Free speech at county animal shelter put to sleep

April 4, 2008

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

If you’re a volunteer at the San Luis Obispo County animal shelter, you can bark, but you might get bitten.

Volunteers at the Animal Services Division (ASD) facility have been muzzled, prohibited from speaking to the media or even making Internet postings, if county officials don’t happen to like their tone. According to the shelter’s lengthy new volunteer policy — which found its way into a reporter’s hands mere hours after its unveiling Thursday night — volunteers will be fired for disregarding the rules.

Those rules, contained in ASD’s “Volunteer Policy and Procedure Manual,” prohibit “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.”

Additionally, the manual makes it a firing offense for volunteers to “address any public gathering, appear on radio or television programs, write articles or manuscripts for publication, make Internet postings, or any other public or publicly accessible representations as a representative of the division unless it is in compliance with applicable policies and authorized by the Animal Services Manager.”

Volunteers must sign an agreement promising to abide by the rules.

Final arbiter of what is forbidden language: Sheriff Patrick Hedges, under whose county department the ASD resides.

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

He acknowledged that volunteers had “some problems” with the new rules, “but it’s not that they can’t talk publicly. They know that we are not trying to be suppressive, just trying to address issues more productively,” said Anderson. He said of the volunteer’s “problems” with the new rules: “There wasn’t any substantial issue to come from that.”

But when asked if any volunteers have raised First Amendment issues, Anderson replied, “Why, yes, some did.” Asked if he or other county officials had considered the potential unconstitutionality of such a communication prohibition, Anderson said, “I’m not sure.” He said he didn’t know if the manual’s language had been cleared by the County Counsel’s office.

Warren Jensen, assistant county counsel, said late Friday afternoon that he wasn’t sure his office had seen a copy of the manual, and said he needed time to review it “before giving a definitive answer.”

While “there may be a case for regulating what volunteers can do,” said Jensen, “this is a complicated issue and there may be some parts (of the manual) that have gone too far.”

The policy manual was developed by the county’s Human Resources Department with input from his own staff and volunteers, the shelter’s chief said. “And the sheriff’s people were kept in the loop all the way. It was a real collaborative effort.”

Ruth Bianchi was a volunteer veteran of four years when she was summoned in February to the sheriff’s office. There she was read a statement which, in essence, terminated her service. Her crime? Talking to county supervisors and others about cleanliness and other health issues at the animal shelter.

“We followed the chain of command,” said Bianchi this week. “But nothing happened.” She said many volunteer suggestions are viewed as criticisms by shelter staff, but “those suggestions have often turned into good policy changes. All the things we went public about have been changed.”

Bianchi said she was saddened by what she called “the situation” at the shelter:

“The animals are the real issue… finding some comfort for them in a frightening, scary place, is why volunteers keep coming.”

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Stefan

By: Anonymous on 4/5/08

A recent study provided for the SLO County Board of Supervisors calculated that San Luis Obispo Animal Services spends $607.62 for each animal that enters their care. The same study also found that this amount was higher than what is spent by the ten other California Counties that responded to their survey. During a recent Dave Congelton show, County Supervisor Jim Patterson cited this $607.62 figure several times as proof of the extensive care provided for each animal that enters SLO Animal Services. While this amount is substantial, it is also important to understand what that amount of money is unable to provide for each animal.


$607.62 does not pay for a health check for each animal when they enter or exit the kennels.

This is somewhat strange since the current Director of Animal Services, Dr. Eric Anderson, is a licensed veterinarian and his payscale is substantially increased to compensate his professional skills. If he were not a veterinarian, his pay scale would be $70,032.24 – $85,132.80 per year (according to the SLO County Human Resources website). Because of his extensive training, his payscale is $84,113.64 – $102,230.04 per year. Currently, only animals that are added to the Med List on the Shelter Coordinator's office door are examined by Dr. Anderson. None of the staff or volunteers have any veterinary training, so only the most obvious of medical issues happen to get noticed and added to the Med List. Recently Dr. Anderson was able to expand his once weekly medical rounds to occur two times per week but, there have still been times when the Director has been unavailable and the animals on the Med List have not received any attention for over a week. If a volunteer does not recognize and issue and place the animal on the Med List, the animal will not be seen by anyone with veterinary medicine training until after it leaves Animal Services, if then.


