Beating a dead horse

Problems (still) abound at Louisville Metro Animal Services

Jan 5, 2011 at 6:00 am

Since succeeding his supervisor as top dog of Louisville Metro Animal Services, interim director Wayne Zelinsky has had an entire year to make things right within the beleaguered animal control agency.

Despite being named along with ex-Director Gilles Meloche as a defendant in two sexual harassment lawsuits brought by LMAS employees, the former Sarasota, Fla., police K-9 unit officer set high goals for the public agency after assuming office on Jan. 1, 2010, chief among them to work with animal rescue groups that had been alienated by Meloche, to significantly reduce euthanasia rates, and to increase adoptions. Early in his tenure, it looked as though that might actually happen, even though the recently opened Newburg Road ‘Animal House’ adoption facility was delayed by nearly a year due to faulty
construction work.

In an interview with LEO Weekly in May 2010, Jessica Reid, founder and president of the nonprofit animal welfare and zero-euthanasia advocacy group No Kill Louisville, said Zelinsky — a board member of No Kill Louisville — was fostering an open, intimidation-free work environment at LMAS.

But as the new year unfolds, Reid and other sources close to the shelter maintain that Zelinsky’s reign has brought the embattled animal control agency only more ruin: Conditions at LMAS’ 3705 Manslick Road shelter continue to worsen as its cat room and two kennels suffer from nonexistent and inadequate heating systems (respectively), even during the onset of winter; rescue groups are being alienated and refused access to animals for arbitrary reasons; adoptions at the Manslick shelter have virtually ceased despite assurances they would continue, according to employees; and euthanasia rates haven’t significantly changed since Meloche resigned a year ago.

“Wayne is running the shelter into the ground,” says Barbara Haines, treasurer of the Louisville Kennel Club. “(Mayor Greg) Fischer needs to replace (Zelinsky) with an interim director while a permanent director is being selected. It can’t wait any longer.”

To get a clearer picture of LMAS’ stagnation, one need only look at the current euthanasia numbers. According to data compiled by an LMAS employee, 5,991 out of a total 10,213 animals (58 percent) were euthanized between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, 2009. During the same time frame in 2010, the euthanasia rate dropped a mere 1 percent, with 5,925 out of a total 10,382 animals (57 percent) being euthanized.

The leading justification for lethal injections at the shelter is “behavior observed,” which, according to a euthanasia log obtained by LEO Weekly, can be behavior such as a cat hissing unfavorably at an LMAS employee; 1,193 animals were killed for that reason last year.

As a result of such flimsy rationale, coupled with the fact that volunteers sometimes are placed in charge of authorizing euthanasia, Reid feels like No Kill Louisville and the animals they serve have been pushed into a corner. Meanwhile, her organization has increasingly picked up LMAS’ slack by ferrying dogs on behalf of the shelter to the Hurstbourne Lane PetSmart and renewing a low-income pet food-assistance program, even as LMAS and other rescues said there wasn’t any money for it.

“Granted, Zelinsky had quite a mess when he came in, but on the other side of it, he was part of that mess,” says Reid, adding that she now feels his membership on No Kill Louisville’s board feels more like a political move than any legitimate concern for animals. “He said in front of (Metro Council) when we did the No Kill Resolution on Sept. 9 that (he) supports us. I think he’s very duplicitous, and he says what you want to hear. If somebody says, ‘I love the color blue,’ he’ll say, ‘I love the color.’ And then, when somebody else comes by and says, ‘Oh, really? I love red,’ he’ll go, ‘Oh, I love red, too.’”

Reid also recounts an incident that reportedly occurred at the Manslick Road shelter on Dec. 28, 2010: “What I was told by volunteers and employees was that (the director of adoptions) said, ‘I’ll euthanize every animal in (this) building if I want to.’”

The alleged statement became public last week after WAVE 3 reported that LMAS workers and volunteers were concerned all of the animals in the former adoption building on Manslick Road were slated to be euthanized en masse. In response, Reid says she repeatedly tried to contact Zelinsky via phone and email, but to no avail. “I never received a response from Wayne,” she says. “Nothing. Not one word.”

Although Zelinsky told WAVE 3 it was “all a misunderstanding,” he defended the agency’s practice of euthanizing animals: “There’s enough checks and balances in there to where I’m comfortable if that decision is made that we’ve given that animal every chance.”

Reid and others think otherwise.

In an interview with LEO Weekly, Zelinsky says another reporter recently asked him about a dog being kicked to death while in LMAS’ custody. “She said, ‘I’ve been told that Dismas (Charities) workers killed a dog at your place,’” Zelinsky says. “You know, my first response was, ‘If somebody knows that it happened, they need to go to the police, not to me and not to you. If somebody can prove this, they need to leave here in handcuffs.”

He says that the dog in question was sent away for a necropsy, and that the results could not determine whether LMAS was at fault for its death.

And although Zelinsky says the Manslick shelter continues to perform adoptions, one employee — who spoke to LEO on the condition of anonymity — contradicts that claim, although she adds that it’s possible because, “We’re never really sure what to expect on any given day. We just take it one day at a time, because we never really know what to expect.”