Photo by Jonathan Meador

December 15, 2010

In the shadow of the puppy palace

New LMAS facility belies systemic problems

After a tumultuous construction period delayed its opening by nearly a year, Louisville Metro Animal Services’ new 10,000-square-foot adoption center was finally unveiled last week.

Located at 3516 Newburg Road, the state-of-the-art facility — dubbed “Animal House” by employees — concentrates LMAS’ adoption services under one roof in an attempt to take the burden off of their original, cramped and depressingly inadequate 50-year-old Manslick Road shelter, and adds 50 new kennels and a “Pussycat Lounge” big enough to house 50 cats.

Last Friday, some 100 people gathered in the building’s lobby for an official ribbon-cutting ceremony, where Christmas-themed animal treats were displayed alongside human ones, and television news crews awaited the arrival of Mayor Jerry Abramson.

“With the new facility, the focus on adoptions will in fact be the focus here,” said Wayne Zelinsky, interim director of LMAS, who acknowledged that six of the agency’s seven adoption counselors would be deployed at the Newburg site. Although adoptions will continue at the Manslick shelter with only one adoption counselor, Zelinsky does not think that lopsided figure will place any extra burden on staff.

Metro Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, a longtime LMAS watchdog, was impressed by what he saw. “I think it’s great,” he said. “It’ll be a great success, but I still want to see how it interfaces with the Kentucky Humane Society and other volunteer rescue groups.”

Yet as much as Animal House symbolizes a step forward for the beleaguered city agency, some employees and sources familiar with the shelter contend that despite the much-publicized (and much-needed) unveiling of a new adoption center, working conditions at LMAS have not improved since the departure of former full-time director Dr. Gilles Meloche, and that a serious housecleaning is needed before any real positive change can ever take place.

“Honestly, I’m not sure if it ever got better (once Zelinsky took over),” said a current high-level LMAS employee who spoke with LEO Weekly on the condition of anonymity. “There are a lot of people who consider it worse now than when Meloche was there.”

On Jan. 1, 2010, Zelinsky succeeded Meloche, who announced his resignation in October 2009, after media reports uncovered a wide range of abuses that occurred during his tenure, including the illegal euthanasia of animals without anesthesia, inhumane kennel conditions, alleged sexual harassment and intimidation of employees, illegal seizures of pets, the sale of animals and animal pain killers for profit, and improper sexual relationships between city employees and workers from Dismas Charities, a halfway house for criminal offenders.

All the while, Mayor Abramson maintained that Meloche was a “change agent,” commending him for his performance.

“As far as directly comparing Wayne and Meloche, you know, at least Dr. Meloche would get up and walk through the kennels, and he had somewhat of an idea of what went on day-to-day,” the source said. “Wayne’s never in the kennels. Part of it is, I think, for the last few months now, he’s been pretty sure that he’s going to lose his job. So he’s been even more apathetic, and just doesn’t even give a shit.”

As far as Zelinsky’s fate at LMAS goes, Mayor-elect Greg Fischer has decided to keep him in place — at least for now.

“We’ll retain him for the interim,” said Chris Poynter, a spokesman for Fischer. “Mr. Zelinsky is eligible to become part of that (national) search if he wishes to become full-time director.”

But Zelinsky has already communicated that desire: He was one of 111 at-will Metro employees who submitted résumés to Fischer in order to reapply for their positions within Metro government. In his cover letter, Zelinsky asked the mayor-elect “for the opportunity to continue to serve the people and animals of Louisville as a member of your cabinet.”

Although Zelinsky could not be reached for comment regarding his future at LMAS, he previously told LEO Weekly that the last time he spoke with Fischer was before the May primary.

The mayor-elect’s decision to keep Zelinsky on board, even on an interim basis, contradicts a statement he made in mid-October. In an interview conducted on the campaign trail, Fischer was asked if Zelinsky would be retained, to which the then-candidate responded, “No. We plan on doing a national search for that job.”

Sources close to LMAS and Metro Council confirm that a selection committee already is being formed to find a full-time director for the city’s animal control agency, although a spokeswoman for Mayor Abramson, Lindsay English, said selecting a new director would be a decision reserved for the incoming Fischer administration.

In the meantime, LMAS’ rank and file must continue to do the best they can with the status quo.

“The culture there, as far as inter-employee relations (go), the people that Wayne has put into management positions have hardly any common sense or flexibility to manage people,” the LMAS source continued. “The people who call out to him that he has incompetent people in management are just harassed verbally by him and told to shut up… It’s just awful, really.”

