In January of 2013, Mayor Bill Barnett interviewed previous Wexford Co. animal shelter employee Kathy Dennis about inhumane activities occurring at the animal shelter including accusations of heart sticking (intracardiac euthanasia) without sedation and not holding animals through their stray period. A few days later, Pet Friends Magazine also reported on this story which you can read here.
Great strides have been made since January thanks to the exposure of shelter activities and volunteer involvement with the shelter. Taxpayers have attended county meetings to keep up-to-date on issues, volunteers are networking pets, animals are being socialized more, heart sticking has stopped, the kill numbers are substantially lower and monitoring of the shelter continues by Pet Friends Magazine as well as volunteers and community members.
Still, more needs to be done, and many are not happy that the shelter remains under the control of Sheriff Finstrom and the Sheriff’s Department. There has not been any accountability for past activities that ACOs were involved in, except for fines to the county from the Michigan Dept. of Agriculture. In addition, volunteer policies are not friendly with minimum hour limits they need to be there per month and limits on the number of volunteers that can be at the shelter at one time. Additional changes have been made to the ordinance such as the county not having to take in cats in the future. The Sheriff’s Dept. has also stopped adoption sponsorships on the animals which has been a great marketing tool for shelters all across the country. Many taxpayers believe that the county continues to lack accountability and financial transparency. The ACOs haven’t been held accountable for not vetting animals, not keeping animals on their proper stray holds and other violations of the state. (the State’s report can be viewed here.)
Although the County voted to allow an animal control committee to be formed and submit recommendations on the future of the shelter and an RPF (Request for Proposal) was sent out for non-profits to submit proposals to run the shelter, nothing has changed in the management of the shelter. The RFPs have neither been accepted or rejected according to Wexford County Administrator, Ken Hinton. He says, “The responses to the Request for Proposal to shelter animals under Wexford County control were discussed at the August 8, 2013 Finance Committee meeting. The discussion did not result in a motion of any form regarding the responses.”
The Sheriffs Department is still in charge of the animal shelter and the same two Animal Control Officers are employed at the shelter – Animal Control Officers Michelle Smith and Jessica Williams.
Mayor Bill Barnett and Cadillac City Commissioners have been supportive of making changes at the shelter from the beginning. They participated in a joint County-City meeting to discuss the problems at the shelter and City Commissioner Tiyi Schippers was a part of the Animal Control Advisory Committee and developing recommendations for the County. Because the City owns the land and the building that the animal shelter uses, the City is an integral part of the future of the County’s animal shelter and that is why the Cadillac Mayor election should be of importance to those concerned with the future of the animal shelter in Wexford County.
The Mayoral election for Cadillac will be on Tuesday, November 5th and the two candidates running are incumbent Mayor Bill Barnett and challenger Carla Filkins. Barnett won the last election against Filkins by 18 votes with a total of 1646 votes cast in the election.
It has been discovered that Carla Filkins has a close relationship with the Sheriff’s wife, Gayla Finstrom, and is also very close friends with an influential volunteer at the animal shelter, Judy Nichols. This information is being reported to you for the sake of transparency because these relationships could bias future decisions of what happens to the animal shelter.
Carla Filkins is a long-time friend of Sheriff Finstrom’s wife Gayla and is a public supporter of Filkins campaign to be Mayor.
If a proposal was presented to the city by a non-profit group to run the shelter instead of the Sheriff’s Department, what would Filkins position be on that? Pet Friends contacted Carla Filkins several times to ask her what her opinion is on how the Wexford County Shelter is currently being run and if the Sheriff’s Department should continue to operate the shelter but she did not respond. Pet Friends Magazine was also interested to know if she is elected Mayor of Cadillac, what would her role be concerning the dealings with the County Sheriff’s Department and the Animal Shelter? Additionally, Pet Friends Magazine asked about her relationship with Sheriff Finstrom and his wife as well as allowing her to add any additional comments she wanted to concerning animal shelter issues but she did not respond.