$607.62 per animal does not pay for staff on the kennel side that can walk the dogs or rotate the dogs through the yards. This service depends solely on the volunteers. If no volunteers show up on a given day, no dogs get walks or exercise time in the yards.


$607.62 does not pay for animal behavior assessment or animal training to dealing with any behavioral problems. This service depends solely on the volunteers. Since Animal Services' primary function is to protect the public from dangerous animals, it is strange that they do not have a systematic program in place to identify potential behavior problems in an attempt to protect the public. Since an adopted animal can produce $240 in both initial adoption fees and license fees over the course of the animals life, it would make financial sense to try and identify behavior issues that might prevent successful adoption and correct them rather than kill an animal, which cost well over $100 per animal.


$607.62 does not pay for daily cleaning and sanitation of the kennels or laundring of animal bedding. Instead, inmates from the Honor Farm perform this service. The inmates require training and management to perform these duties successfully but, since the turn-over of inmates is very high and supervision of them is almost non-existant, few inmates ever achive success. Kennels that are not cleaned or are poorly cleaned are left for volunteers to clean.


The $607.62 does not pay for staff to clean or change the water bowls for the animals. Though the inmates from the Honor Farm are supposed to perform this duty, it invariably falls to the volunteers. At the end of every day, volunteers rush to make sure all water bowls are full. They are often forced to exit the kennel by the staff even though the staff will not finish watering animals after the volunteers leave.


The $607.62 does not pay for staff to prepare and deliver the animals' once daily meal. Instead, the inmates from the Honor Farm do this. The kennel staff do not follow-up on the inmates and assure that each animal is fed. The staff makes no note of animals that do not eat their food – a potential signe of illness. Nor do the staff reclaim food left behind by redeemed or adopted animals – a consistent food source for the rats and mice perpetually infesting the kennel.


Though the Field Officers will check the lost animal logs when they bring in animals, the $607.62 does not pay for the office or kennel staff to match up lost animal reports with the animals already in the kennel when the report is filed. Nor does it pay for any member of the staff to contact the owner when a match is found – the volunteers do this.


The $607.62 does not pay for the staff to check lost adds in the local paper or online and to look for match animals in the kennel. Volunteers do this.


Stefan

The $607.62 did not pay for the last set of quality leashes that were made available to the volunteers. The leashes were provided through a donation from a member of the public, not supplied from the Animal Service budget.


The $607.62 does not pay for any volunteer training in safe animal handling, customer service, adoption counseling or any thing else. It also does not pay for a Volunteer Coordinator to manage the volunteers, which out number the staff four-to-one.


The $607.62 does not pay for new beds for the kennels. In fact, many kennels are with out beds for the animals because there are no funds to by new ones.


The $607.62 does not pay for adoption counseling for potential adopters. Were adoption counseling available, many animals would not be returned to the shelter. Instead, some animals that have specific needs are adopted out and returned numerous times.


$607.62 does not pay for any follow up on adoptions. Not only does this result in preventable returns being unprevented, it perpetuates a willful ignorance of the quality of service provided by SLO Animal Services. Without this valuable feedback information, it is difficult to assess customer satisfaction with Animal Services and even more difficult to identify improvement opportunities.


The $607.62 does not pay for a covering for the exercise yards. The result of the lack of this covering is that the yard is unavailable to the dogs when it rains and that volunteers must be on the look-out for heat stroke on warm, sunny days. Since, as stated above, the staff does not participate in the exercising of dogs, either in the yards or on walks, they are not availble to assist with either of these issues.


