County gag on volunteers will be voided

April 14, 2008


A newly-issued official policy prohibiting public comment by volunteers at the county animal shelter is being revised.

San Luis Obispo County supervisors Bruce Gibson and Katcho Achadjian told Monday that changes are being made in Animal Services Division’s (ASD) “Volunteer Policy and Procedure Manual.” No details of proposed modifications to the document are yet available.

A controversial section in the manual prohibits “all public statements, whether verbal or written, inside the shelter or outside, which criticize, ridicule, or otherwise disparage the Division, its employees, volunteers, or policies.” (See previous story.)

As presently written, volunteers will be fired for disregarding rules, according to the manual, and must sign an agreement promising to abide. Sheriff Patrick Hedges, whose responsibilities include overseeing the county animal shelter, would decide what constitutes prohibited language.

Wording of the speech prohibition and volunteers’ reaction to it created a flurry of communications between county staff and elected officials, according to several sources.

“It was the consensus that this was not the way,” said Achadjian, “so county staff is revisiting the matter.” He said the “consensus” was between Board members, animal shelter personnel, and other county employees.

Achadjian said he was bothered by language in the volunteer manual that appeared to forbid volunteers from expressing unease about shelter issues to elected officials.

“It was a matter of concern to me,” said Achadjian. “This wasn’t, I think, what they were trying to do. The volunteers and anyone else should be free to discuss issues with their supervisors at the shelter, or with us, the Board of Supervisors, or with the media. We need to make things so that volunteers know they are free to talk about issues.”

The shelter’s manager, Dr. Eric Anderson, told earlier this month that the volunteers’ 16-page manual “is the first step in a longer process of organizing and structuring the volunteer program.”

Animal shelter volunteer Kate Stulberg, former executive director of the San Luis Obispo County Arts Council, said changes in the speech prohibition were welcome.

“Anything that impedes or limits discussion in a public agency is bad policy,” she said. “This kind of thing only creates paranoia and distrust. We need a culture in the Animal Services Division that rewards volunteers.”

Troy Riggs, another shelter volunteer, said he’ll “be happy if they’re changing (the manual). It’s just intimidating. The way it’s written, volunteers can’t even talk to one another about the shelter.”

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Member Opinions:

By: Anonymous on 4/27/08

Ever notice how many high level animal rights volunteers and activists are "kooky". It seems that they value animals over people and they seem to think that their actions are somehow ordained by a holy proclamation. Funny how a few of the people on this site that are obviously volunteers out at the shelter twist the facts and omit the details in order to serve their own ends. Getting further into the story you’d find that as usual there are two sides to every story. No organization is perfect. This organization is no exception.

I bet this Ruth was one of the troublemakers out there. People like her never realize that they have no official capacity. They feel that they should be empowered some how by their commitment and unaffected by the rules and regulations that others must abide because of their non-paid status.

As for some new manual, these things are usually a work in progress. The first editions are frequently modified and corrected as time goes by. The policies and needs start to merge. I’m always reminded of the fact that the sword has two edges when I think of the California lawyer who sued because a woman was strip searched at a detention facility and then the same lawyer sued because contraband entered a facility on the person that was unsearched. It is said that you just can’t please everyone. Then there are people like the lawyer and some of these volunteers that you can’t please at all.

Volunteers, Here are the rules, if you’d like to follow them, we’d like to have you. If not, we wish you well in whatever you do.

By: Anonymous on 4/20/08

Two comments re the volunteer manual. Volunteers on Sundays and Holidays must now wear the "yellow jersey". The inmates, of course, are in blue. But the kennelperson can wear what they want – shorts, baseball cap, tshirt. Shouldn't they be in uniform also – in case a member of the public comes by? Point 2. No bathroom for the volunteers on these days. The toilet in Isolation is off limits, the staff office toilet is off limits, and the toilet for the public is locked on these days. What shall the volunteers do – wear "Depends"? No thought has been given this manual. There must be state laws stating toilets must be available. Now you can't just talk, but you can't go to the bathroom either. I believe that Dr. Anderson, not the Sheriff, wrote this manual, and I hope that someone else rewrites it with the "free help"(volunteers') and animals, benefits in mind.

By: Anonymous on 4/19/08

What a joke. With volunteers like this, it is no wonder that the county is trying to change some policies. The comments here clearly display a very high level of education, eloquence, and bias. If I had these volunteers working in my business, I would 'fire' them immediately.

