Char-Meck: Cats, Scarce; Chokepoles, Plentiful

Last week, an ACO from Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C took a cat on a local morning news show to promote an offsite adoption event.  This exchange between the news anchor and ACO Conner caught my attention:

Anna Kooiman: “Do you guys have a pretty big surge of cats in the shelter at the moment?”

Julia Conner: “At the moment we are kind of, uh, low on kitties but kitten season is coming and within the next month or so we will be filled with kittens… very, very soon.”

Low on kitties?  Oh hullo – what?  In 2010, Char-Meck killed 79% of the cats in their care.  The shelter hasn’t posted their kill stats for the past couple of months but, unless there has been a dramatic change for the better, one might assume they have continued to kill roughly 8 out of every 10 cats in their care.

New Rule:  You can not claim to be low on kitties when you are killing nearly 80% of the cats in your facility.

If anyone is interested in looking at the precious few cats Char-Meck does have at the moment, you can visit their Choke Pole Kitty Gallery listings on PetHarbor:
This one doesn’t look too fractious:
Added – Here is a named kitty, listed as adoptable, sitting in a chokepole noose:

At least we won’t have to wait for a “thorough investigation” on this one…

Last Tuesday, a Charlotte Pitbull owner lost his dog Diesel when a repairman left the gate open in Diesel’s yard.  The owner, Joe Gibson, immediately started searching for Diesel.  He posted over 150 fliers around the area.  He checked the Char-Meck ACC website for lost dogs.  He went to the shelter in person to search for Diesel – every day.  While at the shelter, he posted one of his fliers on their lost dogs bulletin board.  No luck.

On Monday, a friend who was helping Mr. Gibson search the CMPD-ACC website came across a photo of a dog that could possibly be Diesel – it was hard to tell from the photo.  The owner went to the shelter again to ask about the dog in the photo:

“I walked around the corner and I see my dog laying there, dead,” he said.

Char-Meck had killed Diesel because his mandatory hold time as a stray had expired and he was a Pitbull, which the shelter does not adopt out.  Diesel had apparently been injured at the time ACC picked him up and so was left in a kennel area off limits to the public.  And there he suffered, day after day while his owner looked for him.  Diesel’s injuries were treatable.

Rather than trot out the old “Oops” excuse that Char-Meck has used in the past when they’ve killed people’s Pitbulls, they went with a new approach on this one:

Mark Balestra, the director of Animal Care and Control, told Eyewitness News that Gibson is to blame because he never got a microchip for his dog. He said that’s a responsibility of dog owners and makes it much easier to find dogs.


Balestra also said a picture of Diesel was on the website since Feb. 2 and that if Gibson pointed out pictures that could have been Diesel to employees, they would have looked into each one.

Wow.  How do ya like them apples?

And, for the final zing!:

[CMPD-ACC] also say that right now, they have no record of Gibson showing up to look for the dog.

Thanks Valerie and Lisa for the links on this story.

How Can We Save More Pitbulls in NC’s Largest City?

An Examiner article looks at the recent case of 13 Pitbulls that were surrendered by the owner to Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C and immediately killed.  The author mentions the popularity of Pitbulls as pets in Charlotte and the lack of options for those rescued:

Sadly, many of the dogs that are rescued do not find their way into homes because most dog-owning homes in the area already have a Pit bull.

Wait, what?  While there certainly are myriad challenges facing rescued Pitbulls in the Charlotte area, to my knowledge, this isn’t one of them.  The main challenge comes from the county policy prohibiting the adoption of Pitbulls from Char-Meck AC & C.  Strays of any breed, including Pitbulls, must be held at the shelter for 3 days which makes it necessary to vaccinate all Pitbulls on intake, even though most will be killed.  Taxpayers spend about $12,000 a year on vaccinations for Pitbulls who end up in the wheelbarrow of the kill room at CMPD-ACC.  In addition, the shelter further devalues the breed in the public’s eyes through oops-killings followed by the promise of a thorough investigation, followed by tumbleweeds and coyote howls.

Then there is the issue of rescue:

A very small percentage of pit bulls are spared whenever there’s room for them with an approved rescue group, which can screen applicants more thoroughly.