The $607.62 spent per animal during the 2006 – 2007 fiscal year does not pay for safely enclosed kennels or yards for the dogs. Nor does it pay for any safety training for volunteers. This has resulted in animal escapes and injuries to both volunteers and animals. Tragically, rather than looking for equipment or procedure improvements, the staff often chooses to blame the injured animals involved in any incident and kill them.


Stefan

By: Anonymous on 4/5/08

Commenter "this is not news" may be perfectly right on the law, but just because one has the right to restrict speech doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.


And of course this is news — when a government agency tries to draw the curtains, they're begging for extra scrutiny, since it's directly at odds with the principle of open government, which is a higher standard than mere free speech.

By: Anonymous on 4/5/08

These sorts of unfree speech clauses are becoming more common in many contexts. AP just ran a story about terms of service of many ISPs (internet service providers) that have non-disparagement clauses. AT&T got into a lot of trouble for such a clause a few months ago and had to sheepishly back down. Google has such a "speak no evil" clause for its AdSense program (see section 5, xi).


It's another example of private law undermining American principles and even constitutional rights. And since the Sheriff's Department is a government entity, of course it's far worse. It's one thing to rely on the time-honored unwritten rule of punishing someone for criticism, but to enshrine it in contracts shows just how fearful some bureaucracies are.

By: Anonymous on 4/5/08

I've neber heard of anything so rediculous. Hedges is going to get the county sued. Also the staff are public employees. They are actually working for the volunteers. the volunteers aren't working for them. Elections are coming. It's time to remind the public employees who they work for.

By: Anonymous on 4/5/08

The Volunteers are the most important people working at the shelter. The public relies on them to see to it that the animals are properly loved and cared for. It is possible to take control away from people like the Sheriff and have someone elected as the head of animal control. Staff who don't love the animals should be immediately terminated. Any available paying position should always be offered to the volunteers first. The volunteers are there to help the staff but it's not appreciated because the staff obviously doesn't care about the animals. Speak Up.

By: Anonymous on 4/5/08

Volunteers at animal services are amongst the best I have seen. They are dedicated, smart, funny and courageous. They keep the kill rate low at our animal shelter. They walk the dogs and clean out the cat cages. They get on the phone and call the rescue groups or foster homes to place animals. They created the system for the descriptive cards on the cages to help potential adopters in the selection process and to let volunteers know if dogs have been walked or not etc, etc. Sadly, there seems to be no culture from above that rewards or recognizes the contributions of volunteers.


On the other hand, county animal services staff seem like a bunch of zombies with steady paychecks who should all be fired as far as I'm concerned. Rarely do they crack a smile and some are downright rude.


There is palpable hositility at times from the staff usually directed at middle age lady volunteers- gimme a break. All criticism or suggestions for improvement are quashed or treated with condescension.

Volunteer suggestions are met with resistance or downright hostility from staff who don't appear to be animal advocates in the least.


Clearly,it is a failure of management to communicate to staff the importance of volunteers and the need to treat volunteers with respect and appreciation. This Gulag "gag order" would not have been needed had a healthy communication system been in place with regular meetings between the staff and volunteers.


Stefan

By: Anonymous on 4/5/08

The national No Kill Advocacy Center (http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org) and two animal rescuers jointly filed a lawsuit against Los Angeles County, its Department of Animal Care and Control, and the Department’s Director, Marcia Mayeda. The lawsuit alleges unlawful and abusive treatment of animals at all six Los Angeles County animal shelters. In addition, the suit alleged County Department of Animal Care and Control unlawfully retaliated against animal rescuers and volunteers who publicize its unlawful treatment of animals. While the case is still proceeding, the court recently entered an order prohibiting the Los Angeles Department of Animal Care and Control from taking further retalitory action against a rescuer who had publicized shelter atrocities.


For more background information on the suit and the recent order, go to http://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/whatsnew.html


Sorry, This is not news, your argument just doesn't hold up – at least in the Superior Court of Los Angeles. Not only is Sheriff Patrick Hedges once again engaging in alleged illegal activity, he is directly exposing the County to potentially expensive lawsuits.

