Back to the drawing board

Troubled Animal Services seeks new leadership — again

In the week that saw Louisville Metro Animal Services’ 3705 Manslick Road shelter briefly shuttering its doors due to a viral outbreak, the city announced it would change course yet again in a nearly decade-long quest to turn around the troubled agency.

Seemingly breaking a campaign pledge to replace MAS’ haphazard interim directorships with permanent leadership, Mayor Greg Fischer announced in the spring that he would instead outsource sheltering and adoptions to any private organization that submitted the best bid to the city.

Yet at the end of that bidding process, the response was underwhelming: Only No-Kill Louisville, a nonprofit animal rescue dedicated to zero euthanasia, had submitted an application; the Kentucky Humane Society, long thought to be the front-runner given its size and political clout, had not.

Thus the following about-face:

“We must now strive to find a leader who is innovative and experienced to make that happen,” Fischer said in a press release sent out last week, echoing elements of his initial campaign platform. “We need a leader who can bring together animal advocates and our entire community. Metro Animal Services is an agency facing many challenges, but, in recent weeks, we have already seen some improvement, including better communication with rescue groups that has led to more animals being adopted. Animal Services staff also responded well to the recent threat of floods. It leaves me hope that, with the right leadership, we can transform the agency.”

Judge Sadiqa Reynolds, Fischer’s chief of Community Building, cited a handful of reasons for the rejection of No-Kill’s bid, including a lack of experience operating an animal shelter and the fact that the nonprofit sought nearly $1 million above the city’s asking price.

No-Kill President Jessica Reid feels the city didn’t take her organization’s proposal seriously.

“Now I think we were never even in the game,” Reid wrote on her Facebook wall. “The reasons given could have been explained or dealt with had we had a conversation with the mayor’s office. If we’d had a conversation I might feel like we were given a fair shot and if they had then decided to turn us down, I’d have believed they did their best. I’ve lost confidence.”

The fallout has created a bit of a rift within the city’s zero euthanasia movement: Amidst the tumult of the bidding process, three members resigned from No-Kill’s board.

One of those former board members is Leslie Spetz, owner of Spetz Custom Framing & Gallery, who thinks that despite the hard work put into the proposal, No-Kill simply wasn’t up to the task of running a shelter full-time.

I still support the No-Kill mission,” Spetz says. “I just think there’s a lot more harm being done now than good. I’m having a problem with some of the onslaught through the media … some things that have been said that probably shouldn’t have been,” referring to the reportage of Reid’s Facebook post.

“It’s frustrating because something needs to be done immediately, it’s so horrendous (at the Manslick shelter),” Spetz adds. “But then again, I don’t know if (No-Kill) could have done it. But the argument there is ‘why not at least let them try?’ But the thing of it is, it was probably more than they could handle; I just don’t think they could’ve really done it.”

The Louisville Kennel Club’s Barbara Haines, who currently sits on No-Kill’s board but was not involved in drafting the bid, offers an assessment similar to Spetz’s.

“No-Kill has only been around a little over a year, it’s an all-volunteer organization, it has no paid officers, it has no paid staff, it has nothing attached to it, no capital,” Haines says. “They have experience working at the shelter, but working at Ford and running Ford are two totally different skill sets.”

In the meantime, the Manslick Road shelter has resumed normal operations after workers and volunteers attempted to disinfect the facility after a confirmed June 30 outbreak of what the city claims was one case of distemper virus, which attacks animals’ gastrointestinal tracts and nervous systems. However, emails obtained by LEO Weekly reveal that multiple cases of distemper have been confirmed in dogs and cats.

One of those emails was written by Susan Neumeyer, MAS’ current interim director, who on July 2 notified rescue groups of “three confirmed cases of canine distemper,” a figure that doesn’t jibe with the solitary case mentioned in a press release sent out by the mayor’s office announcing the Manslick Road contamination.

Another email, dated June 28 and written by a volunteer cat rescuer, mentions two cats pulled from Manslick that were infected with and eventually succumbed to distemper.

Even worse, multiple sources — including Spetz, who routinely volunteers at MAS — say the agency’s new adoption-centric facility, 3516 Newburg Road’s Animal House, has already been tainted with the introduction of pneumonia parvo, which leaches into surfaces making it extremely difficult to eradicate, as well as distemper.

With LMAS seemingly leaderless and facing more of the same problems, mayoral spokeswoman Lindsay English says Fischer wants to have a new director selected by the end of the month, but suggests setting a specific date for their arrival “would be putting too fine a point on things.”

“But I think it’ll also depend on the candidates themselves and sort of where they’re coming from and how much notice they’ll need from their previous job.”

She says the administration will cull the new director from the list of 26 originally compiled by the search committee initially charged with the task when it was formed on Jan. 14 of this year.