Michigan Dept. of Agriculture Makes a Visit to the Shelter – and Investigation is Re-Opened
It was confirmed by ACO Michelle Smith that the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture was at the Wexford County Animal Shelter on February 21st for an inspection. According to Smith, the report was given to Sheriff Finstrom. I contacted Finstrom for the report but he has not yet responded to my request for a copy. If the copy is not received, I will obtain the report from the state as soon as it is available.
Final Poll Results on the Question: Do you want the Wexford County Animal Control/shelter under new management?
YES – 93.55% (145 votes)
NO – 2% (3 votes)
Not enough information – 4.52% (7 votes)
Volunteers Stepping Up for the Animals
Since the story broke on the conditions at the Wexford County Animal Shelter, volunteers have been stepping up to help the animals get adopted and have better living conditions.
Katie Lorenz of Sisters Studio has been taking FABULOUS photos of the animals in the shelter, which also makes it easy for people to share the adoptable pets on Facebook. The shelter went from a photo like this…
to a photo like this…
The photos will not only make it easier for pet owners to identify their pets, it is a great way to make the pets even cuter than they already are and ultimately more adoptable to the public. You can check out the Sisters Studio website here.
The Missaukee Humane Society has also been of great help to the shelter, taking in cats when Wexford was full and also taking in a 16-year old Miniature Pinscher named Peanut who was surrendered to the Wexford shelter. She had gone to the bathroom in her owner’s house and they didn’t want to keep her. When Kyle Musselman picked her up from Wexford, he said she warmed right up to him in the truck on the way back to Missaukee. She is heartworm negative and is up to date on her vaccinations and microchipped. She got a long-overdue nail trim and will go in for a dental visit. Kyle says she is a sweetheart and is currently being fostered by a volunteer.
Animal lover Lisa Preckel read about the shelter’s problems and got in touch with Aaron Fortin of NBS Animal Rescue. Fortin coordinated with Animal Aid to send donated beds to the shelter for the dogs to sleep on. Unfortunately, the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture suggested to the shelter that they not be used if the staff wouldn’t be able to keep them cleaned easily. Pet Friends Magazine put a call in to the State and learned that the Dept. of Ag did not ban the beds from being used but ACO Michelle Smith said there was a concern about the fabric wrapping around the PVC pipe and the screws on top of the beds being chewed on by the dogs. When asked about the donated beds, Fortin said that the other shelters in Michigan and in other states have never had a problem using them because of safety or cleaning issues.
At this point the decision on whether or not to use the donatd beds is one that rests with the shelter staff and because they’re not being used, a volunteer with the shelter has already started a new KURANDA BED DRIVE so that the dogs will have easy-to-clean beds to sleep on. These Kuranda beds are used by shelters all over the country and are actually recommended by the Michigan Department of Agriculture. You can buy a dog bed for the shelter at this link here. Two beds have already been bought and donated. The shelter needs a total of 25 beds. Meanwhile, a volunteer with the shelter is looking for another shelter or rescue group who can use the already-donated that were donated by Fortin’s group.
Pet Friends Magazine also gave the shelter a donation so that the cats who are in cages have a better quality of life. 25 Stretch & Scratches were donated to the shelter and should be arriving any day now.
You can read about these great inventions here. These scratchers give the cats something to do in their cages for physical and mental exercise. The Stretch & Scratch stays with the cat and leaves with the cat when adopted. It is something that they are able to have in their cage that keeps their scent on it, giving the cat a sense of ownership about his or her space, thus making them more relaxed – and adoptable.
Janice Johnson is currently making hammocks for all the cat cages. She is excited about the project and eager to get them over to the cats so they can lounge in luxury and so that the “tree dwelling” cats will have another level of the cage to hang out in.
There have also been new volunteers going into the shelter and anonymous groomers who have gone in to make the cats and dogs prettier than they already are. Others have donated gas cards to volunteers who transport animals to other shelters and rescue groups. The community is stepping up to do what it can to help the animals.
Concerned Citizens Show up at the City Commissioners Meeting
After the last Wexford County meeting where concerned citizens discussed their concerns about the shelter, it was suggested by the county commissioners that the residents take their concerns to the city commissioners meeting since the city owns the land and the building that the animal shelter sits on.
Commissioner Housler even talked with a resident about the county offering for the city to take over the animal shelter as a solution and that people should meet with the city commissioners to bring the issue forward.