But Rhonda Thomas, who runs Project Halo, said it’s not easy.

“I love the breed, but finding a good home for a pit bull has always been a challenge for us,” she said.

That’s the nature of rescue – handling the challenge of finding the right home for your pets, regardless of breed.

She said many people who want to adopt pit bulls aren’t the type who should adopt them.

Oh.  Uh-oh.  My Potential Pisser Ahead light is flashing.

“In the 12 years I’ve been doing this, I’ve placed two.”

Aw, crud.  So I guess the right “type” of Pitbull adopter only comes along once every 6 years or so.  Or maybe it’s just that every dog owner in Charlotte already has a Pitbull.  I can’t keep track.

At any rate, even if advocates convinced the county to change its policy on banning Pitbull adoptions from the shelter, many of the dogs would end up in the wheelbarrow anyway since Char-Meck kills more pets than it saves.  And though I hope the rescue rep quoted above is not typical, I think it is generally true that we need more education and outreach to help “iffy” adopters cross over into “good” adopters.  And as always, less judgment, more understanding.  Most pet owners want to do right by their pets and even if they do things differently than you or I, are still deserving of adopting a pet.  Rescues and shelters who maintain ridiculously high standards simply drive adopters to other sources for pets and sour the possibility of future adoptions.

Since we know the status quo is a fail, let’s think in terms of change.  What changes would have the greatest positive impact on Pitbulls in the Charlotte area?

Overwhelmed? Here, Let Us Help…

Charlotte resident Demetred Norman reportedly became financially overwhelmed in trying to provide proper care for his 13 Pitbulls.  A neighbor put in a call to Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C and ACOs showed up at the home on Monday.  Mr. Norman surrendered the dogs to AC & C which has a policy prohibiting the adoption of Pitbulls to the public.  Char-Meck AC & C spokesman Melissa Knicely gave an interview to a local news station:

Some of the dogs, she said, were underweight but not starving. Many were suffering from intestinal worms, and most, if not all, had severe heartworms.

Char-Meck killed all 13 of the dogs.  But if we are to believe the above quote, they killed them only after performing a number of blood and fecal tests which resulted in determining treatable conditions.  It seems an odd use of resources for dogs they apparently had no plans to treat.  And another thing:

All of the dogs were euthanized. If that may seem like a quick decision, officers say there is literally no place to put pit bulls in this county.

The majority of dogs found at the stray shelters are pit bulls. They can’t be put up for adoption, leaving rescue groups as the only option.

“The bottom line is that those rescue groups are taxed with pit bulls too because it’s such a popular breed,” Knicely says.

How many rescue groups were contacted before the decision was made to kill all the dogs?  Because it sure seems that the killings happened very soon after the dogs arrived.  Coordinating rescue and transport for 13 Pitbulls would take time I would think.

Since only some of the dogs were underweight, couldn’t they have tried a slightly less radical approach than killing all 13 immediately?  I’m thinking something along the lines of the Give Them Something to Eat While We Network with Area Rescues approach.  In addition, maybe the owner could have kept one or two or some number that he could afford to properly care for.  Or perhaps donated food could have been brought to the home and the dogs “sheltered in place” while rescue was arranged.  Why the rush to take all the dogs away to the kill room?  Where is the CARE in the Animal Care & Control?

“Every time I walked back there, their tails were wagging, they were happy,” Norman says.

Norman didn’t know his dogs had been put down until NewsChannel 36 told him.

Stay classy, Char-Meck.

Another Oops Killing at Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C

In March, a NC man’s two Pitbulls got out of his fenced yard through a hole and were picked up by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control.  He fixed the fence and tried to redeem the dogs but animal control had “mistakenly” killed them.  They could not explain why.  Adding insult to injury,  CMPD-ACC then sent the owner a bill for $100.  Despite the promise of a full investigation, no such investigation or its results have ever been made public.  The devastated owner, Will Harlee, said at the time of the killings:

“I need to know why and who,” he said. “I want somebody to lose their job over this. I need an impression that this can’t happen to anybody else.”

Not only do we still not know who or why, but it happened again in September.  Another escaped Pitbull picked up by CMPD-ACC, another oops killing, and another distraught family:

On Sept. 16 the dog escaped the Moore family home. The family put up reward signs around their home in Wilmore. A couple of days went bye [sic]. The family then searched the shelter.

