April 6, 2011

Straw dogs

Amidst LMAS power vacuum, Kentucky Humane Society steps up

Editor's note: The original version of this story incorrectly stated the Kentucky Humane Society played a role in drafting Louisville's 2006 "dangerous dog" ordinance. In fact, it was the Kentucky legislative research coordinator for the Humane Society of the United States — which is not affiliated with KHS — who played a role in crafting the controversial ordinance. LEO regrets the error.


After a mere two months in charge, Louisville Metro Animal Services interim director Debbie Fox has stepped down. Next up to lead the troubled agency: Susan Neumayer, formerly of the city’s “Louisville at Work” stimulus-spending team and wife of Metro Public Works and Assets Director Ted Pullen.

In an interview last month, Fox told LEO she was pleased with the progress she had made at the agency’s 3705 Manslick Road shelter and was comfortable moving on after taking the reins from Wayne Zelinsky, who resigned in February after it was revealed that he and his wife operated a security service promoting adult entertainment.

As such, Neumayer becomes the animal control agency’s third interim director since Jan. 1, 2010. Sources within LMAS and in the city’s “no-kill” animal welfare movement suggest this revolving door of management has paved the way for a power grab by the Kentucky Humane Society, which the city has tapped to essentially take over LMAS’ sheltering operations until an eight-person panel appointed by Mayor Greg Fischer selects a permanent director.

According to the mayor’s office, consultant Karen Koenig of the Kentucky Humane Society is being paid $9,000 a month from LMAS’ operating budget for a period of up to three months.

“Bringing in KHS to supposedly increase adoptions when their philosophy is very close to LMAS’ doesn’t seem like a good fit,” says Donna Herzig, president of the Louisville Kennel Club. “In addition, we need transparency and accountability. I know the mayor has been very forthright with respect to those two things, but it’s hard to have transparency when you’ve got a private organization that isn’t required to release information … What if something’s going wrong with this contract? What do you do? How is that transparent?”

Herzig also contends the Kentucky Humane Society “buys into the myth of pet overpopulation,” which she claims results in adoptable pets at times being euthanized. However, the Kentucky Humane Society’s website states that “all cats and dogs remain available for adoption as long as health and behavior permits.”

“We generally like to focus on our adoption rates,” says KHS public relations and marketing manager Cara Hicks, who declined to discuss how many animals KHS euthanizes at its Steedly Drive shelter. “We adopted out over 6,200 animals — dogs and cats — last year. Our adoption rate right now is about double the national average. We are also animal lovers, and we want to do what is best for them.”

In September 2010, the Metro Council adopted a “no-kill” resolution aimed at reducing the number of animals put down due to overcrowding. Jessica Reid, president of No-Kill Louisville and a member of the eight-person committee charged with finding a new LMAS director, was a catalyst behind that resolution.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Reid says of the partnership between LMAS and the Kentucky Humane Society. “It’s a good thing in that they’re just going to work on implementing procedures and some actual policies at that place. At the same time, I’m a little wary because KHS is not no-kill despite how they are perceived. Also, there’s a real fear among the rescue community that, not only because KHS doesn’t normally work with a lot of rescues … but that this is just a revenue stream for KHS and that there’s a possibility that KHS just wants to take over and cherry-pick the animals they deem most adoptable.”

“It’s a mixed bag,” Reid continues, “but like I said, I remain cautiously optimistic, because you never know with that place.”

LMAS employees also have concerns, but for different reasons.

“Things haven’t gotten any better,” says Jessica Durbin, public education coordinator for LMAS. “When you have people like myself and others there who are halfway intelligent people, and instead of listening to their ideas you decide to spend $27,000 on a consultant who can tell you to do the things we’ve already been saying, it’s very frustrating. I like KHS, but the way this is being done has got a lot of us up in arms.”

Durbin points out that the city could hire two part-time animal adoption coordinators — positions at LMAS that are currently not filled — for that amount of money, adding that she doesn’t have much hope for the agency until a new permanent director is selected.

Over the years, KHS has repeatedly lobbied Metro government to take control of animal sheltering in Jefferson County — it already does so in Trimble, Henry and Spencer counties, in addition to providing animal control officers.

Chris Poynter, a spokesman for the mayor’s office, says critics of the Kentucky Humane Society are “jumping to conclusions” and that some of the concerns are unwarranted.

