Only a few weeks after Lagniappe detailed improvements at the Mobile County Animal Shelter, several of the county’s largest rescue operations have opted to cease working the shelter indefinitely – citing a decline in cooperation as the cause.

The Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF), Alabama Animal Welfare Coalition (AAWC) and Krewe de Rescue have, along with several individual rescuers, informed the shelter they will no longer be working with them.

A press release from ARF was sent to various media outlets last week. It claims that without warning the shelter administration implemented new and harshly restrictive policies.

“These changes have created an environment in which valuable rescue resources are repeatedly wasted on animals that have already been euthanized,” the release reads. “We have all worked too long and hard for the progress that was made to sit idly by as an uncaring administration makes policy changes that restrict our very function.”

In the midst of the policy changes, certain placement partners complained that emails detailing how long animals had until they were euthanized became more vague and less helpful.

Last year, the MCAS was part of a study conducted by the University of Florida’s Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program, the National Animal Care and Control Association and the Humane Society of the United States.

One part of the study’s findings suggested the shelter no longer advertise how long animals had until they were euthanized because it creates a negative sentiment about the facility as a whole, which can inadvertently have a negative effect on adoption rates.

Mobile County Public Affairs Director Nancy Johnson said specific information about when animals will be euthanized is impossible to provide because it’s a fluid situation.

“It’s an issue for us, because we don’t know,” Johnson said. “It depends on who comes in and takes animals and the number of animals we receive.”

Johnson said it also creates a problem when those figures are shared through the rescue operations’ social media outreach and personal websites. Because the situation is subject to change, Johnson said those figures could quickly become inaccurate.

“When that happens, we’re having to answer to someone else’s website,” she said. “That creates ill will and problems for the shelter staff.”

According to Johnson, another issue rescue operations ran into was MCAS adopting dogs to the public they were in the process of finding homes for. However, Johnson said serving the public is why the shelter is there in the first place.

When contacted about the placement partners ending their relationship with the shelter, Mobile County Commission President Connie Hudson responded with a brief statement emailed to ARF’s President by District Administrator Jaclyn McCarn.

“I fully support the operational decision of shelter management staff,” Hudson’s email read. “All rescue groups are already well aware of the fact that after the deadline for stray hold, the animals may be euthanized.”

Hudson’s email also states that recuse groups “objected to shelter publicity about successful adoptions, claiming it interrupted their fundraising efforts.”

Lagniappe did obtain an email sent to MCAS office manager Kathy Belcher from an ARF volunteer that stated, “Kathy, this isn’t the first time a group has asked you not to post dogs are safe [sic]. We are out hundreds of dollars in pledges now.”

However, ARF Board member Rachel Seymore said the organization doesn’t ever make money from contributions, but instead uses those donations to find homes for animals they have already pulled form the shelter.

“This was from a single occurrence when AAWC has rescued 12 dogs who were going to be euthanized that same day.
There was no plan for these dogs, and it requires (veterinary) and boarding expenses,” Seymore said. “We objected to MCAS posts on Facebook about dogs who were pulled by rescue groups, not animals adopted at the shelter.”

Based on data from January-June of 2014, more than 60 percent of the animals taken in the by the shelter were adopted or transferred, which is almost double the amount of live releases from 2013. In that time, ARF was responsible for the majority of the transfers.

But the same rescue organizations that helped make that change are now saying that in a matter of months, their healthy and functional relationship with the shelter has changed drastically.

The press release states that on several occasions rescues had notified MCAS personnel that an owner or funding had been found for animals that were on the mandatory seven-day stray hold. However, when rescue volunteers arrived to pick up the animals – most of the time the day after their stray hold ended – they discovered the animals had already been euthanized.

According to the press release, the situation listed above is only one example of the current administration’s alienation of rescue operations.

“The administration stated they had no obligation to inform their placement partners before the policy changes that caused the untimely and unnecessary death of these animals,” the press release reads. “We cannot continue to save lives within the system as it has become. Things were going well and animals were being saved. And now, over a span of 30 days’ time, the rules have changed and we find ourselves back where we started, knowing animals are dying and powerless to stop it.”

Representatives are convinced that despite their best efforts, working with MCAS is ultimately wasting time and resources that could benefit other animals. Representatives for each organization said they would continue their efforts in other areas and through other open-intake shelters.

“We have focused our previous efforts on MCAS as they are the largest open-intake shelter in our area, but the administration has effectively made it impossible for us to continue our efforts there,” the release states.
Johnson said “it’s a shame” that certain rescue groups have decided to cease working with the shelter. However, the MCAS still works with several other organizations to help place animals in homes.

“We would like for them to continue to work with us and save as many of these animals as they can, but they can’t dictate changes in our operation,” she said. “We’re a government agency that has to be honest and forthright with the public. It’s unfortunate they can’t work under these pretty basic guidelines – guidelines that were recommended by the experts.”

Despite the loss of those placement partners, MCAS did see spike in pet adoptions this past weekend during its first “Labor of Love” event, which offered the free adoption of all animals one year of age and older and discounted adoption fees of $10 for each animal under that age.

Johnson said the older animals are typically harder to adopt than puppies and kittens. She also said the event was so successful that the shelter will extend offer through Friday, Aug. 29.

* Updated at 2:38 p.m., Aug. 28, to accurately reflect the origin of Connie    Hudson’s comments.