RANCHO CUCAMONGA--An animal advocacy group has begun a campaign to protest what it says is a direction away from an intended "no kill" policy for the city animal shelter.
The group includes dozens of supporters who attended a recent council meeting and five former Rancho Cucamonga Care and Adoption Center volunteers who say they were dismissed as part of retaliation for speaking out against shelter policy changes since the arrival of new director Veronica Fincher in 2011. Also in the group was animal shelter employee Jesse Kreider, and animal rights attorney Marla Tauscher.
At the meeting, the group raised allegations of dogs staying in crates longer than they should and described the practice as animal abuse.
"The city needs to have a director who is supposed to be doing what the city said they would do in 2005," said Susan Keithly, a shelter volunteer who was dismissed in November. "We are saying they need a confident, committed director who can achieve "no kill" now."
Rancho Cucamonga city manager John Gillison, in response to the issues raised, supported a statement by Fincher from late last year. She said a no-kill policy remains a goal for the shelter. Gillison said, "we're doing the best we can right now."
"I think we all share the same goal of getting as many animals adopted as possible," Gillison said. "There may be a disagreement about the current administration of the center and how the programs are being run, and that's a fair topic for public conversation."
Fincher, in a September interview, said because Rancho Cucamonga is an open-admission shelter - it takes in all stray, abandoned or surrendered animals within the city - keeping animals from being euthanized is a challenge.
Fincher said all options are exhausted before an animal is euthanized, and said the center engages in outreach to rescue organizations, support shelters, and the public. Often times, decisions to euthanize an animal are based on the dog or cat's ability to adjust to kennel life, adoptability, and safety for prospective adopters, she said.
Keithly says animals' lives are being lost because of policy changes. She said the shelter should reinstate eliminated promotional programs, and more playgroups and videos, which group members said is instrumental to a no kill policy for the shelter. The group would also like the dismissed volunteers to return to work at the shelter to help promote the animals and increase adopt-ability.
"The difference with (the previous animal shelter director) was if we presented ideas, things like off-site promotions, we were able to do those things," said Dana Keithly, a professor at Chaffey college, who had previously worked at the shelter as an employee and grant coordinator. "Especially if it's not costing them any money, why wouldn't the director want volunteers to be able to run these types of programs?"
Keithly said reasons for her dismissal included "insubordination" and "creating a hostile work environment," which she characterized as lies.
"If this were true, why were we never sat down and warned," she said.
Tauscher, who was among those who spoke at the council meeting, disputed the city's assertion that the average adoption rate has been at 80 percent. She projected the animal shelter document she was given by the city on the view screen at the council meeting.
"The adoptions for dogs were actually 47 percent and for cats it was 31 percent for a combined average of 39 percent, which is about half of 80 percent," Tauscher said. "...They're using terms of art such as 'unadoptable' versus 'adoptable.' They look at totals in terms of what they call 'light outcomes' and they have to sort of manipulate the numbers to present them in a way that's more favorable to them."
Tauscher said there are violations of state law, including instances where owners requested euthanasia.
"During January to September, they killed 49 animals at the request of the owners," Tauscher said. "That's illegal under state law. It is absolutely prohibited, you cannot kill an animal because the owner doesn't want it anymore."
Kreider, with a photograph displayed on the council view screen, relayed the story of how a "Marc Steinorth for Mayor" sign from 2010, with visible holes in it, had been placed in the field service office, days after Steinorth was elected to council on Nov.
Kreider said he brought it up in conversation with a supervisor who told him she and other employees had used the sign for "target practice in the play yard outside."
Kreider said he and the supervisor discussed how some of the volunteers supported Steinorth, while others did not.
"This is a clear example of the hatred management has toward certain volunteers and anyone they support, including councilman Marc Steinorth,"
Kreider said. "Politics are not supposed to be discussed in the workplace, per the employee manual, but this disrespectful political act was not only allowed, it was supported and participated in by shelter management."
In response to the sign incident, Gillison said the matter has been looked into by the city, and added the issue was "handled appropriately," without providing further detail.
Gillison said he would not engage in a point, counter-point debate with the issues raised by the speakers, nor could he not speak to personnel matters related to the dismissals, or the issues raised by Kreider.
"We're well aware of the information that they've raised," Gillison said. "The matters have been looked into and have been handled appropriately. The public can walk into the animal center, which is open seven days a week, and see for themselves what's happening in the center. They have made these allegations to anyone who will listen."
Steinorth, who toured the shelter in November, said the ultimate goal of the animal center, "regardless of all this turmoil, is to promote the adoption of dogs, cats and other animals."
"As much as I'm concerned about any resident's issues, my primary focus is how can we help find homes for these animals," Steinorth said.
Rancho Cucamonga leaders in 2005, in response to what critics called a high kill rate for county-run animal shelter, ended the contract with the county and began city control of the service with the hope of making it a "no kill" shelter.
Keithly said the recent appearance of "Together Helping Animals Thrive," or "THAT group," at the city council meeting won't be the last time the city will hear from them. Goals for the group, according to members, are to raise awareness of the issues on Facebook and to continue the public debate over the direction of the shelter.
For more Rancho Cucamonga stories and videos, follow @RanchoNow on Facebook and Twitter