“You have the same people saying, ‘You’ve got to improve,’ but when you take steps to improve they criticize it,” Poynter says. “We’re in the midst of a performance review, and during that review, it became pretty clear that … we have some serious issues at Metro Animal Services that we need to turn around. We need to dramatically increase the number of adoptions. We need to lower the euthanasia rate. We just need to get the house in order, so to speak … The Humane Society is very well established. They are the largest animal rescue society in town. They really have a proven, long, successful track record, so in the interim, we thought it was important to get the best help we could immediately.”

No other shelters or rescue groups were asked to bid on the contract because of KHS’ reputation, Poynter says, and he doesn’t think having a private organization take control of a public agency raises any transparency issues.

“We’re open to other groups,” Poynter says. “We just needed to act quickly.” 


By TotallyLaughable

homeless pets in Louisville

By pickles06
There are several inaccuracies in the reporter's story. Donna Herzig seems to state that pet overpopulation is a myth. If that's the case, then why do LMAS and KHS take in approximately 18,000 pets per year combined? KHS adopted out over 6,200 pets, and placed an additional 600 pets through transfers to pet rescue groups. That's more than 4 times what LMAS did in 2010. Apparently KHS does have some "best practices" to offer to the staff at LMAS. Jessica Durbin, and employee of LMAS states that things have not gotten any better. Karen Koenig with KHS has been employed as a consultant since April 1st. It's highly unlikely her suggestions have had an impact as of the writing of this article. The writer states "over the years" KHS has repeatedly lobbied Metro to take control of animal sheltering....." This is entirely inaccurate and a misrepresentation of the facts. Pam Rodgers is not an employee of nor does she represent KHS. She is a lobbyist and representative for the Humane Society of the United States. HSUS is not affiliated with KHS, and KHS receives NO funding from HSUS. For the readers information, HSUS does not shelter any pets anywhere in the country. The Metro Council passed an ordinance in the Fall of 2010 saying that Metro has "the goal" of becoming a No-Kill Community. Before we can tackle that goal, LMAS has many problems that need to be corrected before the Metro area can expect to become a No-Kill community. This will not happen quickly without a long term strategic plan coordinated by LMAS and KHS combined (who represent the care of over 90% of the homeless pet population), along with the cooperation and collabortive efforts of the other animal welfare groups represented locally. Rather than being divisive, all pet lovers should unite and help LMAS and KHS solve the problems that currently exist.

LMAS management

By redemptionrescue
When Debbie Fox accepted the interim position at MAS, she agreed to work there until April 1. This was reported on several news outlets, so I don't understand why people seemed surprised when she returned to her former position at MetroSafe. Temporary is temporary, and that's the term she agreed to serve. If you were an interim manager and knew that your tenure was very temporary, how many "big decisions" on policy and procedure would you be able/willing to make, knowing that your replacement was somewhere around the corner? It seems reasonable that those big-picture policy decisions should be made by the permanent director, not an interim. If KHS wants a stranglehold on area animal control, why are they not renewing the animal control contract with Henry, Trimble and Spencer counties? The contract expires June 31 and those counties are now scrambling to implement their own animal control policies and secure shelter space. Why would KHS want control of LMAS? I doubt the city could afford them, and all shelters have enough financial challenges right now, including KHS. The city, in many people's opinions, needs to raise the salary level for a new director to attract the best. The city isn't able to do that, from my understanding. Having Metro Council adopt a no-kill resolution means that it is a goal. Any logical person can't expect that goal to be achieved in 60 days by a facility with no permanent leadership. It would seem that the "next best thing" is to have another successful shelter learn the LMAS processes and policies in hopes of tailoring, refining and expediting animal care within accepted parameters. I've been told that LMAS does not have a job description for a rescue coordinator. It will be easy for the new director to write that description, make it "legal", get funding and hire someone. According to government, you can't cut a paycheck for a job that doesn't exist. That makes sense. Am I a KHS fan? No. Am I an LMAS fan? No. Just because someone thinks they are right, it doesn't make it so. And that includes me. But rather than blast either group for the flaws you think you see, you will agree that both shelters can improve. Therefore, it makes sense to me that, in the absence of a permanent director, the largest and most successful shelter in the state (whether you like them or not) just might have something that LMAS can learn from them. Awarding this 3-month contract to any other local group would have been a slap in the face to LMAS. KHS simply has the most hands-on operational and shelter management experience, and nothing will change that. I hope we all listen with open minds to whatever suggestions are made to improve the animals' quality of life while they are at MAS. Not all recommendations can be implemented, but it can only improve for the animals. I'm not willing to criticize the review team's efforts until their report is published, and hope it will be a matter of public record


