Cough leads to shelter closure, director ousterBy Steve Estes
Officials have cited an outbreak of kennel cough for the recent closure of the county animal control shelter in Marathon run by Safe Harbor Animal Rescue of the Keys (SHARK).
Reports are that the shelter will be closed up to six weeks while medical personnel fight the outbreak of kennel cough among the 30 to 35 animals currently housed at the facility.
Local animal health experts say that kennel cough isn’t usually fatal to animals, but it does spread quickly among captive populations and can have a fatality rate of about five percent of infected animals.
During the closure, the shelter will accept no animals and will not be open for adoptions.
Shortly after the announcement came about the spread of the kennel cough, long time director Katie Bentley was asked to resign or be removed from the job she has held since SHARK took over the Middle Keys animal control duties from Stand Up For Animals in 2010.
Bentley had been an employee of SUFA for a long time before the group and county had a falling out over a financial audit and the county sought a new contractor.
Bentley said she was accused of withholding medical care from the animals at the shelter. She says she was also accused of not completing flea treatments in a timely manner.
In addition, Bentley says she was accused of withholding food from the animals in her care.
She vehemently denied all the allegations.
According to Bentley, the shelter has racked up more than $3,000 in vet bills from medical treatments to the animals and a veterinarian visits the facility at least every other month and has for more than two years.
She said she had taken a dog to the vet for treatments just the day before she was asked to resign and that morning had been on the phone with a vet discussing ways to combat the kennel cough.
She claims that kennel cough is a common occurrence in animal shelters, believing that this case was brought into the facility by a Labrador mix she had accepted from a rescue group in Miami-Dade.
The dogs are kept in a single-room kennel facility in close proximity to one another. The cages are separated by roofing material, she said.
She said the board claimed that she didn’t follow quarantine procedures when the kennel cough entered the facility, something Bentley said wasn’t possible due to the physical configuration of the kennels where the dogs are housed.
Bentley says she believes that the action by the board in requesting her resignation was “political,” and spearheaded by a shelter volunteer.
“I received a raise about 11 months ago and it was more than they (SHARK Board of Directors) said I would get upon my first review,” wrote Bentley in an email.
She also said that the board told her she needed to be “bright and cheery” all the time about the shelter because that was the image they wanted to portray to the public.
“I told the board that in this industry of animal control/sheltering, that’s just not always possible,” said Bentley.
Bentley said no animals were ever deprived of food at the facility and that her charts showed the dates when each animal received a flea and heartworm treatment at the facility.
“I can only believe that I didn’t portray the happy employee like they (board) wanted all the time, and I was asked to go,” said Bentley.
The shelter has always been on the high side in animal occupancy because it was founded as a “no kill” shelter, lengthening the time in residence for animals that were hard to adopt out, or were unadoptable for some reason.
“I dedicated eight years of my life to this community and to these animals that I loved as my own,” wrote Bentley. “And it was completely disregarded.”
SHARK took over the animal control contract in the Middle Keys after SUFA packed it in following a spat with Monroe County over a financial audit with “discrepancies.”
The two tussled for months over the renewal of the contract SUFA had held for eight years when the organization asked for a significant contract increase.
Unable to reach an agreement that county officials felt was fair, SUFA ran the shelter on a month-to-month basis for a short time until the audit caused the falling out.
Prior to SHARK being awarded the contract, the shelter was run temporarily by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which runs the Key West shelter for Monroe County.
The SHARK board had named a new director, though that person hasn’t yet been publicly introduced. The contract is slated to run for another two years.
County officials have talked about unifying animal control under a single umbrella organization. Currently three different groups handle animal control, one in the Lower Keys, one in the Middle Keys and one in the Upper Keys.
There was also talk during the SUFA contract negotiations that county officials might look at bringing animal control duties in-house using its own employees.
The county spends just under $1 million per year in animal control.