By: Anonymous on 4/5/08

Wilson, we are talking about the county shelter here. Its probably going to take a campaign to bring about management change.Its true that most people are animal lovers and a few sad stories can raise some cain. Hey volunteers – tell us more about what they don't want us to know.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Something seems very wrong here. They are afraid of the public finding something out that they don't want us to know. It sounds like the animals are a burden to the staff. The less animals the less work. The volunteers probably try to save as many as they can and the staff doesn't like it. Thats usually how it works. I know because I used to volunteer for a shelter. We had the management replaced. The city didn't even blink an eye when all the fund raising voluteers said replace the management or we stop fund raising. Thats a fact.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Hedges needs to retire. The man is incompetent. He also has a personnality disorder regarding control issues. This isn't good. Anderson is a money grubber and has been known to put money before the welfare of a suffering animal.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Anderson has a terrible reputation. Hedges won't get voted in again and the people need a more compassionate vet for the shelter animals. I'm angry about the pet that died and Pluto.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

To This isn't News


SLAP

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

The animal shelter is a public facility managed by the government. What top secret activities are taking place at the shelter that require a gag order?


Stefan

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

The shelter is an extension of goverment, and it is "regulating the distribution of information to the public", which falls under first amendment. "Badmouthing" prevention is not what is at work. It is making sure a county board and reporters stop hearing what people, who see everyday practices of the shelter, have to say. They are effectively trying to "gag" the volunteers.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

To This is not News.

You do have to let someone in your house if there is a complaint of abuse. Should a family member be fired for protecting those who can't protect themselves?

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

I don't approve of what happend to Pluto. I'm also concerned about anyone who would stop the volunteers from speaking to the public about the shelter. The shelter is "covering up" bad behavior by staff, this is obvious. There is no other reason for such a "gag order". Something needs to be done and fast.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Dr. Eric Anderson and Sheriff Patrick Hedges feel they need to fire volunteers for speaking out against them because of stories like this:


On Tuesday, March 13, 2007, Don Elesy and his family showed up at San Luis Obispo Animal Services with their three and a half year old beagle mix named Pluto. They had to surrender Pluto because they were moving somewhere that did not allow dogs. Pluto was very well behaved dog, knew lots of tricks (including high five) and had been a great companion for the Elesy's young son. Right before the Elesy's left SLO Animal Services, the young Elesy got out of the car and hugged Pluto good-bye.


Later that day, at least five people handled Pluto and they all though he was the perfect dog and that he would have no trouble being adopted to a good home. But, unfortunately, that didn't happen.


As the Elesys were filling out the paperwork on Pluto, someone in the family mentioned that Pluto had once growled at a very young child after the child got in his face and started pulling on his ears and tail. They also shared that he had once growled at a cat. Pluto had never exhibited any aggression – ever. But the Elesy's wanted to provide the best incite into Pluto's personality possible in order to help find him the best new home.But instead, the family was forced to fill out and evaluation form and to pay for a possible euthanasia. They were told that Pluto would be evaluated for three days and then adopted unless he failed the evaluation. (At that time, and to this day, San Luis Obispo Animal Services has not established an evaluation protocol to determine which animals are too aggressive for adoption.) The evaluation, however, never happened because the kennel master who was working Wednesday morning (March 8, 2007) killed Pluto before he had been at the shelter even 24 hours.


In 2007, according to the SLO Animal Services own web site (http://slosheriff.org animal_services.php), 476 animals were killed. Pluto was, according to the official paperwork signed by Director Dr. Eric Anderson, one of the unadoptable ones.


The Elesy's said, "If we had known this was going to happen to Pluto, we would have taken him somewhere else".


and this

Shelter Refuses To Release Dog To Owners On Sunday, Dog Later Dies In Shelter

http://www.itchmo.com/shelter-refuses-to-release-


Stefan

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

The shelter is an extension of goverment, and it is "regulating the distribution of information to the public", which falls under first amendment. "Badmouthing" prevention is not what is at work. It is making sure a county board and reporters stop hearing what people, who see everyday practices of the shelter, have to say. They are effectively trying to "gag" the volunteers.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

To This is not News.