“We went to the pound, and that’s where we found her,” said Moore. “She was so happy, she jumped on the cage, and was like, ruff, ruff.”

Mecklenburg County Animal Care and Control requires reclaimed dogs to be spade [sic] or neutered and a chip implanted. When the Moore’s went to pick up “Lil Mama” three days later the dog was dead. The Moore’s said the person at the desk said the dog was accidentally put down.

The shelter issued a statement which says, in part:

“While a similar situation occurred earlier this year, it does not involve the same employee,” Animal Care and Control said in a statement. “We are currently conducting an internal investigation to determine the course of events that led to the dog’s euthanasia and whether disciplinary actions are warranted.”

Let’s all hold our breath until the internal investigation is complete, shall we?  Perhaps there’s a backlog of internal investigations going on at the shelter because in addition to the Harlee and Moore cases, we’re still waiting on the results of the playing-dress-up-with-drugged-cats investigation.  In the meantime, maybe someone on the shelter staff can pull a ferret out of her car for the TV news to distract us.  Ooh – furry!

Less Killing, Tastes Great

You might recall the video of Susan Boyer, an employee at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C shelter, offering her view that killing pets by injection is a “morale booster” for shelter staff vs. killing them via the gas chamber.

Today, I came across a different view from Tommy Morson, the AC director in Tuscumbia, AL.  He contends that gassing pets to death is A-OK and “not as painful as the emotional toil it takes on shelter technicians who euthanize the animals by injection”.  He goes on to explain:

[W]hen that animal leaves here, it is dead. The shelter technicians have to live with it and it’s tough on them. When they euthanize by injection, the animal dies in their arms. They have bonded with those animals. When they put it in the chamber, it’s out of sight, out of mind. When they go back 30 minutes later, it’s dead.

Out of sight, out of mind.  Is that the attitude we want in our public servants paid to care for homeless pets?  Heaven forfend they should touch the animals while killing them, because you know, needless killing is “tough on them”.  (I imagine it’s no picnic for the friendly pets being killed either.)

Mr. Morson is also president of the Southeast Animal Control Officers Association which covers nine states.  I wonder if he, or anyone in his organization, is aware that the National Animal Control Association condemns the use of the gas chamber.  Maybe his group has gone rogue, I don’t know.

“The gas chamber is still a legal method of euthanasia and as long as it is, we will use it,” said Morson[.]

Way to stay loyal to The Before Time.

In any case, some might find it interesting to debate whether needless killing of shelter pets by injection is a “morale booster” as Ms. Boyer contends or if needless killing by gassing is as easy as making a baked potato in the microwave – you just push the button, go back in 30 minutes and voila!  But it occurs to me that we are overlooking the obvious here:  Animal shelters do not need to kill healthy/treatable pets because there are enough homes for all of them.

What if we quit spending our time arguing about which kill method makes for the cheeriest staff and considered how great shelter workers would feel if they didn’t have to needlessly kill any pets?  Why not redirect our time and money toward saving lives instead of needlessly ending them?  Happy staff, happy shelter pets, happy adopters.

By What Right?

What gives a taxpayer funded animal shelter the right to abuse and/or kill pets?  Is it the law of Finders Keepers?

“We got ’em now so we can do whatever we want to ’em”?

There are laws to protect pets from abuse and killing by private citizens.  Should animal shelters and their workers be exempt from those laws?

Susan Boyer is an employee at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C shelter.  She has been in the press, defending the actions of the workers who abused pets at the shelter:

“There was not one bit of animal cruelty involved with that,” Susan Boyer, a vet technician at the shelter, said. “I can say that 100 percent.”

Boyer has worked at the shelter in some capacity since the mid-1980s. She said the pictures of sedated cats posed with cigarettes and knives are examples of “bad judgment” by good workers.

“I compare that to if you’ve ever put your dog or cat in a Halloween costume,” Boyer said. “You’ve done the same thing.”

