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More upheaval reported at shelter

Animal shelter
Nov. 28, 2012 @ 10:00 PM

HUNTINGTON -- Officials with the Huntington-Cabell-Wayne Animal Control Shelter addressed growing concerns Wednesday in the wake of a puppy being found alive in a trash bag and the resignations of the shelter's volunteer coordinator and medical director.

The incident and resignations have occurred as the shelter attempts to make several changes under the leadership of shelter director Jim Cumm. A former parks and recreation programming director in Putnam County, Cumm was hired in March, two months after the facility's board of directors fired Anita Asbury. Asbury's termination led to a police investigation into the shelter's financial records that remains ongoing.

During a news conference at the shelter, Cumm said he has made strides during the past eight months to improve living conditions for animals, train staff on preventing the spread of disease and modernize record keeping. The changes have resulted in the reduction of euthanizations and an increase in adoptions, Cumm said.

He received backing during the news conference from Cabell County Manager Chris Tatum, Cabell-Huntington Health Department Chief Sanitarian Stan Mills and Wayne County Commissioner Bob Pasley, who is on the shelter's board of directors with Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe and Cabell County Commissioner Nancy Cartmill.

"The board is committed to working with Mr. Cumm and helping him in any way possible," Pasley said. "He's made improvements with limited funds."

Of the 8,277 animals that were brought to the shelter in 2011, 6,109, or 74 percent, were euthanized, according to data provided by the shelter to the West Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine. This year, only 1,793, or 43 percent, of the animal intake has been euthanized, despite two separate disease outbreaks that forced the shelter to close for a total of 24 days, Tatum said. Those numbers do not account for animals that died in their cages due to illness or injuries. Cumm said those incidents are not tracked at the shelter, but he estimated they represent less than 1 percent of the animals brought in.

The adoption rate, meanwhile, has increased, Cumm said. Data provided by the shelter showed that 26 percent of the animals were adopted in 2011. That percentage has grown to 47 percent this year, he said.

Much of the improvements are due to training staff members on proper cleaning protocols and recognizing symptoms for diseases such as distemper and parvo, Cumm said. The shelter also purchased a microscope to identify parasites.

"This is all training and equipment that the staff has never had before," he said.

Cumm also attributed the reduction of the euthanization rate to 50 new indoor kennels, space for 40 new outdoor kennels, an industrial dishwasher to sanitize food bowls and a volunteer-based effort that has promoted adoptions and allowed the shelter to expand its hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Over the next year, Cumm hopes to install an impervious floor at the shelter to further prevent the spread of disease and build "adoption suites," or individual rooms that are more quiet and have their own ventilation system. The upgrades would cost approximately $100,000, he said.

Cumm acknowledged the shelter is still working through operational challenges with electronic record keeping and has suffered a few setbacks that caught the public's attention.

One of those setbacks occurred about two weeks ago when Cumm thought he had euthanized a puppy that had parvo but discovered later in the day that the animal had lived through the procedure. The puppy was found alive in a garbage bag by city sanitation workers picking up trash at the shelter. It was properly euthanized that same day.

"No one likes that it happened," Tatum said. "I've personally talked to local veterinarians about it and they said it's not uncommon."

Tatum added that Cumm is a certified euthanasia technician by the Board of Veterinary Medicine and is one of only two animal control officers who have been certified by the National Animal Control Association. The other certified control officer also works at the shelter, Tatum said.

Also attending the news conference was Beverly O'Dell, who resigned as the shelter's volunteer coordinator earlier this month. O'Dell asked several questions during the news conference about $665 that went missing recently from the shelter. Cumm responded that the money was never found and a receptionist was fired as a result.

O'Dell told reporters after the news conference she resigned when Cumm yelled at her for posting euthanization data and pictures of dirty animal cages on her Facebook page. O'Dell said she saw some improvements during her time at the shelter, but questioned whether animals could be cared for properly under Cumm's leadership.

"My point is not to attack the people who work at the shelter," O'Dell said. "My overall concern is for the well-being of the animals."

O'Dell said she has similar concerns as Dr. Jacqueline Chevalier, who resigned as the shelter's medical director. Chevalier is a veterinarian at the Tri-State Veterinary Center in Huntington. She did not attend the news conference and could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but O'Dell provided reporters with copies of Chevalier's resignation letter.

In the undated letter, Chevalier said she resigned because shelter staff repeatedly failed to follow the protocols and training that she designed to prevent the spread of disease.

She also said the shelter owes her $16,600 for work performed during the past two fiscal years and that animal cages she loaned to the shelter have been damaged. She asked for $8,000 to cover the costs of the cages.

Tatum said the shelter has agreed to a payment plan with Chevalier for her services, but he refuted concerns that staff are not following protocols to prevent the spread of disease. Mills, the chief sanitarian for the Health Department, echoed Tatum's sentiments.

"Since April, we have had sanitarians visit the shelter on a weekly basis," Mills said. "With every suggestion we have made, they have cooperated. Our relationship with the shelter is solid."

About the shelter

Location: 1901 James River Road, Huntington.

Staff: 12 employees (eight full-time, three part-time, one contractual).

Volunteers: About 40. Duties include cleaning shelter, walking dogs, finding foster homes for animals and data entry, among other things.

How it's funded: Contributions from the Cabell County Commission, Wayne County Commission and City of Huntington.

Oversight: Shelter director Jim Cumm reports to a board of directors on a monthly basis. The board consists of Huntington Mayor Kim Wolfe, Cabell County Commissioner Nancy Cartmill and Wayne County Commissioner Bob Pasley. The shelter also is required to submit adoption and euthanization data annually to the West Virginia Board of Veterinary Medicine.

More information: Call the shelter at 304-696-5551.



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