It’s late July, people are hot under the collar, dog days are imminent. Must be time for the annual blowup at the Franklin County Humane Society.
Two years ago, it came when the shelter manager misidentified a pedigreed pet dog as a coyote and had police release it into the woods, never to be seen again. The following year, after the society supposedly had turned over a new leaf with a new board, one board member and a volunteer took a plea deal on theft charges after they were accused of abducting a dog they suspected of being mistreated. Board meetings by then had descended into pandemonium, the animal lovers unable to agree how to run operations efficiently while reducing euthanasia. There were mass resignations and new members promised to seek a balance between kindness to animals and consideration for local taxpayers, who contribute $100,000 a year toward the semi-private organization’s handling of animal-rescue duties for the county.
Now a new controversy has arisen, centered on the dismissal of an office assistant, Beth Wallace. She got the news from Sam Marcus, the society’s president, when he visited her in the hospital as she recovered from injuries received in an auto accident. This awkward moment does not directly impact the animal-rescue mission, but it might if it leads to reduced public support for the agency.
Marcus, to his credit, immediately admitted exercising bad judgment in the bedside termination and offered to resign to avoid inflicting another black eye on the organization. The board rejected his offer although it did formally reprimand him.
Exactly why this employee got the ax is unclear. She told State Journal reporter Lauren Hallow that Marcus informed her the decision was based on job performance but he wouldn’t elaborate. Dismissing someone is unpleasant enough without having to explain your reasons. Wallace quoted Marcus as saying she’d have to “talk to Nancy” (Benton, the shelter manager). Of course, that’s what should have happened in the first place. The face-to-face ouster of an individual by the board president is a little like the mayor going around City Hall handing out pink slips – the city’s top elected official is supposed to delegate such responsibilities to the city manager. Top officials should concentrate on policy decisions.
D’Arcy Robb, spokeswoman for the humane society, is worried about repercussions from this incident. Her big fear is that people who normally support the humane society with donations and volunteerism may now be less inclined to do so. “Please,” she implored, “don’t punish the animals for the human’s sake.”
Perhaps no one knows better than Marcus what’s at stake. In a State Journal op-ed commentary four months ago, he noted that the euthanasia rate, estimated at 60 to 80 percent in 2010, had fallen to 12 percent of dogs and 23 percent of cats under current management, but the cost of housing these homeless animals had risen exponentially. “The bad news,” he wrote, “is that by saving the lives of so many animals, our costs of animal care are exceeding the annual revenue of the shelter by about $90,000.”
Negative publicity over a botched personnel action must not overshadow the real embarrassment: that this community still hasn’t found a way to stop killing its surplus pets. The humane society is far from perfect, but the majority of the county’s abandoned animals have few real options.