Animal Shelter volunteer Judy Nichols is also a long-time friend of Gayla Finstrom and Carla Filkins.
Nichols is very active in promoting Filkins campaign. Nichols has posted often on Filkins campaign FB page and has a Filkins for Mayor magnet on her vehicle.
Although Nichols has been a visitor of the animal shelter in the past, she has stepped up her volunteering this year after the accusations against the shelter were made public. Her improving health and other factors allowed her more time to be involved with the shelter. Nichols takes pictures of pets at the shelter and administers two Facebook pages, the Up for Adoption site and the Wexford Shelter Shares site to network adoptable pets at the shelter in addition to many other volunteer activities that she is involved in throughout Wexford County. Her first Facebook page of adoptable Wexford County animals was started on June 30, 2013. Because the shelter doesn’t keep their Petfinder website updated, sometimes the Facebook pages are the only place you can keep up with stray animals, adoptable animals and shelter needs.
Nichols is a very vocal defender of the policies and Animal Control Officers at the shelter. She has become an unofficial spokesperson of the shelter through her Facebook pages and has defended the shelter in comments in the Facebook Group Justice for the Animals at the Wexford County Animal Shelter. Nichols was asked if the Finstroms spoke with her about being at the shelter more to keep an eye on things – or to help with damage control but she did not respond to questions from Pet Friends Magazine.
Other relationships that might have an impact on the animal shelter and current and future decisions about it include two other relationships that Pet Friends has discovered: Judy Nichol’s husband’s sister is married to County Commissioner Mr. Housler and Undersheriff Trent Taylor is the brother of County Commissioner Gary Taylor.
Taxpayers have to ask themselves if these relationships will interfere with turning over the shelter building to a non-profit organization if a proposal is submitted to the City (or the County) – and if these relationships will interfere with any current and future decisions made by the County Board of Commissioners as well as the City? Are decisions being made because they are in the best interests of the animals in the shelter and the taxpayers or are they being made with bias because of the relationships that exist between County and City politicians?
If Filkins becomes the new Cadillac Mayor, will her relationship with the Finstroms play a part in her trying to keep the animal shelter under the control of the County’s Sheriff’s Department? Unfortunately, we don’t have an answer to this question because Filkins did not respond to our inquiries.
In addition to uncovering Filkins relationships to the Finstroms and Judy Nichols, it has also been learned that Filkins breeds Bichon Frise dogs and has for quite some time. A website about this can be seen here.
When Filkins was asked if she had a kennel license and how many breeding dogs she has, she did not respond. Many people in the animal rescue community that work tirelessly to save homeless cats and dogs from euthanasia don’t look upon the breeders in a good light because they are purposely putting more animals into the community (and selling them at a high price) while other cats and dogs are being killed in animal shelters across the country. Still, others don’t have a problem with breeders as long as they do it on a small scale and keep the animals in good health and give them sanitary conditions. Without getting a response from Filkins about the size of her breeding operation, we don’t know if she has dozens of breeding dogs or just a few, or if she is over any animal “limits” imposed by the City or the County. Without having information on a kennel license, we also don’t know if her breeding operation has been inspected yearly as required by the state.
Although Filkins did not respond to any of the questions asked by Pet Friends Magazine, we are still willing to post any response that she sends to us between now and the election on November 5th.
This is an important election for people who care about the future of the animal shelter in Wexford County. The County is running out of millage money to keep the animal control shelter going and will have to make some important decisions in the future. Will the County even propose a millage to keep the animal shelter going? Will the public support it? Do the residents even want the County to continue to run it? The City could have a big role in those future decisions and other options that may become available to take care of the homeless animals in the county.
After looking at both candidates, Pet Friends Magazine endorses Mayor Bill Barnett for Mayor of Cadillac. He has proven to be a supporter of the animals in Wexford County and making changes in the best interests of the animals as well as the taxpayers of the city and the county. He also does not appear to have any personal relationships that might interfere with future decision making about the Wexford County Animal Shelter.