policies to kill and blame the irresponsible public. We encourage you to join us in changing your mind because frankly, your letters about how great others are, make us feel bad about ourselves. We’d rather continue to kill and blame the public than follow systems that actually work.” Even the ASPCA (which I have issues with their longstanding support of backing kill shelters instead of looking out for the best interest of animals) echoes that there are too many AC’s with the attitude of, “It won’t work here.” – http://aspcapro.org/blog/2014/04/24/it-still-won%E2%80%99t-work-here%E2%80%A6 . Although what I have seen, typically digging to the issues with the AC is a great first step, but it doesn’t seem work as well as public pressure.

    That being said, the email did reveal some good information. They put signs up in the shelter for fosters. How much of the local population are they really capturing by doing that? After all, if they have stepped foot into the shelter, chances are that they are either looking to adopt, volunteer, or are rescues – 2 of 3 which are their captive audience already with the 3rd possibly adopting and thereby not likely to foster. I read a study before that stated only 10% of the pets were obtained at a shelter with far more being obtained through rescue groups due to a number a factors – including inconvenient hours/locations and fear of going to the shelter. I can’t seem to find the study right now, I thought it was published by PetPoint but there is another similar study published by PetSmart – https://www.petsmartcharities.org/blog/attitudes-about-pet-adoption-are-changing. Sounds like they need to reach a wider audience as the rescue suggests.

    Her silence on the kitten issue speaks volumes. It reminds a bunch of this article by Nathan Winograd about the former kill oriented shelter director of Austin – http://www.nathanwinograd.com/?p=3504.

    Thank you to the rescue who is trying to provide solutions. Sorry it is falling on deaf ears.

  14. After having a bad foster experience and having all the cats in that foster come back with ringworm undisclosed to us so treatment could have been implemented, we adopted one of the Maddies Shelter Medicine protocols. All cats entering our rescue are automatically dipped in Lyme sulfur.
    One of our vets said that cats are naturally reservoirs. The tests being what they are with a lot of false positives ringworm is just a pain and happens. We’ve had kids and dogs come into PetsMart and infect cats. Ringworm is in the community. So we take the precautions where we can and are vigilenty for signs.
    One thing I did not see addressed in the e-mail sent out by Diana was the specific reference to the killing of the kittens. Uess I missed the reference somewhere that may have been the loophole for the lack of response by the vet.
    Regardless, the policy to kill the kittens is nothing short of criminal and should be stopped immediately. I would hope a letter to the BOCC addressing this genocidal practice with the commitment from rescues to pull all the pregnant moms and those with kittens. Perhaps a new group could be organized to do just that with the help of the uncaring public. This would go a long way to not only shed light on the taxpayer aushwitz but get policy and personnel changed. The statement from the vet that everyone at the shelter loves animals is a bald face lie in light of the kitten genocidal policy.

    1. Hi Kittypurr, thank you for your insightful comments. FYI the e-mail exchange between Dr. Worl and I took place before we knew about the kitten policy. The policy seemed to be implemented quietly without comment, which makes it more reprehensible. No one knew about it to object or try to come up with a game plan to deal with the policy. The shelter didn’t inform rescue groups of the policy in advance at all. They knew what we’d say about it. The shelter now says that they have rescinded the policy (as of 4/23/2014), per Paula Gucker assistant county administrator. However, now the shelter has decided that they just won’t take kittens under a certain weight/age in at all. If they do, officially take them in, they will kill them still. The attiude seems to be to rescue: ‘Okay you want them saved then you do it…’ My rescue group has been inundated with requests to take kittens or else. It’s business as usual at the shelter i.e. hey rescue groups do our job for us or we will kill.

  15. Oh BTW- if a group is formed – lets call it the Itty Biddies-
    Ads could be run in the local paper calling for fosters which could include the reason why the group was formed- genocide of newborn kittens-
    Most papers will let rescues run ads for free. I would think a discounted full page ad would generate a loud response.

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