Volunteers Speak Out about Conditions at Broward County Shelter

by Denise Carey-Costa

Once again, there is much outrage over the current conditions at Broward County Animal Care and Adoptions in south Florida. This time it is not the public, but volunteers who have an inside view of the goings on and issues the shelter is facing.

The recent allegations of abuse, neglect, mismanagement and incompetence are nothing new and go back for many years to the leadership of Executive Director Thomas Adair.  He eventually resigned his position when it was discovered he and other county employees changed the dog and cat records to make it appear as if the owners wanted their pets euthanized, when instead they wanted them adopted. Evidence was uncovered that Adair was going into the county computer system altering the reason for killing the dogs and cats from health issues or aggressiveness to “owner requested.”

Now the current director Lauralei Combs is under fire for the inconsistency in the dangerous dog labeling and unjust killing of dogs who were healthy and had no behavioral issues. The latest victim of this mass killing was a dog named Phoenix. According to witnesses/volunteers who knew Phoenix, he arrived at the shelter in early June. He was very timid and had bite marks all over his body. He may have been used as a bait dog or been attacked by another dog or animal. No one is sure.

According to Marisol Tammero, Phoenix was very much afraid. His demeanor displayed sadness and fear, not aggression. He was always huddled up against the back wall of his kennel trying to be invisible. She took pity on him and decided to take him out for some exercise. He was so excited to go outside. He was a curious dog and wandered around the play yard, frequently coming back for a treat and a head scratch.

When it was time to go inside, Phoenix became very depressed and returned to his position pressed against the back wall. When Marisol ran her hand over his body, she could feel him shaking with fear. Marisol interacted with Phoenix four times. She even has a video of him running around the play yard and coming back to her when called.

On July 13, 2019 Phoenix had his photo taken by volunteer photographer Katia Medina. She stated when interviewed that Phoenix was so happy to be getting all the attention and licked her face many times as pictured above. Marisol was thrilled to see him coming out of his shell. This must have been the happiest day of his short life. In his photo he looks calm and almost joyful.

On that same day, while the volunteers went to lunch, Phoenix was killed under the “dangerous dog” label. According to Laurelei Combs and other staff members, Phoenix had supposedly killed another dog who was his kennel mate. Yet, in interviews with Katia, Marisol, and a third volunteer named Sloan Cowart, they never saw him in a kennel with another dog, not did anyone ever see the dog he allegedly attacked. Furthermore, none of three had ever even heard him bark.

Phoenix was killed for being afraid. Instead of having a behaviorist work with the dog or asking for help from the rescue community, it was more convenient and cheaper to kill him.

Phoenix isn’t the only one to be killed under alleged aggression. Kennedy, a four-year-old male dog who was well loved by the volunteers and enjoyed cuddling, was reduced to a bloody mess in his cage when a staff member claimed Kennedy turned on him.

Then there was Hank who was strangled with a catch pole causing capillaries in his eyes to burst. This was justified by saying Hank was aggressive. Thankfully, Hank made it out alive and was adopted.

What is most upsetting about this is according to Marisol and Katia, there have been other dogs brought into the shelter who had records of aggression. One was named Johnnie. He was an owner surrender and had a muzzle order because he killed cats. Another dog named Grux had a history of biting three people. Yet, these two dogs were allowed to live and went on to be adopted. Yet, Phoenix was killed for less.

Katia, Sloan, and Marisol also mentioned the “Red Dot Dogs.”  These dogs are considered un-adoptable because of behavior. Once again, instead of having a behaviorist work with them to re-habilitate them, they are kept locked in a kennel with a padlock 24/7. No one is allowed to take them out. There they sit, isolated in their cells, never seeing the light of day, no interaction, and no promotion. They are basically left back there to rot or go mad. Even hardcore prisoners are allowed time in an exercise yard.

The shelter is using the excuse of behavioral issues for the increase in killings. This raises the question of why are there suddenly so many more behavior problems? Where is the new behavior testing and modification programs that would help reduce this problems; programs that were promised by Lauralei Combs when she obtained her position. And what are the staff members who call themselves “Animal Behaviorists” doing to work with these dogs?

Inconsistency in who lives and who dies is not the only glaring flaw in the Broward County shelter system. All three witnesses, Marisol, Sloan, and Katia attested to the fact that the facility is constantly filthy. Dogs are constantly sitting in their own urine and feces. Instead of putting an effort into cleaning, or hiring more staff to handle the pet population, dogs are now only fed once a day to prevent them from soiling their kennels. The dogs are losing weight and losing their hair; they clamor for treats because they are starving.

When the kennels are cleaned, they are sprayed down and squeegeed while the dogs are still inside. This causes much physical and emotional trauma for the animals. If they react, then they’re labeled aggressive. The ironic thing about this practice is, on March 26, 2019 a memo was put out by Lauralei Combs stating “at no time should a dog be subjected to the cleaning process while still in the run as it negatively impacts the physical and mental well-being of the dog. “

It seems no matter who sits in the directorial position at Broward County Animal Care and Adoptions, the shelter continues on a downward spiral. These issues have been attributed to the shelter operating with poorly trained staff, animal behavior assessments not being handled by trained professionals, the director not using the resources available in the rescue community to help eliminate overcrowding, a lack of knowledge, and leadership which trickles down to the rest of the staff. Sloan Cowart stated they are woefully understaffed and have been promised more staffing for almost a year. Yet, the shelter had a one-million-dollar budget surplus from the previous fiscal year. All these factors combined lead to a huge increase in killing. Solutions exist, but the current leadership has been unable to implement them.

Broward County, like so many other shelters in the nation, need to be overhauled. It is time to replace highly paid shelter supervisors, managers, and CEOs with people who care about the welfare of the animals in their care; not ones who makes excuses for killing innocent animals.

Also, to blame are the county commissioners who continue to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the complaints filed. The citizenry of Broward County also contributes to the killing machine by treating their animals as disposable objects to be dumped at a shelter when they tire of them; only to go out and get another dog to repeat the cycle.

It has gotten so out of control that Broward County has had to close its intake repeatedly. The public needs to be educated on what it means to be a responsible pet owner. Until these things are changed, the lives of countless animals are destined to be lost.

Before writing this article, Broward County Animal Care and Adoption was contacted to give their side of the story on the killing of Phoenix and other issues brought to light by the three volunteers. They have not responded.

Marisol Tammero and Katia Medina have since had their volunteer services terminated.

To demand an investigation into Broward County Animal Care and Adoption, please contact the following:

bhenry@broward.org
bsharief@broward.org
tryan@broward.org
mudine@broward.org
dholness@broward.org
lfisher@broward.org
sgeller@broward.org
nrich@broward.org
mbogen@broward.org
mcepero@broward.org
bfurr@broward.org.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” – Gandhi

This story has been reposted from Pet Rescue Report with the author’s permission.

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