CAA chief says claims are false
The nonprofit group that took over the city-parish’s animal shelter 14 months ago to reduce the number of animals that are euthanized every year has come under fire by some of its own employees who are alleging animal cruelty and mismanagement at the shelter.
Complaints about the Companion Animal Alliance’s shelter operations, both from CAA employees and from the public, spurred the parish’s Animal Control and Rescue Center to conduct an investigation earlier this month, according to a report prepared by the Animal Control and Rescue Center.
The investigation, headed by Animal Control Director Hilton Cole, found a lack of qualified supervisors, lack of policy and organization throughout the CAA, and “frustration and lack of confidence/respect from the rank and file employees towards management.”
Animal Control and Rescue Center is a city-parish agency that used to handle enforcement and shelter operations. The CAA asked to take over the sheltering, adoptions and euthanasia of animals so the shelter could eventually become a no-kill facility.
This is the second investigation by the Animal Control and Rescue Center over cruelty complaints that the CAA has been subjected to since it took over control of shelter services.
CAA Board President Christel Slaughter said the claims of animal cruelty are “absolutely” false, but admitted management needs to do a better job of communicating policy changes to the staff and the public. She said miscommunication is the crux of the employees’ frustration and their allegations.
In late September, a CAA employee sent an email to CAA board members with 27 bullet points detailing the concerns of employees, many of which were aimed at Kimberly Sherlaw, the CAA executive director.
Among the complaints:
- The agency is “incredibly short-handed because Sherlaw has fired or forced the resignation of many of our best and most well respected employees.” Among those who were let go were Dr. Amy Cangelosi, a veterinarian, and Debbie Pearson, the interim director who led the agency before Sherlaw took over.
- Sick or injured animals being denied timely medical attention.
- Lack of necessary vaccinations, and unvaccinated animals being placed in holding areas with other animals, exposing “the entire shelter to illness and disease.”
- Lack of cleaning supplies, including “bleach, nozzles, cat litter, and many other things.”
- Animals being denied adequate food, “causing them to become malnourished and sickly.”
The email containing the complaints was signed by “staff members of the Companion Animal Alliance.” No names were attached, although the email was sent to CAA board members by a staff member named Jaden Stafford.
“As employee morale and animal care has plummeted, the death toll has drastically increased,” the email states.
Slaughter said only eight of the 26 CAA staff members supported the email and she has received eight other letters from employees who disavowed the complaint letter. Slaughter said every complaint was investigated and those that alleged illegal operations or violations of regulations were found to be without merit.
The CAA saves about half of the animals that come into the facility, Slaughter said, which is an improvement over the 20 percent rate the shelter was able to save had when it was under city-parish control.
Sherlaw said the CAA is in a transitional phase and has implemented new policies and procedures in recent weeks that have not been received well by some employees.
“I was prepared for some resistance, but certainly, we want to make sure that the community feels like they’re getting the answers they need in terms of our animal care and adoption processes,” Sherlaw said.
Sherlaw, who took over in April, is the CAA’s third director since August 2011. The first director, Laura Hinze, resigned less than two months after she started, following complaints of animal overcrowding and inhumane conditions.
Pearson served as interim director until Sherlaw was selected. Pearson was let go about six weeks ago, Slaughter said.
“We thanked her for her services, but she was not able to adjust to the new model,” Slaughter said.
The investigative findings by the Animal Control and Rescue Center, which echo some of the complaints in the email sent by CAA employee letter, among other things cited “the lack of a licensed veterinarian being on staff and present when needed.”
Slaughter said the agency formerly had an inhouse veterinarian but recently contracted with the LSU School of Veterinary Medicine, with a veterinarian who conducts rounds once a day. Slaughter said not properly informing the CAA’s staff of the change led to the erroneous perception that animals weren’t being treated.
Slaughter acknowledged that Dr. Craig Alberty, the veterinarian under contract with the LSU veterinary school to work with the CAA, is being investigated by Louisiana Board of Veterinary Medicine because of a complaint that he allowed non-certified personnel to euthanize animals.
However, Slaughter said, neither Alberty nor Sherlaw has violated any laws.
Councilman Mike Walker, who serves as the council’s chairman, has placed an item on the council’s Nov. 14 agenda requesting a report from the CAA. The agenda item calls for “taking whatever action is deemed necessary” to address the problems at the shelter.
Walker said he’s disappointed in the group’s lack of progress and thinks shelter operations were run better when they were under city-parish control.
“Hilton Cole would have never let this situation get to like it is today,” Walker said.
Slaughter said a lack of funding contributes to the CAA’s woes. The CAA receives about $460,000 annually from the city-parish, and budgets about $40,000 in monthly private contributions but sometimes falls short of the monthly fundraising goals, Slaughter said.
She said next year they will budget more conservatively, banking on about $5,000 to $10,000 in monthly donations.
Slaughter also said the agency will likely ask the city-parish for more operating funds.
The CAA initially asked for about $700,000 to $1 million from the city-parish for taking over shelter services. Asked why they went forward with the takeover despite not receiving adequate funding, Slaughter said they were “convinced that we could do better.”
“We were convinced that with less resources we could still bring in more volunteers and more private dollars,” she said.