By pickles06
Thank you for some sensible comments. From what I know, KHS is a private, non-profit group running a very successful operation. KHS does not need to manage LMAS, and has stepped in because METRO requested their assistance. KHS staff are the most experienced and a logical choice. My understanding is that KHS sees the opportunity to assist LMAS in setting up programs that will improve the conditions and outcomes for the pets housed there. Some like to criticize KHS or call it a "Kill" shelter. KHS is an open admission shelter accepting any pet from an owner turn-in to a stray. No pet is turned away. The philosophy is that the pet will be treated humanely - rather than a desperate owner or individual turning that animal loose (to be potentially harmed in traffic), or disposing of it in any number of ways too horrifying to imagine. Many of the animal welfare groups that want to criticize KHS are not open admissions and only accept animals they have a foster home or adopter readily available for. Many who are critical don't even run a shelter or have any experience handling thousands of pets per year. KHS evaluates each pet, and those that are adoptable are placed up for adoption. Some pets are treated for illness or injury through foster homes, then placed up for adoption. Some pets are unfortunately deemed to be unadoptable due to health or behavior and are euthanized. Once a pet is placed up for adoption, it has no time limit and remains housed, cared for, and up for adoption until a loving home is found. Keep in mind - the people who work there are not in it for the money as any non-profit worker can attest. They are in it because the love dogs and cats! KHS just underwent a $2.3M renovation project to their main shelter to improve the conditions for the pet population. That money was raised through private donations. Who can argue with that? Rather than focusing on the fact that a small percentage of pets are euthanized, why not focus on the successes - that over 6,200 pets were adopted, and another 600 were placed for 6,800 pets finding new homes in 2010! That's to be applauded! Like it or not, there is a pet overpopulation problem in our community, and it's everyone's problem.


By salamander7
Please, please, metro government, release the performance review audit done by the Mayor's appointed audit team! Isn't it complete yet? Thought it was going to be released over a week ago. Let us see the reasons why you felt you needed to contract with KHS. KHS often euthanizes older animals, even if gentle, affectionate and in good health. They need to be up front about that.

We must do better

By freedom 200
Please read the Multi Award Winning Book "Redemption: The Myth of Pet Overpopulation and the No Kill Revolution" and its companion, "Irreconcilable Differences: the Battle for the Heard and Soul of America's Animal Shelters" written by the pioneer of the No Kill Movement, nationally acclaimed, Nathan Winograd. Go to his website and see how progressive cities all around this country know that there are more than enough homes to fill the needs of shelters if they would in addition to other things, adopt the no kill equation, and use rescues, fosters and relocations to places which have no adoptable animals. These books and the movement that they spurred are called "powerful and inspirational" and employ Winograd's philosophy which rejects the killing as a factor that achieves results. He tells the story of how the movement of animal sheltering was born of compassion and lost its way. This is the story of heros and villans, betrayal and redemption. We celebrate every animal who finds a new home we are not slamming KHS, LMAS or rescues, but we can do better. We know of communities that have an 80-90% SAVE rate. It will not happen overnight but we must try and stop being mired in the old two pronged approach, save a few and kill the rest. Nathan advocates for low cost spay/neuter programs, programs for keeping animals in their homes, the use of rescues and fosters and much more. Go look at the program for the conference in DC this summer which is held in conjunction with Georgetown Law School and which filled in less than a month. No Kill works. It is working and it can be working here. We just need a Director with a proven track record who is a uniter not a divider and is committed to thinking "outside the box" in order to move toward the goal that every animal is given the chance to have a home.

the No Kill movement

By pickles06
I couldn't agree more that No Kill is certainly something that any community can achieve, including Louisville Metro, and KHS, with great leadership, a strategic plan, proper funding, public education, spay/neuter programs, and a much larger foster home network than currently exists. All animal welfare groups must unite to achieve such a goal. It won't happen successfully just because the government mandates it. Unfortunately, the local No Kill movement is somewhat inexperienced in the area of collaboration. Perhaps with time their leader(s) will find a way to unite and utilize all of the resources at their disposal.