Barbara Haines, a member of the Louisville Kennel Club, says the nonprofit animal welfare group still receives calls from Metro area pet owners about abuses by LMAS animal control officers (ACO), mainly regarding the illegal seizure of pets. The issue has been an ongoing problem since the implementation of a problematic “dangerous dog” ordinance passed by Metro Council in 2006, whose enforcement has adversely affected low-income pet owners in particular.

“I’ve had so many calls from people in the last few months,” Haines said. “It’s just blowing us away that it’s still happening.”

Haines added that Zelinsky has turned into a “Meloche Jr.” and corroborates the anonymous source’s claims that a culture of intimidation and lax control remains in place at LMAS.

The source maintains that the only way to improve the shelter is to start from scratch: She advocates firing everyone — herself included — and forcing everyone to reapply for jobs. In the meantime, she said, the shelters should be staffed at a bare minimum to keep things running.

“Those of us who do work really hard and do want to see positive change are so jaded from the past and by everything that has happened there,” she said. “Some of us are convinced that, as hard as we work, that change will never happen, that it’ll never get any better.

“Whoever does (get Zelinsky’s job) will have to be prepared to deal with those employees,” she concluded. “They are very manipulative people who will do their best to undermine whatever happens there.” 

Thank you, LEO--yet again!

By EdenSprings
Thank you, LEO, for continuing to report on this hot mess. Mayor Happy Pants was counting on everything blowing over with Meloche's resignation but, unlike most of the other media in this burg, you've kept reporting on the continuing outrages. I think the taxpayers should be aware of a couple of things that are deliberately confused by the Courageless Urinal's version of reporting: 1. Animal House is NOT a new shelter. It does NOT replace the Manslick Road facility. It has one purpose: to make money for MAS by selling dogs and cats to the public. MAS hopes to do more of that because the public was disgusted by what they saw at Manslick, and by removing the "sales team" and their products to this new facility, they hope to bring in more income than ever before. 2. The purpose of Animal House is NOT to save more animals. If that were the case, then MAS wouldn't have already abandoned it's partnership with PetSmart to supply adoptable animals at their Hurstbourne store. The reason they did was the profit returned to MAS on the sale of each of those animals is much less than they'd get if they sold it themselves at Animal House. Also, if they were truly interested in redeeming animals (a laughable assertion made in Zelinsky's letter to Mayor-Elect Fischer and posted on TheVilleVoice), MAS would be doing everything in its power to work with the existing Animal Rescue community rather than shut its doors in their faces. But, again, every animal they "sell" to a Rescue (Rescues are charged a 'pull fee' which is about 3/4 of the regular sales price/adoption fee). MAS doesn't see an animal saved, they see 1/4 of it's "full value" going down the drain, and another organization "obtaining control" of their "saleable assets" and, ultimately, getting the "publicity credit" for re-homing the animal. 3. NOTHING HAS CHANGED FOR THE ANIMALS. Well, one thing has. Now, if they are considered 'adoptable/saleable', they get loaded onto a truck and driven out to Animal House to be put on display. Every day. And, every night, they have to be driven back again. Why? Because despite it's enormous cost, there are NO overnight holding facilities for animals, and no exercise facilities for them, either. So, while the public no longer has to visit the shelter at Manslick, the animals still do. That's where they come in as strays or seizures, and that's where they must remain for a minimum of 5 days if they're strays and possibly much, much longer if they're seizures. And it's still that disease-ridden pit where they come from to sit under the pretty lights at Animal House, and to whence they return. I'll say it again. Animal House exists for one reason: to display and get the highest prices possible for selling pets to the public. The animals at Manslick continue to live in filth & disease for two reasons: a) nobody who can do anything about it gives a crap; b) medications and staff cost money, and that eats into their profit margin. Are you starting to get the picture yet? 5. Someone needs to get out their calculator and figure the per-animal cost of having built this $2.9 million otherwise-useless Animal House and the cost of staffing, twice-daily transport of all animals and maintaining it over, say, 25 years. Then, explain to the taxpayers exactly how in the name of God this will ever be 'profitable'. Inquiring minds want to know... (Crit, are you reading this?) 6. If that didn't disturb you enough, think about this as you pay your property tax bill into the County coffers: Meloche, who resigned, was allowed to draw unemployment. In fact, he may still be getting it. This is a guy who is currently a named defendant in four lawsuits. But one of the women he allegedly sexually harassed has had to hire an attorney and go to court FOUR TIMES because her request for unemployment benefits are still being denied by Metro. How 'bout dem apples? It's still trench warfare at MAS because their mission isn't about the animals--it's about C-A-S-H. Until the new administration proves they're ethically superior to that of the Dowager Queen's, nuttin's gonna change but a couple name plates on some doors. I have my fingers crossed that as of midnight on January 3rd, 2011, Greg Fischer begins to redeem my faith in humanity and the countdown to real change begins!