Graham is our beloved 11 year old Beagle who has undergone surgical cancer treatment more times than I care to recall and for whom I lovingly prepare homemade food and treats.  She has a bed in every room in the house, including our bed.  I have taken lots of photos of her over the years to share with family and friends because she is a light in our lives.  A couple of those photos appear on this blog.

The cats in the abuse photos were at the shelter because they were in need of protection.  That’s why all animals are at shelters.  If they were feral, they needed appropriate veterinary care, ear tipping and neutering before being returned to their colonies.  Hopefully the shelter works with colony caretakers to expand the number of managed colonies in the community.  If the cats were feral, they would have been frightened beyond imagination to be in the shelter environment.  I say again, they were in need of protection.

According to Ms. Boyer, if I wake Graham up from a nap, put her in a Halloween costume and snap a photo for a keepsake, I am doing the same thing as drugging a frightened cat I’m being paid by taxpayers to protect, posing him for a degrading photo, posting it on Facebook for a laugh, then killing the cat and tossing him in the freezer to await, I assume, the Dead Cat Man who rummages through cat carcasses at NC shelters and picks out which ones he’ll pay the shelter $5 apiece to take to his dissection specimen business.  Although Graham can not speak, I dare say she would object to the comparison.  I know I do.

As Graham’s owner, I have the right to dress her up in a costume for a picture if I so choose.  (She may of course decline to cooperate.)  By what right do shelter workers drug, pose for photos, then kill homeless cats?

Excerpts from Ms. Boyer’s recent Letter to the Editor appearing in The Charlotte Observer:

The feral kitten was not tranquilized; it was being held for a photo ID.

If this is accurate, I interpret this to mean that all feral kittens are treated in exactly this manner for photo IDs.  That is, they all have pens jammed in their mouths, paws placed upon the pen, and are positioned over the kill log.  Disgraceful.  By what right does the shelter treat kittens this way?

The feral cat was tranquilized, along with probably 10 other feral cats that day, to allow for nail trimming, vaccinations, etc.

If accurate, the shelter is tranquilizing batches of feral cats to give them pedicures and vaccines before they are killed.  Does the Dead Cat Man pay extra for cat carcasses with recent nail trims?  Are all sedated cats posed in life-devaluing ways for laughs or was this the one and only time anything like this ever happened?  By what right does the shelter treat feral cats this way?

Yes, those feral cats were eventually euthanized. Maybe if more cat rescue groups got involved, there would be other options.

Blaming the public – really?  Maybe if the shelter chose to neuter and return feral cats to their colonies instead of posing them for “funny” pictures and then killing them, more people might be interested in managing feral cat colonies in the area.  By what right does the shelter kill feral cats?

Here is a video of Ms. Boyer addressing the Cabarrus Co Commissioners Meeting this summer.  In her comments regarding the use of the gas chamber vs. killing of shelter pets by injection, she describes the latter as a “morale booster” for shelter staff.  She also claims to have personally killed more than 10,000 pets.  By what right is an animal shelter employee allowed to kill over 10,000 pets?

We are a no kill nation of compassionate pet owners who love and respect our pets.  We object to anyone comparing us dressing up our beloved pets for Halloween to abusing and killing feral cats in a shelter.  We are calling your bluff on needless animal shelter killing and abuse.  We know betterJoin us.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C Volunteer of the Year Nominee

I was recently contacted by Ms. Beatriz “Betty” Gale, a current volunteer at the CMPD-ACC shelter in NC.  Ms. Gale said she has volunteered there for about 2 and 1/2 years and has been nominated for Volunteer of the Year in addition to receiving other accolades from the shelter.  I tried to reach shelter director Mark Balestra regarding Ms. Gale’s story but have not heard back.  If I do, I will add a new post to reflect his comments.

Ms. Gale said she decided to come forward at this time because she feels it’s no longer possible to save any more animals from the shelter.  She says she has fostered a number of challenging pets who might otherwise be considered unadoptable but the shelter is now refusing to allow her to foster additional pets.  Further, Ms. Gale states she’s had many conversations with shelter management in an effort to effect change but “they have dismissed me”.  To which she quickly added, “But I can not dismiss the things I’ve seen”.

What follows is a summary of Ms. Gale’s allegations, sans any opinion or conjecture on my part.  I leave it up to you to decide if you find her credible.  Fair warning that some details may be too disturbing for sensitive readers.