Older animals

By redemptionrescue
Salamander, you mention that KHS euthanizes some older animals despite the animals being healthy and social. We all know that 99% of potential adopters do not seek senior or geriatric pets, although age is a relative concept. Unfortunately, MAS and other shelters are faced with the same scenario regarding older pets. I'd be interested to know what solutions you see to this issue.To my knowledge, there is no regional "sanctuary" for older pets. What if rescues are full and can't take the animal? How long can a family pet survive living in a kennel with others before it shuts down? And pickles, no offense, but I can't consider KHS an open-admissions shelter when it charges a surrender fee.

KHS surrender fee

By pickles06
KHS is an open admissions shelter. As a private non-profit, the admissions staff asks the person dropping off the pet to pay a $25 donation to help cover the costs of housing and feeding the pet. This is also done to give the individual a chance to consider all of their options for finding a home for that pet. A counselor is on staff who can consult with that individual if they so desire regarding options such as behavior training, or free food banks if it is an issue of economics. If a person indicates they cannot or will not pay the $25, the pet is not turned away and is admitted.

reply to We Must Do Better

By pickles06
I agree that a No Kill philosophy could work at LMAS, but have you considered the funding and infrastructure necessary to make that possible? Currently LMAS operates on approximately $3.5M a year, with marginal results. It could be argued that with proper management, greater results i.e. live outcomes could be achieved on the same budget. However, as many citizens are aware. Metro government is attempting to cut budgets in every department due to loss of tax revenues in a weakened economy. San Antonio, TX is often held up as a model for a successful No Kill community of the same size population as Louisville. Some research needs to be done to understand all the Pros and Cons of how it was implemented there, but my understanding is there is one animal control shelter that operates on a $6.9 M budget per year. That's twice what we are working with locally. San Antonio probably has a decent, modernized shelter, too, versus the inhabitable facility LMAS works out of on Manslick. Regardless, some reality of the costs and infrastructure necessary to become "No Kill" needs to enter into the local picture here.

Please Read Nathan's Books and Blog

By freedom 200
Pickles06 Please read Nathan Winograd's books and blogs and you will see that there is NO CORRELATION between amount spent per animal and save rate. In fact, some of the most successful shelters spend less per animal than the large kill shelters. Remember, it costs a lot to house, feed, care for and kill animals. The use of rescues, transports and fosters as well as good programs which produce healthy animals and place a great deal of their animals in a relatively short period of time lead those shelters to their successes. No more naysaying. No more mired in the old ways - save a few and kill the rest. With the right director in place we will have a new shelter but not one to house 600-1000 as Meloche wanted because we won't need it. Read Nathan. Look at the shelters that have been successful- several near Louisville. Once they obtained that status, the community rallied and new facilities were built. Success begets success. This community is tired of going back into the dark ages. Our marginal success is not due to funding but management that has no clue. What proven track record did Meloche have? Zilensky? The interim directors have NO experience in running a municipal shelter although they certainly tried to keep it going. The key as Nathan says is the director. That is what we badly need.

Open admissions?

By redemptionrescue
To pickles: As a private nonprofit, KHS is free to write any protocol it chooses, and also to keep its stats private. That's their choice, although the community wishes they would share. I've been told by people I respect for their honesty that they have personally been in KHS' lobby when a citizen wanted to surrender a pet. The citizen either didn't want to pay the $25 or couldn't afford it, and the citizen was promptly given directions to LMAS. To those who paid the $25, they were then advised to pay an additional $75 for the GAP program to buy their pet a couple of weeks. Again, this has been said by people I respect, who harbor no ill will toward KHS. Because I wasn't there, it's hard to judge, but I tend to believe this is what they witnessed. To freedom: If we want to drastically reduce euthanasia and truly partner with the community for animal welfare, take tips from Shelby County. Study them. Talk with them. They did it. They listened and they educated, and they listened some more. They quietly succeeded for over a year because their citizens bought into the philosophy and made it happen. If we follow their lead, so can we.