Leo Weekly & the Puppy Palace

By Shadow911
I think it will take more than crossed fingers to enlighten Mr. Fischer. Apparently he has not a clue as to what is going on down there or he would never allow Zelinsky to be kept on just one more day as interim director. Maybe if we went down there with signs at 6th & Jefferson someone would bother to ask what the big deal is. I would not hold my breath on the Courageless Urinal as you called it or the other main stream media either as far as that goes--seems like they have had ample opportunities over the last 5 years and have chosen to bury their heads in the sand--so I would not hold my breath. You'll probably die from asphyxiation.

Hold your Horses...

By EdenSprings
Dear Shadow: In his defense, Greg Fischer can't do anything until he's sworn in as Mayor which won't happen until the first week of January. I'm certain this issue will be a priority for him as it can bring nothing but shame and negative press if it continues as is.

Eden Springs- MAS still at PetSmart

By salamander7
Hi Eden Springs, MAS still has animals at PetSmart as of this writing. A review on Petfinder for MAS individual cat listings will show the ones currently there for adoption. The "partnership" may be severed later but today cats are up for adoption there. See Priscilla, Birdie, and Jersey listings for example.

Cat Spin

By EdenSprings
Wow. Coupla cats, huh? Gee...I wonder how Cap'n Wayne got the approval to spend even more TAXPAYER MONEY for HIS RECENT TRIP TO RENO and SAN FRANCISCO? Allegedly it was to learn from (at least in the case of the Reno shelter) HOW A HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL MUNICIPAL ANIMAL SHELTER RUNS UNDER A NO-KILL PARADIGM. ~~~ The No-Kill paradigm does things like maximize the places that shelter animals are available for adoption throughout a community, not hoard them all into one spot and make the public come to them. But then, those folks have a mission to place homeless animals, not to make money. ~~~ Still, Wayne enjoyed round-trip airfare. Hotel rooms. Meals. God-knows what else. Apparently, he hasn't heard about video conferencing which could have been done for FREE. He also couldn't figure out how to type in www.NoKillAdvocacyCenter.com on his keyboard and download/print all their FREE information. ~~~ But what do you expect? He claimed the reason that the trip was necessary in the first place was due to the fact that he read Nathan Winograd's book, "Redemption" about No-Kill, but didn't understand it. Apparently, there weren't enough pictures in it. ~~~ Wonder who approved that not-so-little expenditure which wasn't designed to help animals or make him a better director (interim or otherwise), but to put some fake credentials on his resume so he'd look more palatable to Mayor-Elect Fischer and to spin more lies about what a good person he is and how he's reformed MAS from the dark days of Meloche. ~~~ Too bad his current resume' also includes being co-defendant in four major lawsuits related to his proud history of public service to the citizens of Jefferson County.

Puppy Palace--Here we go again!

By Shadow911
Well the saga continues! More of the same crap as before. Just a new face on an old problem. This will never be any better for the animals unless someone with some damn common sense steps up to the plate and cleans house out there. It makes me sick at my stomach to think they can fool people into believing that everything is all fine and hunky dory now the new place has opened and blah, blah, blah. The people that really knows what is going on out there will never be fooled by such feel good, look good publicity antics. And yes, you the taxpayer are paying for them to continue their own agenda just as before. Come on animal lovers, taxpayers, wake up, take a stand! Enough is enough! Shame on Greg Fischer for not helping the animals of this county by allowing Zelinsky more time to continue with his Meloche mini-me SO-CALLED LEADERSHIP at TAXPAYER'S expense. How many lawsuits does it take? Are they waiting for a special number or what? He, too, just like Meloche, has been named in lawsuits and, I am sure more will follow. Apparently the city does not mind paying out your hard-earned money--just ask the firefighters who finally prevailed just this week. Kelly Downard, 16th District Republican and co-chair of the budget committee was just quoted in the paper Tuesday of this week, "This administration has been involved in a lawsuit with almost everyone that's worked with the city and lost almost every one." They are spending YOUR money for THEIR bad decisions--the poor animals stuck right in the middle of all of it. I hope they can sleep well at nights!

Eden Springs error

By salamander7
Hi Eden Springs, The adoptable animals at Animal House are not driven back and forth each day, but are retained at Animal House. Only an animal needing vet exam would return to Manslick. Thanks.

RoundTrip

By EdenSprings
Oh, you mean like the emaciated dog that some genius decided was adoptable and had her spayed right before she went out there, only to have her incision open up? ~~~ Stuff like that?