CMPD-ACC kills healthy pets for reasons of “space” while cages sit empty.  As a volunteer, Ms. Gale is accustomed to seeing cage cards of friendly pets whom she considers adoptable with an “E” written on the reverse side of the card.  The “E” stands for Euthanasia.  When she has asked why healthy, friendly pets are being killed, she has been given various reasons.  Sometimes it’s something as simple as the color of the pet’s fur.  If there are more than one or two adoptable black and white cats, any additional black and white cats will be killed because the shelter considers them “unadoptable”.  When Ms. Gale has asked if she could foster the “extra” black and white cats until such time as the shelter is willing to put them on the adoption floor, the shelter has refused.  “They’re inventory that can’t be moved” is what she’s been told.  “The public comes here expecting to see certain types of animals and this [so-called unadoptable pet] is not what the public wants to see” is another explanation she’s received.

In the past, Ms. Gale has been allowed to foster pets for the shelter and in some cases, has been asked to keep them for additional time.  She has always agreed to do so.  But now that’s changed and the shelter is not interested in having her foster pets.  Part of the reason for that is staff members don’t like the fact that her friend list on Facebook includes individuals who have spoken out against the shelter.  But mainly, the shelter leadership simply does not care about saving pets.  When someone speaks up about trying to save animals off the kill list, management will fire back, “Just do your damn job!” to discourage life saving efforts and encourage a focus on killing.

Ms. Gale has worked quite a bit in the shelter’s hold area where new arrivals are kept until they have been processed for intake.  The area is designed to be a brief holding location until pets can be weighed, vaccinated and receive initial health and temperament checks.  Ms. Gale wants to keep the amount of time intakes are housed in the hold area to a minimum because the longer the animals spend there, the increased likelihood that they will become frightened (and labeled as “unadoptable”) or sick.  The stainless steel cages house dogs, cats, raccoons, and possums – all within view of one another – so the potential for pets to become stressed is high and stressed animals can become ill or aggressive much more readily.  But while Ms. Gale has moved quickly to work through the list of animals in need of processing on any given day, the staff involved has told her to “slow down”.  The list often includes about a dozen animals which would be easy to get through and get moved out of the hold area within the day but because the staff are unduly slow in performing their duties, many animals are held over for much longer than necessary.

The temperament testing is performed without the dogs being walked prior – except for a brief potty break.  Ms. Gale has volunteered to walk the dogs before they are tested so that they can release some anxiety and perform more realistically on the test but the shelter has refused.

The shelter has a small kill room without sunlight and with questionable ventilation.  The door is left open and Ms. Gale has witnessed the killing of healthy, friendly pets through the open door on numerous occasions.  The pets on the kill list are not given a final walk so they may relieve themselves but instead are lined up and able to view what is taking place on the kill table.  Next to the kill table is a wheelbarrow and dead pets are tossed from the table into the wheelbarrow.  The dead pets are piled in the wheelbarrow until it’s full.  So the pet currently on the kill table may have watched other pets die before him and is likely looking at the wheelbarrow containing their lifeless bodies while he’s being killed.

Ms. Gale says there are two people on staff at the shelter who work hard to try and save pets by getting them out to rescues and such.  She holds them in high regard.

Added, 11-28-10:  Photos from the Lost Pets section of the CMPD-ACC website may corroborate some of Ms. Gale’s allegations about the holding ward and the presence of a wheelbarrow at the shelter.

I’m assuming the Lost Pets photos are taken in the holding ward.  If not, I’m sure someone will correct the assumption.  The bank of cages visible behind this ferret would allow different species of animals to view one another, just as Ms. Gale described.  (Unless this is a ferrets-only holding ward?)

In the background of the photo of this cat is what appears to be a wheelbarrow with a cloth loosely draped atop it.

The photo of this little dog on a choke pole also shows what appears to be part of a cloth draped wheelbarrow in the background.  Another dog on a choke pole with a cloth draped wheelbarrow visible in the shot.

NC Shelter Photos: Abuse or Just Poor Judgment?

