Category Archives: Banning volunteers

Pender County pound volunteers required to attend re-education session

More than two months ago, Pender County pound employee Darlene Clewis sent all of the pound’s volunteers a notice telling them they were not welcome at the shelter until further notice:

From: Darlene Clewis <darleclew@aol.com>
Date: Fri, Nov 30, 2012 at 5:14 PM
Subject: updated volunteer procedures

we are currently updating our volunteer procedures until this is done we ask that you be patient with us every one will be notified with the new volunteer sheet. no volunteers at the shelter until the new policy is in place.

Some believe this was done because Pender volunteers were telling other folks what sort of things went on that the pound, and apparently Clewis and former director Keith Ramsey* didn’t like that.

The new policy appears to be in place now, because the volunteers have all been invited back to the pound for a volunteer orientation, or re-education in the case of existing volunteers, this Saturday, February 16, at 11 am.

Would it be surprising if the re-education includes volunteers being made to sign an unconstitutional “confidentiality clause?” Maybe not. Directors and staff of high-kill pounds like Pender often prefer to intimidate volunteers into keeping their mouths shut than to be held accountable for dismal conditions, questionable practices and high kill rates.

Fortunately for animal advocates who want to improve conditions for and save the lives of pets in pounds, it is illegal to ban or retaliate against volunteers or rescuers who exercise their First Amendment rights by talking about what they see going on at the pound. A federal statute best known as “Section 1983,” has been successfully used by animal advocates whose ability to help or save shelter pets was restricted  after they went public with their observations of shelter conditions and neglectful treatment.

In fact, the very existence of a mandatory “confidentiality” agreement could be considered a threat of retaliation against a volunteer or rescuer exercising his or her constitutionally protected rights. In the words of attorney Sheldon Eisenberg, (who successfully sued the Los Angeles County Department of Animal Care and Control in such a case):

A question may arise as to whether a volunteer or rescuer needs to wait for a government official to follow through on a threat to retaliate before filing a claim under Section 1983 or whether a threat of retaliation alone is sufficient to trigger one. For example, some volunteers have been told by officials that publicly speaking about a shelter will result in the volunteer being banned. Since the whole point of a Section 1983 retaliation claim is to prevent the “chilling” (discouragement) of constitutionally protected rights, it seems clear enough that a threat of retaliation for exercising those rights, which is specifically designed to obstruct the exercise of those rights, should be sufficient to satisfy the actual injury element of a Section 1983 claim. (From: Section 1983 To The Rescue)

There is also precedent under US statues for the prevailing party to recover all attorney fees in a suit filed in vindication of civil rights. This means that volunteers and rescuers, who often don’t have a lot of money to hire lawyers, may be able to find an attorney who would take such a case on contingency. For more about Section 1983 and its application to animal shelters, see Sheldon Eisenberg’s slide show.

The Pender County pound volunteer orientation is open to new and existing volunteers. The pound is located at 3280 New Savannah Rd. Burgaw, NC 28425. Phone: 910-259-1484.

*In January, the animal shelter was taken from under the control of the Pender County sheriff’s department and put under the county manager, so Ramsey, a sheriff’s lieutenant, is no longer director and Darlene Clewis (who was director before the sheriff  took over the shelter) is back in that spot.

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Roanoke Valley SPCA may regret banning volunteer over photos

The Roanoke Valley SPCA, an ostensibly No Kill organization, has a contract with four municipalities (City of Roanoke, Roanoke County, Botetourt County and Town of Vinton) to run the Roanoke Valley Regional Center for Animal Control & Protection, an animal pound in Roanoke, VA.  RVSPCA and RCACP, which share an executive director, are both in the same building owned by RVSPCA , which also owns Animal Care Services, the company that runs the daily operations. Last year the RCACP took in 6,438 cats and dogs and killed 3,355, or 52% of them.

“So a No Kill organization owns a company that performs euthanasia on pretty much a daily basis. Kind of misleading isn’t it?” said former volunteer Tina Robertson, who was banned  from the facility two weeks ago after having logged hundreds of volunteer hours there since last November. Ms. Robertson often took photos of cats and kittens in RCACP to  post on Facebook in an attempt to get them adopted.  She believes her banning was because some photos she posted showed the white tags outside the cages listing the reason each animal is to be killed.

RVSPCA cage card

This cage card lists the reason the cat inside is to be killed as “space,” despite the fact that, according to animal advocate ChrisTina Robertson there were approximately 25 empty cages available.

“The reason for euthanasia was space but there were three empty rooms of cages, probably 25 cages empty” Ms. Robertson said.

Two days after the photos were posted to Facebook, RVSPCA volunteer coordinator Ruth Pierce sent Ms. Robertson an email saying “In view of the events this past Saturday, your volunteer privileges have been suspended until further notice.”

Because of the attention brought  by a news story about Ms. Robertson’s banning, RVSPCA’s directors found themselves dodging calls from reporters when they made the news again, this time because Botetourt County decided to pull all of its cats out of RCACP so they wouldn’t be killed for spurious reasons. The future of participation by other municipalities may also come into question.

Then the City of Roanoke announced plans to audit the use of public money between the RVSPCA and the RCACP and the use of town employees to do RVSPCA work. The RCACP is already under a cruelty investigation by the Roanoke Police Department stemming from a June incident, and the localities that fund the pound are now looking closely at the agreement to see if criminal charges or convictions can void the contract.

The June incident that sparked the cruelty investigation involved a pit bull mix named Trinity, who came into the RCACP and was seen by a veterinarian on May 29. That vet said Trinity’s foot would need treatment in the long run, but there was no mention in the May 29 paperwork of any serious injury to the foot. But almost two weeks later, on June 9, another veterinarian saw Trinity and concluded that as a result of an untreated severe bed sore,  the leg could not be saved. “The bone itself had been exposed long enough that it was dying and dissolving.” he said.

This is not the first time RVSPCA cruelty or neglect has come to light. In 2010 a cat named Pumpkin, who had been seized from a home along with 20 other cats, was impounded at the RCACP. She was examined right away by a  community veterinarian who then went over her needs with the staff. Despite the fact that the card on her cage said she needed insulin, she was given none for an entire week at RCACP. Pumpkin went into a  diabetic coma and the RVSPCA vet recommended she be euthanized.

In a transparent attempt to defuse criticism and scrutiny of its operations, the RVSPCA has decided to conduct an internal investigation. The task force carrying out the probe is made up of RVSPCA directors, including board president Barbara Dalhouse and her husband Warner.

Volunteers at pounds across the country are often afraid to speak up about the cruelty, neglect and needless killing they witness because they are afraid it will get them banned and they won’t be able to help the animals. But as Ms. Robertson’s case illustrates, getting banned could open up a brand new hope for the animals stuck in pounds like RCACP by shedding light on an  empire of indifference, neglect and corruption.

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