The Baldwin County Commission is under fire from some animal rights groups over the operation of the Baldwin County Animal Shelter in Summerdale.
Some of the interaction between county commissioners and members of some animal rights groups have become quite testy on social media and through email exchanges.
“We’ve had some pretty direct conversations with them and emails going back and forth,” Commissioner Tucker Dorsey confirmed. “There’s some stuff they are concerned about with adjusting the policies and procedures.”
Commissioner Skip Gruber said criticisms of the shelter are unwarranted.
“We’ve had a rescue group that’s been bad-mouthing about the shelter, how terrible it was and that animals were starving,” Gruber said. “We were trying to put a positive swing on the animal shelter because it’s not bad. We’ve got some very capable people out there and they were chastising our employees and saying they were not qualified.”
At Tuesday’s regular County Commission meeting, commissioners put in place some policies to solidify procedures and regulations at the shelter. The commissioners voted to approve the “Baldwin County Animal Shelter Standard Operating Procedures Manual” and “Baldwin County Animal Shelter Rescue Handbook.” The commission also agreed to a professional services agreement for veterinary services with Dykes Veterinary.
“The animal shelter advisory board has given us some recommendations for some policies in regards as to how we manage the shelter,” Dorsey said. “It has everything to do with safety issues with the animals and different processes. There’s not anything exciting or sexy in there but we’re real excited about having a real comprehensive policy and procedure process for the animals sheltered there.”
On Jan. 23 County Administrator Ron Cink gave a first-quarter report on the shelter to commissioners detailing how many dogs were brought in, sent out to foster homes, reunited with owners, adopted and euthanized.
Since taking over the shelter from the state in October, 63 dogs were reunited with their owners, 148 were adopted and 114 were rescued. Sixteen dogs were euthanized, including five with canine parvovirus, seven with other illnesses or injuries and four for behavioral issues.
Resident Mac McKleroy says the number of euthanized pets has risen since the county took over and he has worked on a petition questioning methods at the shelter and calling for the resignation of Gina Jones, the county’s humane officer.
“There’s been a lot of discussion previously about when Alabama ran the shelter,” McKleroy said. “It was no-kill in that what our idea of no-kill is that no healthy dogs were put down. We went from what we consider zero percent to 5 percent, and that concerns us.”
Gruber defended the practices of the shelter and said the facility was never intended to be a complete “no-kill” shelter.
“It’s not a no-kill shelter and no one said it was or anything like that. If we have sick animals or dogs with parvo or stuff like that, and we have vicious animals,” euthanasia is sometimes warranted, Gruber said.
Dogs are not put down at the shelter and decisions on which ones are euthanized are not made there, Gruber said. He said the animals are assessed by professionals before being put down.
“We have veterinarians who look at this stuff for us,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the veterinarians are the ones that are putting them down. We are not licensed to put an animal down at the animal shelter. We did not want to handle that. We thought it would be better to let the veterinarians do that so we don’t have to handle all the medicines and all that other stuff it takes to do that. It’s out of our hands. We let the vets do it and I think it’s a great way to do it.”
Another speaker at the meeting, Patricia Kruger with the animal rescue group The Mylo Foundation, questioned the use of a panel of veterinarians to select which dogs are euthanized.
“When I have a problem with my dog, I don’t call my vet — I call my dog trainer,” Kruger told the commission.
Her group is also a supporter of the petition and after the meeting criticized the commission in a post on its website.
“We presented our petition to an unmoved and sometimes unwelcoming Baldwin County Commission today,” the post stated. “Our objective today was not to make demands but to extend the olive branch and ask to work together for the sake of the animals. The commission replied to our humble request by acknowledging they had no intention of working with the people.”
Dorsey and other commissioners defended the shelter employees and said the county has worked with people in the community to make improvements and run the shelter.
“We’re excited about the animal shelter and the folks we’ve got working there,” Dorsey said. “A lot of the folks we’ve got working there have really been worn out and blasted. The petition was basically asking us to fire our folks over there. We’ve got some great folks over there and most of it is I’m standing up for our folks and what we’re doing over there.
“We’ve instituted this advisory panel which is a good cross-section of rescue folks, veterinarians, people who are knowledgeable about the animal shelter, that the four commissioners have no idea about. We know what we want for the outcome and we’ve got good people helping us to do that.”
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the commission accepted the resignation of Steven Savage from the animal shelter advisory board and appointed Dusty Feller to complete the four-year term.