By: Anonymous on 4/17/08

This new policy manual is a mere coverup for the incompetency of the Director of the Shelter and his inability to deal with the job of managing. He never steps foot into the shelter part of the facility unless absolutely necessary, keeps distance between himself and the everyday workings of the shelter, and lacks initiative and enthusiasm and the ability and desire to carry through any positive changes. Any positive changes have been initiated by volunteers who are on the front lines. The entry into the picture of the County Public Safety Officer, who is largely responsible for the new Policy Manual and who knows nothing about the sheltering procedures and needs has fallen right into the lap of Dr. Anderson, the Director. He is creating all these draconian and threatening and repressive rules at the behest of Dr. Anderson, so that Anderson can rid himself of the truth and revelations of injustice and incompetence that they witness. What a perfect solution! The Safety Officer was called in to investigate a dog bite that took place at the Shelter. He has taken his power way beyond his expertise and found himself a nice way to justify his pay. No one in their right mind is going to submit and sign such a threatening application. This is not a procedures manual. The is free license for the Sheriff and the Director to get rid of anyone that exposes their incompetence. All of the is a band aid solution. Get rid of the Director and the Shelter Coordinator, who is unqualified, irritating, difficult to work with, and unprofessional (note her episode of sitting on the lap of a kennel staff person in an office open to public view). The whole place needs a change from top to bottom. The volunteers should be applauded for being the only ones who seem to care and save animals. The rest of the cast is just there for their salaries, benefits and power plays.

By: Anonymous on 4/16/08

Don't forget to toss out those background checks and background checks whenever the Animal Services Director wants them. This is an invasion of privacy and costly using money that should be spent on the animals. Reeks of paranoia and just plan nosieness.

By: Anonymous on 4/16/08

Kudos to Supervisors Gipson and Achadjian. Perhaps now, as the County Supervisors, the Sheriff's Department, the staff of Animal Services and volunteers take a step back and look for new solutions they will consider basing a Policy and Procedures manual on the Asilomar Accords. Created in August of 2004 when a group of animal welfare industry leaders from across the nation convened at Asilomar in Pacific Grove, California, for the purpose of building bridges across varying philosophies, developing relationships and creating goals focused on significantly reducing the euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals in the United States.

The entire Asilomar Accords can be read at

The Guiding Principles areL

1. The mission of those involved in creating the Asilomar Accords is to work together to save the lives of all healthy and treatable companion animals.

2. We recognize that all stakeholders in the animal welfare community have a passion for and are dedicated to the mutual goal of saving animals' lives.

3. We acknowledge that the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals is the sad responsibility of some animal welfare organizations that neither desired nor sought this task. We believe that the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals is a community-wide problem requiring community-based solutions. We also recognize that animal welfare organizations can be leaders in bringing about a change in social and other factors that result in the euthanasia of healthy and treatable animals, including the compounding problems of some pet owners'/guardians' failure to spay and neuter; properly socialize and train; be tolerant of; provide veterinary care to; or take responsibility for companion animals.

4. We, as animal welfare stakeholders, agree to foster a mutual respect for one another. When discussing differences of policy and opinion, either publicly or within and among our own agencies, we agree to refrain from denigrating or speaking ill of one another. We will also encourage those other individuals and organizations in our sphere of influence to do the same.

5. We encourage all communities to embrace the vision and spirit of these Accords, while acknowledging that differences exist between various communities and geographic regions of the country.

6. We encourage the creation of local "community coalitions" consisting of a variety of organizations (e.g., governmental animal control agencies, nonprofit shelters, grassroots foster care providers, feral cat groups, funders and veterinary associations) for the purpose of saving the lives of healthy and treatable animals. We are committed to the belief that no one organization or type of organization can achieve this goal alone, that we need one another, and that the only true solution is to work together. We need to find common ground, put aside our differences and work collaboratively to reach the ultimate goal of ending the euthanasia of healthy and treatable companion animals.

7. While we understand that other types of programs and efforts (including adoption, spay and neuter programs, education, cruelty investigations, enforcement of animal control laws and regulations, behavior and training assistance and feral cat management) play a critical role in impacting euthanasia figures, for purposes of this nationwide initiative we have elected to leave these programs in the hands of local organizations and encourage them to continue offering, and expanding upon, these critical services.

8. In order to achieve harmony and forward progress, we encourage each community coalition to discuss language and terminology which has been historically viewed as hurtful or divisive by some animal welfare stakeholders (whether intentional or inadvertent), identify "problem" language, and reach a consensus to modify or phase out language and terminology accordingly.

9. We believe in the importance of transparency and the open sharing of accurate, complete animal-sheltering data and statistics in a manner which is clear to both the animal welfare community and the public.

