Animal Resource Center wins award, two years after report condemning its practices

Two years after animal welfare advocates criticized the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center for their high rates of euthanizing animals, the Ohio County Dog Wardens Association named the center the 2020 Agency of the Year.

“We’re thrilled,” said Robert Gruhl, Animal Resource Center director. “It’s not often that you get recognized for the work that you did.”

Gruhl said they still have a lot of work to go to make up from past problems.

A 2018 report from Team Shelter USA, an animal welfare group, found ARC was short staffed, with employees suffering from burnout and compassion fatigue. The animals were inconsistently monitored and vaccinated, housed in cramped, filthy cages, or would rot in malfunctioning freezers after being euthanized.

Immediately after the report, Montgomery County commissioners fired then-director Mark Kumpf and appointed Gruhl, the current director, in his place.

Kumpf sued Montgomery County and settled in May 2019 for the equivalent of 17 weeks of salary and a neutral reference letter. Kumpf’s annual salary in 2018 was $86,611.20, according to the county.

Kumpf was also involved in a 2014 dog mauling case and Montgomery County was sued in 2015. Klonda Richey, 57, was attacked by a neighbor’s dogs and died.

Her estate says she made about 13 calls about the dogs to the Montgomery County Regional Dispatch Center and at least 11 calls to the Animal Resource Center before her death. The dogs were not designated as dangerous. Police shot and killed them when they arrived to find Richey’s body.

Since that report, the ARC has started several new programs, including the Animal Awareness Program, designed for dog owners who have received a minor misdemeanor offense as an alternative to going to court, training for Dayton postal carriers and outreach for Montgomery County police departments.

The ARC currently works with mostly dogs.

The Ohio County Dog Wardens Association cited those programs as reasons for the award. The association also noted the euthanization rate had gone down.

In 2019, only about 55-60% of animals were released from the ARC alive, the association said, but the agency is now at above 90% for 2020.

Gruhl said while the goal is to get all the animals rehabilitated and rehomed, not all dogs are able to do that. Some are too sick to be rehomed, he said. Others have bitten people several times and are unpredictable. He said he approves all the euthanizations personally and will continue to do so as long as he is director.

“We try to save the animal at all cost, I want to stress that,” Gruhl said. “All the animals are looked at from 100 different angles.”

Gruhl said the agency has accomplished its lowered euthanization rate with a lot of work. He said his goals for himself are retrieving the animals and focusing on community safety, remediating their behavior and reuniting them with their owners or rehoming the animals.

Dogs are not inherently bad, he said. Assessing the dog’s behavior and circumstances when the dog is brought in through reports, then modifying the dog’s behavior and getting it to be more redeemable is the goal, Gruhl said.

Gruhlsaid ARC works hard to unite lost dogs with their owners. If they can’t reunite the dogs, they are rehomed. There’s a new emphasis on photos, videos and social media, he said, and that’s improved the image of the agency and gotten more interest in the dogs available for adoption.

The Team Shelter USA report noted there was not enough staffing for the agency, either. The agency hired eight new positions since that report, and Gruhl said ARC also reorganized their structure.

Gruhl said the credit for the award should go to his team.

“In my close to 30 years in government, I have never worked with so many people who are so compassionate,” he said. “They work hard, and they deserve all the credit for it.”

Staff Writer Chris Stewart contributed to this story.

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