You do have to let someone in your house if there is a complaint of abuse. Should a family member be fired for protecting those who can't protect themselves?

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

I don't approve of what happend to Pluto. I'm also concerned about anyone who would stop the volunteers from speaking to the public about the shelter. The shelter is "covering up" bad behavior by staff, this is obvious. There is no other reason for such a "gag order". Something needs to be done and fast.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Dr. Eric Anderson and Sheriff Patrick Hedges feel they need to fire volunteers for speaking out against them because of stories like this:


On Tuesday, March 13, 2007, Don Elesy and his family showed up at San Luis Obispo Animal Services with their three and a half year old beagle mix named Pluto. They had to surrender Pluto because they were moving somewhere that did not allow dogs. Pluto was very well behaved dog, knew lots of tricks (including high five) and had been a great companion for the Elesy's young son. Right before the Elesy's left SLO Animal Services, the young Elesy got out of the car and hugged Pluto good-bye.


Later that day, at least five people handled Pluto and they all though he was the perfect dog and that he would have no trouble being adopted to a good home. But, unfortunately, that didn't happen.


As the Elesys were filling out the paperwork on Pluto, someone in the family mentioned that Pluto had once growled at a very young child after the child got in his face and started pulling on his ears and tail. They also shared that he had once growled at a cat. Pluto had never exhibited any aggression – ever. But the Elesy's wanted to provide the best incite into Pluto's personality possible in order to help find him the best new home.But instead, the family was forced to fill out and evaluation form and to pay for a possible euthanasia. They were told that Pluto would be evaluated for three days and then adopted unless he failed the evaluation. (At that time, and to this day, San Luis Obispo Animal Services has not established an evaluation protocol to determine which animals are too aggressive for adoption.) The evaluation, however, never happened because the kennel master who was working Wednesday morning (March 8, 2007) killed Pluto before he had been at the shelter even 24 hours.


In 2007, according to the SLO Animal Services own web site (http://slosheriff.org animal_services.php), 476 animals were killed. Pluto was, according to the official paperwork signed by Director Dr. Eric Anderson, one of the unadoptable ones.


The Elesy's said, "If we had known this was going to happen to Pluto, we would have taken him somewhere else".


and this

Shelter Refuses To Release Dog To Owners On Sunday, Dog Later Dies In Shelter

http://www.itchmo.com/shelter-refuses-to-release-


Stefan

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

This is news? This is why this Web site is nothing but a blog that is trying to pretend to do journalism.


This is not a "free speech" issue. Free speech does not apply in contractual or conditional relationships such as employment or volunteering. The courts have upheld this as such. Free speech only applies with regard to government attempting to regulate distribution or information among the public.


Conditions of employment, paid or voluntary, are lawful under federal and state statutes, regulations and case law. Courts have upheld that those conditions are lawful when they relate to the employee or volunteer's relationship with the employer or any enterprise-related activity.


Among those conditions allowed are restrictions on what a paid or unpaid employee can say publicly about the employer, including but not limited to, trade secrets or internal issues, if one wants to remain in paid or unpaid employment.


Courts have upheld that employers, including the government as employer, have the right to discharge paid or unpaid employees who attempt to influence management practices or the conduct of business in a manner that is not consistent with the directives of a company or agency's leadership.


In short, you do not have the right to undermine your employer – whether you're a paid worker or volunteer. Your employer has the legal right to determine who will work for him and to discharge an employee whose actions counter those of the direction of the enterprise.


If you wish to take actions that violate the terms of employment, you are free to do so. But your employer is also free to terminate a relationship that is not to his benefit.


