Protestors rally to save animal shelter

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By Calen McKinney

 In the cold wind, they lined the entrance to a place where they say animals are being mistreated.

But their message is not that the place should close. They want it to stay open.

“Save our animals, save our shelter,” they yelled.

Raising homemade signs high to passersby, about 100 people gathered at the gates to the Taylor County Animal Shelter Feb. 19 week in protest.

The rally was scheduled after many people were unhappy about a recent decision by Taylor County's magistrates to no longer offer adoptions at the shelter.

Effective 45 days following the decision on Feb. 12, the shelter will become a holding facility for Taylor County's stray animals. The county will soon contract with another county to house its stray animals.

The decision affects LaRue County strays as well. LaRue Fiscal Court recently renewed its contract for the shelter to house stray animals. On March 29, that option will cease to exist. Another shelter will have to be found.

Those who came to the shelter last week in protest said they want the shelter to continue offering pets for adoption and want animals there treated humanely.

Campbellsville residents Jessika Rash and Shawn Moffitt organized the protest.

Moffitt said she moved to Campbellsville from Lexington about three weeks ago and began volunteering at the shelter.

A former employee of a shelter in Louisville and a part of various animal rescue groups, Moffitt says she wants to help animals find new homes.

But after spending a few days at Taylor County's shelter walking dogs, she said, she became angry about the conditions there.

Moffitt says she wants the shelter to be run properly and for staff to be transparent about what happens there.

“We want humane treatment for all the animals here,” she said. “We want an animal shelter we can be proud of instead of any eyesore.”

Rash said she had heard talk about shelter conditions for quite some time before volunteering there. But she said she went into working there with an open mind.

“I wanted to know that the animals were being treated correctly,” she said.

In her time at the shelter, Rash said, she was routinely denied access to the older shelter building, which is now a quarantine area.

After being told she would have to sign a liability waiver, Rash said she was willing to do that but was never given one to sign.

Rash said she has never seen shelter employees look overwhelmed by collecting records to respond to open records requests.

Taylor County Judge/Executive Eddie Rogers has said at various meetings that open records requests have cost the county money and time. He cited that as a reason he suggested the shelter no longer adopt animals.

After making various posts online about the shelter situation, Rash said she was threatened with legal action. She said the situation makes her sad and angry.

“We need this,” she said, standing in a housing room at the shelter.

Rash said she believes sending Taylor County's animals to a shelter in another community isn't the answer.

“[The animals] may not make it out,” she said. “We've got this new shelter and I think we should utilize it.”

Shelter staff members opened a new building last month. It was paid for with a $150,000 state grant from the Department of Agriculture. The county paid for any costs above the $150,000.

Moffitt and Rash say they are pleased with Tuesday's turnout and they didn't expect about 100 people to show up to protest along with them. And Rash said not all who came were Taylor County SPCA members.

“They're concerned about the animals and where the money's going,” she said.

Rash said she wants to thank Taylor Made and E.L.L.I.O.T. rescue groups, along with all of those who came to protest. She said protestors came from all over the state, from Louisville to Lexington to Bowling Green.

Campbellsville resident Harry Reif spoke to media as the spokesperson for the protestors. Reif is also president of the Taylor County SPCA.

Reif said the investigation into the conditions at the shelter has been ongoing for quite some time. He said the main issue of contention is that there is a lack of transparency at the shelter.

“We don't feel like it's run properly,” he said.

Reif and other SPCA members have claimed that documents shelter staff members have provided to them reveal animals are missing. Taylor County Animal Shelter Director John Harris denies that claim.

Reif told media that animals have been left outside in cold weather and that cleaning practices on weekends and holidays aren't adequate.

Various photos of conditions at the shelter have surfaced, depicting feces and urine in cages and others show blood around an animal. Another photo shows that same animal dead in a cage.

When speaking to media during Tuesday's protest, Harris said those protesting are entitled to their opinions. He said he has records to show that no animals are missing at the shelter.

In regards to photos that have surfaced, Harris said, they were taken at 7 a.m., when the shelter hadn't yet opened for the day and staff members hadn't cleaned from the night before.

As far as the photos that show blood in a cage, he said the animal in that cage was under a veterinarian's care. He said the person who took a photo of the animal didn't tell shelter staff it had died.

That dog, Harris said, was alive when shelter staff left for the night and apparently died during the night.

Until adoptions are no longer offered at the shelter, Harris said, a veterinarian will continue to come there once a week to examine animals.

On Tuesday, about 60 animals were housed at the shelter. Various individuals and rescue groups adopted about half of them. Harris said he is pleased with that and hopes all the animals are adopted to new homes.

Rogers said the shelter is projected at costing more than $300,000 to operate for the year, which is considerably higher than last year's costs.

Rogers said the decision to no longer offer adoptions could save the county about $250,000 a year. He said the county has continually properly cared for the animals that come to the shelter.

Rogers said he has sent letters to officials in Russell, Green, Casey and LaRue counties that state Taylor County will no longer house their stray animals. He said he doesn't know if those counties have contracted with anyone else to provide that service.

Taylor County SPCA, Taylor Made Rescue, No Kill Louisville and various other animal welfare organizations will host a meeting to discuss the shelter on Monday at 7 p.m. at Taylor County Extension Office. It is open to the public.