Several people showed up at the February 18th City Commissioners meeting to address their concerns about the animal shelter. You can watch the entire meeting here. During the meeting, it was apparent that the city commissioners didn’t like the “back door” way they were approached about the animal shelter, feeling it was inappropriate for the county commissioners to tell the residents to show up at their meetings instead of the county commissioners contacting the city commissioners directly.
Although the animal shelter building and property it sits on belongs to the city, the city has no jurisdiction over animal control issues nor are they required to provide animal control services. Their only involvement with animal control is the fact that the building is leased to the county for $1 a year.
In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the city provided “dog catching” services but that didn’t include the housing and adoption of animals. It was also just a service for the City of Cadillac. According to the commissioners, back during that time, Cadillac was about 2/3 of the county, but it is now only about 1/3 of the county.
The commissioners said that if the city did decide to get involved in the animal control, they would have to find a consistent revenue stream, either with higher city taxes or a millage and that the services would only be provided to the city of Cadillac because those would be the taxpayers who funded the service.
The city commissioners stated that they have had no formal requests from the county to get involved in helping them with their animal control shelter or services. They feel that the county is the proper agency to provide county-wide animal control services as they have the county’s revenue sources and the officers to handle animal issues. The city commissioners mentioned that they think the shelter/animal control services will probably cease to exist in about a year when the millage money runs out.
At the end of the meeting, the city commissioners made a motion to send a letter to the county to ask about having a townhill meeting with the county, city, Sheriff and the public to talk about how to move forward and what options are available. That motion was passed with all but one commissioner voting for it. Click here to read the letter that was sent to the county: Letter to County Administrator Regarding Proposed Joint Meeting with County BOC & Sheriff Regarding Animal Control 02-20-13. The city commissioners have not received a response yet. They also stated that, as landlords, they have a right to check on the building to make sure it’s being kept up properly.
There was applause in the room when one of the commissioners said, “if they need our help, let’s step up to the plate.” However, it’s unclear if the county will ask for help or not.
Pine Cone Farm Offering Assistance to the Shelter
Originally set to present information to the Wexford County Board of Commissioners on March 6th, Pine Cone Farm (SUFA – Stand Up for Animals), an animal rescue group out of Traverse City, has instead sent the county commissioners a packet of information, which is also being mailed to Pet Friends Magazine. Founder/Director Linda Gottwald said that at this point it’s premature to assume Pine Cone Farm has a plan to run the shelter. They would want to run a no-kill shelter where every animal is sterilized prior to adoption, with play yards for dogs, open rooms for cats and expanded hours and staff and their board is not sure that is financially feasible.
Gottwald says, “we want to help in any way we can and have invited commissioners to the farm. We plan to visit the Wexford County shelter and attend the meeting after our visit. It is possible that we could pull animals scheduled for euthanasia to our property for adoption and/or a permanent home at the farm. The commissioners and county administrator seem very open and committed to helping the animals.”
Also, given their experience with Monroe County in Florida, SUFA has some trepidation about dealing with a government agency again. SUFA was involved in a court case after a county audit discovered Gottwald had misspent money.When asked about the current status of the case, Gottwald says that the Appellate Court upheld their motion to dismiss the injunction and their money was returned to them in Dec. 2011. The county subsequently introduced a motion to sue he Board of Directors. A judge dismissed that motion in early February of 2013. SUFA has now entered a counterclaim for damages and libel.
Kathy Rodgers Dennis Files Suit Against Wexford County and the Sheriff’s Department
Kathy Rodgers Dennis, the former Wexford County Animal Shelter employee, who filed a complaint with the Michigan Department of Agriculture about heart sticking without euthanasia and the shelter not adhering to mandatory stray periods, has now filed a lawsuit against Wexford County Sheriff Gary Finstrom, Wexford County and the Sheriff’s Department under the Whistleblower Protection Act.
The act states that an employer can’t fire or discriminate against an employee who reports a violation of the law in their workplace. Dennis is seeking compensation for damages, including loss of benefits, back pay and costs and attorney fees.
According to her complaint, Dennis says that Finstrom cut her hours and reduced her animal control duties. She was also limited in her access to many areas of the shelter after she brought up her concerns about violations of state law at the shelter.
Finstrom has stated publicly numerous times that she is a disgruntled employee.
When asked why she filed the lawsuit, Dennis said she did it after it was made clear that the Sheriff was not going to answer her questions. She said that when he is deposed, he will have to talk.
Pet Friends Magazine to Continue Investigation
Regardless of any findings made by the Michigan Department of Agriculture, Pet Friends continues to investigate the shelter’s policies, financials and past documents and will continue to post updates about the shelter.
Tagged: Wexford County Animal Shelter