10. We believe it is essential to utilize a uniform method for collecting and reporting shelter data, in order to promote transparency and better assess the euthanasia rate of healthy and treatable animals. We determined that a uniform method of reporting needs to include the collection and analysis of animal-sheltering data as set forth in the "Animal Statistics Table." These statistics need to be collected for each individual organization and for the community as a whole and need to be reported to the public annually (e.g., web sites, newsletters, annual reports). In addition, we determined that each community's "Live Release Rate" needs to be calculated, shared and reported annually to the public, individually by each organization and jointly by each community coalition. Both individual organizations and community coalitions should strive for continuous improvement of these numbers. The "Animal Statistics Table" and formulas for calculating the "Live Release Rate" are set forth in Section IV of these Accords.

11. We developed several standard "definitions" to enable uniform and accurate collection, analysis and reporting of animal-sheltering data and statistics. We encourage all communities to adopt the definitions which are set forth in Section III, and implement the principles of these Accords.

12. While we recognize that many animal welfare organizations provide services to companion animals other than dogs and cats, for purposes of this nationwide initiative we have elected to collect and share data solely as it relates to dogs and cats.

13. We are committed to continuing dialogue, analysis and potential modification of this vision as needs change and as progress is made toward achieving our mission.

14. Those involved in the development of the Asilomar Accords have agreed to make a personal commitment to ensure the furtherance of these accords, and to use their professional influence to bring about a nationwide adoption of this vision.

By: Anonymous on 4/16/08

Glad you're out here, UncoveredSLO – but please don't walk away now. Dig further – ask more questions – find out why this policy came to be anyway – find out why management and staff are being so reactive and regressive to VOLUNTEERS. this goes way beyond the "stay quiet" language in the policy – it is just a way to get around the bigger issue of poor management and not wanting to deal with that. Ask the county officials what they really plan on doing because just amending the volunteer policy doesn't fix what is really broken.

By: Anonymous on 4/15/08

Kudos to Supervisors Gipson and Achadjian. Finally someone is using their head. The threatening and repressive prohibitions in the policy statement were a sign of the extreme paranoia of Animal Services and of others responsible for coming up with this policy. The Shelter has always had a need for as many volunteers as possible. With the emergence of this new policy, many long time experienced volunteers would have refused to sign and been forced to leave the Shelter. Others have already resigned or just not returned. Again, it is the animals who suffer. Without sufficient numbers of volunteers, the animals linger in their kennels without exercise or loving attention in a frightening environment. In addition, with all the paranoia about volunteers and what they might say and do, new rules were created whereby the volunteers are required to wear special vests to identify them. This in itself is not a bad idea, so that the public can see immediately who they should ask for help, but the irony is, that the inmates from the Honor Farm who work at the Shelter to clean and feed the animals, are free to walk around the Shelter unidentified. With fewer volunteers available because of the new policy, the public is turning for help to these inmates. The inmates, who actually might be a threat (in contrast to the volunteers), walk around unidentified and without any knowledge or competence in assisting the public with regard to the animals. It seems to me that the public has a right to know with whom they are dealing. Strangely, the staff thought it of utmost importance to punish and identify the caring volunteers, and have given the Honor Farm inmates "carte blanche" to not only help the public, but have access to areas of the Shelter which have become off limits to the volunteers. This leaves inmates, who have been known to mishandle and even abuse animals in the past, the opportunity to be alone wjth very sick and behavioral problem animals in the quarantine and isolation areas. I guess that makes sense to the Director and staff. Dysfunction, paranoia and a tension filled atmosphere is detrimental to the animals, who have no voice and are dependent on people (in this case the volunteers), to help them. However, the animals seem to be of secondary importance to the staff. Shame on them!

By: Anonymous on 4/15/08

Kudo's to Katcho & Gibson and Uncovered. We still need to do something about Hedges. He is a loose canon.

By: Anonymous on 4/14/08

To all the people who spoke up about this matter…kudos! Openness in government, regardless of the level, is to be encouraged. I applaud all of you. Kate Stulberg is an asset to any organization she's involved in…she cares.

By: Anonymous on 4/14/08

never, never, ever let anyone put a nozzle on you.You allways must speak up.

By: Anonymous on 4/14/08

Nice work, Katcho and Gibson for stepping up on this.

By: Anonymous on 4/14/08

Thank You Undercoveredslo!

Without your willingness to pursue this story this outrageous rule may have remained in place. Thank you for creating this venue to address issues that other media is intimidated by!!!