Online petition asks Wake County Animal Shelter director to resign

mhankerson@newsobserver.comNovember 23, 2013 

— Local animal rescue volunteers and advocates are calling for the resignation of Wake County’s Animal Shelter director after the shelter euthanized 60 cats recovered from a Raleigh woman’s home this month.

The petition, which had 1,367 signatures as of Friday, claims the investigation of Carol De Olloqui, the former president of local rescue group Calvin’s Paws, went against county protocol. It also says 60 of the 90 cats that were taken from De Olloqui’s home were euthanized unnecessarily.

“What kept popping up on the radar was that this was not the first situation where ... people felt there was a quick rush to euthanize and other options were not looked at,” said Trixie Perry, one of the authors of the petition.

Perry and her petition co-author, Shannon Lack, are independent rescue volunteers who do rescue work between their full-time jobs.

The petition says it does not condone keeping as many animals as De Olloqui did, but the actions of the animal shelter were extreme.

It claims De Olloqui was physically restrained and couldn’t provide veterinary records for the animals in her home. Some of the animals, the petition claims, were under the care of other vets, who were also not allowed to provide records of their medical care.

The petition also said four of the animals were De Olloqui’s personal animals and another four belonged to another owner; De Olloqui was keeping them as a favor to the owner who recently lost her home in a fire.

Most of the other cats were foster animals, waiting to be adopted out, the petition said.

Only 33 animals were saved by going to independent rescue organizations. The 60 cats that went to the animal shelter had to be euthanized because of various illnesses, said Jennifer Federico, the animal shelter director.

“We tried to send the healthiest (of the 93 animals) to the rescues, because they would have the best chances,” Federico said. The shelter has limited space for sick animals.

Wake County Animal Shelter’s records indicate the cats in De Olloqui’s had oral and ocular ulcers, dental disease, and in one case a feeding tube.

“Catch-all for these cats”

Lack said De Olloqui was doing her best to keep some cats other volunteers didn’t have the medical knowledge to keep.

“She was a catch-all for these cats,” Lack said. “I think she gets tired of asking for help, and it not coming.”

Calvin’s Paws does not have a building where the group can keep animals until they are adopted. Instead, the nonprofit’s volunteers are foster owners, taking in and caring for animals until adopted.

Right now, the group doesn’t have any set number of animals a foster can take on. Board member Lynn Barclay said it relies on the foster owner to know his or her own limits.

In a statement released following the seizure of De Olloqui’s animals, Calvin’s Paws interim president Dan Wagner said the group will research and draft policies for regulating and monitoring foster owners.

As of Nov. 14, Calvin’s Paws had 305 animals waiting for adoption.

Wake County Animal Shelter’s situation isn’t much better.

Federico said that most of the time, the county shelter is operating with 80 to 100 percent capacity for cats.

When animals come to shelter and there’s no room, staff tries to get owners to hold on to their pets until a space becomes available or coordinate with a rescue group to pick up some of the animals already in the county shelter.

The Wake County Animal Shelter can’t turn down an animal. It has to take pets that arrive as well as animals recovered by animal control.

“Other shelters have the luxury of being no-kill,” Federico said. “They just don’t take anybody in until there’s room.”

Three of the seven rescues contacted had room for a limited number of animals. The rest had to go with the shelter.

Limited space and partners

When the animals went to the county shelter, there was no room to keep them separate from the healthy animals, so they had to be euthanized. Federico said the shelter’s policy is to keep sick animals separate from healthy ones to make sure illness doesn’t affect more animals than it has to.

Federico said no matter how the shelter tried to shuffle animals around, cats would have to be euthanized.

“If we had room, it would be a different story,” Federico said. “When we don’t (have room), who do we trade out? ... If it wasn’t those cats, it would be other cats.”

Perry says she has offered to help Wake County with hoarding cases but has never been called upon. She said she knows the shelter can’t save every animal, but she expects more effort.

“I find it a total disbelief that 60 cats had to be euthanized and what little effort (Frederico) put in to get (the cats) out to rescue groups,” she said.

Lack said the petition is also meant to encourage reform, especially when it comes to how the shelter works with its rescue partners.

Records show there were three rescues that didn’t have updated information, so the shelter was unsure of their status.

According to the shelter’s case outline, there are 16 approved cat rescue organizations they can work with. Any rescues involved in a hoarding case, as they’ve labeled De Olloqui’s, must be an approved partner of the shelter.

Calvin’s Paws is not listed as an official partner of the shelter.

The case outline says staff contacted seven shelters that may have been able to help. Other shelters only take certain kinds of cats: one takes blind cats, one only takes Siamese cats, one takes hairless cats, among some of the special requirements.

Joseph Threadcraft, Wake County’s director of environmental services and Federico’s supervisor, said the actions of shelter staff have been reviewed. He said there was room for improvement, but there was nothing that raised serious concern.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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