If you don't understand the law, I'll put it this way. You don't have to let someone who badmouths you into your house.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

ASD has a lot of nerve threatening to fire any volunteer who is there to care for the animals. Anyone who doesn't respect a volunteer should be FIRED ON THE SPOT. Starting with Anderson & Hedges.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Dr Anderson does very little to care for the animals. he has his own practice and does as little as possible for the shelter animals. He should be replaced.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Isn't Hedges the guy that illegally taped his own staff? Isn't he the guy that can't respect that 70% of California's voted for medicinal marijuana? Now he wants to block freedom of speech from volunteers at the animal shelter. This guy needs to go. 3 cheers to the Volunteers. I agree that the animals need you and your care. The people need to step up and take some action


Stefan

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

This is more than a 1st amendment issue. It is directly against the California Constitution.


CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION

ARTICLE 1 DECLARATION OF RIGHTS


SEC. 2. (a) Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or

her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of

this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or

press.

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate?waisdo


Apparently Dr. Eric Anderson and Sheriff Patrick Hedges have a problem abiding by California Law.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

In response to "protect the animals", that probably won't happen. People get kicked out for speaking honestly, and in volunteering at a place where helping animals is your goal, most roll with this negative because being fired means the animals will suffer. And to most that isn't worth it. The volunteers are the only ones who play, exercise and take the animals out. With out them animals suffer. So, it is left to people on the outside to realize this is wrong.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Uncovered needs to llok into this more. What are they trying to hide. All the volunteers should come on this site and tell us what's going on. I'm sure many of us can help.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Organize and take back the shelter. We the tax payers are the owners. I'm uphauled. If the animals aren't getting what they need something should be said about it. I don't like animal cops. I like animal lovers

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Hedges has a problem. He should be replaced. The Volunteers are the most important people working at the shelter.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

I think the Volunteers "freedon of speach has been violated". What does the county have to be so paranoid about anyway? Are they mistreating the animals?

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

When we give ORDERS, our ODERS must be OBEYED!

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Get them out or get their bosses voted out.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Volunteers should be appreciated however staff see's them as a threat. Don't take this crap from them. Organize yourselves and demand that the right people take control of the shelter. Most people are animal lovers and will support you.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

I think it is part of the attitude developed by anyone in the Pat Hedges kindgom.


Stefan

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

This is more than a 1st amendment issue. It is directly against the California Constitution.


CALIFORNIA CONSTITUTION

ARTICLE 1 DECLARATION OF RIGHTS


SEC. 2. (a) Every person may freely speak, write and publish his or

her sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of

this right. A law may not restrain or abridge liberty of speech or

press.

http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/waisgate?waisdo


Apparently Dr. Eric Anderson and Sheriff Patrick Hedges have a problem abiding by California Law.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

In response to "protect the animals", that probably won't happen. People get kicked out for speaking honestly, and in volunteering at a place where helping animals is your goal, most roll with this negative because being fired means the animals will suffer. And to most that isn't worth it. The volunteers are the only ones who play, exercise and take the animals out. With out them animals suffer. So, it is left to people on the outside to realize this is wrong.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Uncovered needs to llok into this more. What are they trying to hide. All the volunteers should come on this site and tell us what's going on. I'm sure many of us can help.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Organize and take back the shelter. We the tax payers are the owners. I'm uphauled. If the animals aren't getting what they need something should be said about it. I don't like animal cops. I like animal lovers

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Hedges has a problem. He should be replaced. The Volunteers are the most important people working at the shelter.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

I think the Volunteers "freedon of speach has been violated". What does the county have to be so paranoid about anyway? Are they mistreating the animals?

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

When we give ORDERS, our ODERS must be OBEYED!

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Get them out or get their bosses voted out.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

Volunteers should be appreciated however staff see's them as a threat. Don't take this crap from them. Organize yourselves and demand that the right people take control of the shelter. Most people are animal lovers and will support you.

By: Anonymous on 4/4/08

I think it is part of the attitude developed by anyone in the Pat Hedges kindgom.