I have read numerous online statements from Charlotte-Mecklenburg AC & C employees and supporters denying there was any abuse indicated in the shameful photos posted on Facebook.  “No animals were harmed” seems to be a common sentiment as well as “If this is abuse then everyone who dresses up their pets in Halloween costumes is guilty of abuse too”.

I would like to clarify my opinion on the matter:  These photos indicate abuse.  Comparing them to photos of pets in costumes is a false equivalency.  Just because the cat didn’t have the knife stuck through his leg does not mean “no animals were harmed”.  The fact that at least some folks at this shelter and those defending the photos can not see that this is abuse is perhaps indicative of a larger problem, I don’t know.

Let me put it this way:  I think we can all agree that dressing up your kid in a Halloween costume – even one that some might consider “inappropriate” in some way – and taking a photo is not abuse.  But say your kid’s been missing for a week, you are frantically searching for him, hoping he hasn’t met some untoward end when you find out a good Samaritan picked him up off the street and brought him to the city homeless shelter.  Then you find out that while at the homeless shelter, the staff dressed him up in an inappropriate costume, took pictures of him and posted them online with “funny” captions.  How’s that grab ya?

You would probably complain that you, as a taxpayer, pay these people’s salaries to protect and serve members of the community in need – not “play dress-up” with them for laughs.  You would want to know what right do these workers have to use the homeless people in the shelter in such an inappropriate manner and whether they realize all of these people could be – now or at some point past or future – loved by a family member or friend.  You’d be appalled to think that the people you are paying to provide care for those most in need don’t seem to appreciate that the homeless have value and a right to life, respect and care.  You’d demand accountability from your city officials.  You’d go to the media, write letters – do whatever was necessary to effect change at this place.

Now imagine how you’d feel if these same homeless shelter workers who posed your kid for inappropriate photos and posted them online turned around and said YOU were the problem.  That YOU were making a big fuss over nothing.  Sure, maybe they showed poor judgment but hell, he’s just a kid and it’s not like they burnt him with cigarettes or anything.  Your kid was not harmed and people dress their children up in dumb costumes all the time so what’s the big deal?  Why don’t YOU stop being such a pain in the ass and just shut up already?

Get it?

These cats were not living in someone’s home, being well cared for and loved, and having a costume put on them for some funny photos.  They were, in fact, homeless cats who may have been someone’s beloved pets at some time and/or perhaps would be in future.  These cats had no voice to protest, no means of escape and were completely reliant upon the city shelter staff to protect them from harm and take care of them until their owners could be found or until they were adopted by new owners.  If they were feral, they should have been neutered, ear tipped, and returned to their managed colonies.  Under no circumstances should they have been posed for inappropriate photos and killed.  But that’s exactly what local taxpayers paid the staff at CMPD-ACC to do:

Cats shown in controversial pictures taken at the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care and Control facility in west Charlotte were euthanized, but it’s unclear whether that was before or after the pictures were taken.


In an e-mail to Channel 9, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department spokesperson said “the cats were deemed unhandleable and unadoptable and were euthanized after a required holding period of 72 hours.”

Who deemed them unadoptable – the clever photographers or the people still defending the photos?  And are those the same people who killed them?


Get it now?


Added:  Local news station spoke with a shelter employee today who said if you’ve ever put your pet in a Halloween costume you’ve done the same thing as the people who sedated shelter cats, posed them for pictures and killed them.  She also produced a ferret and said the hair loss in the photos was “natural”.

UPDATED: Sign Petition for Change at NC Shelter

Demand accountability and transparency from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Animal Care & Control in NC.  Tell the community leaders that business-as-usual at the shelter is not acceptable.  We want change.

Thank you Stephanie Feldstein for helping spread awareness on the abuse at CMPD-ACC.

Update, November 23:  There has been some action on the abuse at the shelter.  Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Cannon contacted me about the matter and advised he has requested “swift action”.  In response to the e-mails generated by the petition, city officials are asking for answers and the police chief issued a memo regarding the situation yesterday with a formal response still to come.  The local news reported on the latest developments last night.

Let’s keep the petition going and getting e-mails sent to ensure there is follow through and not just a stop-filling-up-our-inboxes memo.  Sign if you haven’t already and share with your animal loving friends.  We’re making a difference!