Thursday, September 20, 2012

Humane Society update: It only gets weirder

 
Frankie
The date for the public meeting with the Humane Society has been changed to Oct. 18th, 5:30 - 7:30 at Town Hall.

AND

Frankie and Mow have been cat-napped.

On July 10th and again on the 18th, I did blog posts about Mow, previously advertised as strictly an indoor cat, becoming part of the Shelter's "barn cat program."  This does not include an actual barn or any other safe-haven, but that didn't stop the Shelter's director, Sharon Felkins. from evicting Mow and Frankie (an extremely friendly cat) from the Shelter to join the 15 or so cats she has deemed to be feral. Food and water are placed outside for them, but they otherwise fend for themselves in the woods surrounding the Highway 20 facility.

Believe it or not, when Frankie and Mow were discovered missing, the Shelter filed a theft report with the Sheriff's department. This is a small town, but we still have issues with gangs, drug abuse, meth labs, spousal abuse, pot farms, and petty larceny, but apparently that didn't stop law enforcement from giving the disappearance of two 'feral' cats the highest possible priority--starting with a call on one of the Shelter's volunteers, 78 year old, Lizette Weiss. 

Dear Sheriff, For the record, I don't have the cats and don't know who does.

This is a portion of the letter to the editor Lizette wrote.

September 4, I had an unpleasant visit from a sheriff's deputy . . . who accused me of stealing cats from the Humane Society's shelter. His manner was intimidating and threatening. I told him that I knew the two cats in question: Frankie and Mow, both females. I truthfully said I do not know who has the cats. (I) invited him into my home and introduced him to my cat. I also told him it was inhumane to release domestic cats into the (woods) to be preyed upon by . . . wild animals and for them to prey on the birds in the forest. The officer told me he would not stop looking until those cats were found and that the person who stole the cats would go to jail.

I have volunteered at the Shelter for more than a year and a half to socialize cats who are waiting for homes. I have been quite dependable, coming every Monday unless I was ill or out of town. I have told staff about problems I found with the cats (worms, coughs and upper respiratory illness, skin conditions, hairballs and cats throwing up for unknown reasons). 

Since the Humane Society released these cats into the wild, there has been a flurry of letters to the editor on this subject. The e-mail circuit has been kept busy with ideas for making the Humane Society more open to the community and to suggestions for democratizing its operations. This is particularly important since the group receives $2500 a month in taxpayer funds from the City of Fort Bragg, leases public land where the shelter is located for $1 a year, receives City dog license fees, and enjoys many thousands of dollars of donations from the public. The public also supports the organization by shopping at its resale shop -- The Ark.

On September 10, I went to the shelter for my regular stint socializing cats. First I found two dogs running unleashed in the area holding the outside cats' feeding station. So much for taking care of the outside cats, euphemistically called 'barn cats' by the shelter (although there is no barn for them to find safety in). After I signed in, Sharon Felkins, the Humane Society director, told me I was no longer welcome at the shelter and to leave immediately and never come back. I asked her why and she said, "You are a troublemaker."  I also asked her who made that decision and she told me the board of the Humane Society (only one of whom I have ever met) voted unanimously. There is no way to know if this is the case as the staff has a long history of being 'veracity challenged.'

She said she had called the Mendocino Sheriff to report the two outside cats had been stolen and had given them my name and address. I told her that I did not appreciate being called a thief and that she had no right to do so and had overstepped the bounds of normal behavior. One has to wonder why the Sheriff would feel an animal abandoned to its fate in the wild could be 'stolen'.  

I left the shelter when Sharon Felkins (picked up the phone to call) the Mendocino Sheriff to have me forcibly removed. I left for my own health and mental well-being . . . (but) of equal importance, I feel that public safety personnel are a very scarce resource. I feel this resource was being employed in a frivolous manner to assert one person's sense of importance.

The Humane Society, as a 501(c)(3) charity, has a board of directors that currently has 6 regular members four of whom are two married couples. Sharon Felkins and Alberta Cottrell also serve on the board. (It is highly) irregular to have two paid employees serve on a policy board since their work is overseen by the board.  It is like having a boss boss herself. This is a situation that . . . has led to an abuse of power. The board could have a total of eleven 'regular' members which would make it more representative of the area it serves and less like a 'private club.'

The Mendocino Coast Humane society is not a small operation. They reported to the IRS on their 990 form for the year 2010 submitted this past February that they had a total revenue of $477,000 and assets of just under $789,000. For this small community, this is quite a large charity. Yet the Humane Society keeps asserting that it is a private organization and they certainly strive to keep their meetings and deliberations private. As near as observers can tell they have not held a public meeting in more than nine years. When questioned they assert that the last meeting they held, the public complained and criticized (them). You think?!

I wish I had a solution.  I feel sad that the cats, who craved my attention when I visited, no longer have . . . volunteers to pet, groom and play with them.  In good conscience, I could never recommend the shelter as a place to volunteer as it is hostile and unpleasant to spend time there if one is at all sensitive to normal human interactions.  Simple things such as saying "hello" and "thank you" to a visitor are in short supply.  There is no sense of collaboration with the volunteers and woe beware the individual who disagrees with any decision or points out a problem situation.

I could have written about these problems months ago but did not because I know good hearted people are trying to come up with ways to make the Humane Society more humane. Frankly, with the present leadership, I doubt it is possible.

Lizette Weiss
Fort Bragg

(According to the Sheriff's log, animal welfare advocate, Carol Lillis, also received a visit from a Sheriff's deputy on Sept. 4th, but was not home to receive him.)

Mow

In a P.S.
Below is a copy of an email from Sharon Felkins in response to a query about the availability of 3 'feral' cats that the Stanford Inn wants to adopt. Sharon told Carol Lillis, and a second individual who inquired, that the 3 cats were MCHS property and that they were unavailable.  Clearly not understanding why cats living in the woods were unavailable for adoption, Carol contacted a board member who told her that "all MCHS cats indoors and out were available for adoption, and that it was their mission to adopt out animals." When Carol asked for confirmation that the cats were available, she was told by that same board member that she would meet with Sharon on Friday (the 14th) and would confirm by the same afternoon. When Carol didn't hear back, she again emailed to express the Stanford Inn's continued interest in the 3 cats, and was told that those cats, all three--the exact same cats--had been adopted. I (GR speaking) have it on good authority that, as of yesterday, those same three cats are still in the woods. I find it hard to believe that Sharon, and the other board members, carry such animosity toward Carol that they would prefer to let animals, with an opportunity to be adopted, continue to suffer the perils of life in the forest, but that seems to be the case.


This is the final paragraph in Sharon's email to Carol Lillis:
I do not expect, want, or need a reply to this email. There have been too many negative statements made about MCHS that have come from SOS and volunteers of SOS. I think its best that you not plan on being a volunteer at MCHS anymore. Thank you for all you've done and continue to do with SOS.
Sharon
Shelter Director
Mendocino Coast Humane Society

(S.O.S. formerly Support Our Shelter - Mendocino County Animal Care Services Fort Bragg, provided toys, treats, medical care beyond that which the county could provide. After Animal Control closed, they changed their name to SOS - Networking for Mendocino Coast Companion animals. They raised funds for surgery & got a grant to help a dog named Valen in need of a very expensive surgery. Valen had been left in need of surgery for quite some time because funds at MCHS were low and S.O.S was told, there was no money to help him. They also arranged for transport to and from UC Davis. More recently, they raised funds for Dime's surgery as well.)

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