Robert Gruhl, director of the Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, was put in charge of overhauling the shelter in December after an independent review raised alarm about shelter operations. Gruhl is pictured at the ARC with Brittany Gibson, an animal care provider. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

Animal Resource Center euthanizing fewer animals, improving, county says

Montgomery County and its insurers are paying a $3.5 million settlement to the estate of Klonda Richey over her dog-mauling death — and another lawsuit involving the missing corpse of a dog ordered held as evidence continues to hang over the county’s Animal Resource Center from when Mark Kumpf was its director.

But the Montgomery County officials — and those in the animal advocacy community — say vast improvements have been made at the Animal Resource Center since Kumpf was fired 16 months ago.

“We have made the changes and moved the ARC to something that we think the public can be proud of,” Montgomery County Administrator Michael Colbert said. “That doesn’t take anything away from what happened. That was a horrific tragedy and we continue to feel bad about the way it happened, but at the same time we have made the improvements necessary.”

FIRST REPORT: $3.5M settlement reached in Dayton dog mauling death

Richey’s estate claimed that her 2014 death was preventable had the county’s Animal Resource Center, then led by Kumpf, been responsive to 13 complaints Richey made to that agency about her neighbors’ dogs that eventually killed her, leaving her torn body in the snow to be found by a passerby.

Montgomery County and Kumpf continue to dispute the lawsuit’s claims and deny any liability or wrongdoing. Richey’s estate and the defendants agreed to a deal to “avoid the expense, inconvenience, uncertainty and distraction” of further litigation, according to the final settlement agreement.

The shelter was under scrutiny for reasons beyond the Richey case.

In the year before Kumpf’s firing, local animal welfare advocates pushed for changes to the shelter where they claimed animals were improperly cared for and too many put to death with little effort to find them new homes.

MORE: County commissioners officially fire animal shelter director

A November 2018 assessment of the ARC by independent consultants Team Shelter USA found organizational dysfunction created “an avalanche of negative consequences” for animals at the shelter compounded by an ARC staff suffering from burnout and “compassion fatigue.”

The report laid out a host of problems — animals were inconsistently monitored and vaccinated; housed in cramped, filthy cages; and when euthanized, sometimes rotted in a malfunctioning freezer. Further, the report showed employees improperly storing vaccines, reusing syringes and possibly running afoul of the law by failing to track a euthanasia solution called Fatal Plus.

Team Shelter’s report was a tipping point in Kumpf’s termination in December 2018, Colbert said at the time, promising 2019 would be “a transformative year” for the shelter.

MORE: County animal center report: ‘Avalanche of negative consequences’

County commissioners then appointed a new interim director, Robert Gruhl, who since has been named permanently to the position.

Gruhl stepped into the job with a checklist of about 170 recommendations from the Team Shelter report — 30 of them “emergency action items.”

“At the time, the tasks we were faced with felt nearly impossible and we certainly had our work cut out for us,” Gruhl wrote in a report last December. “ Thanks to the dedication and hard work of our team, we’ve done a complete 180; our efforts have resulted in faster and better outcomes for animals, much needed updates to daily operations, and more animals adopted into loving homes.”

Citing the coronavirus outbreak, the county said Gruhl was unavailable for an interview for this story.

About 90% of the items on the Team Shelter checklist were completed by the end of last year, according to the county.

MORE: Animal shelter’s report: Dozens of emergency actions needed

New procedures were put in place to keep better records on each animal, including vaccinations; fees were waived for adoptions; positions were fast tracked to improve shelter operations and increase the rate of adoptions through stepped-up cooperation with local rescue groups; the responsibility for cat control was returned to local jurisdictions.

A 90% live release rate is a modern standard for shelters to reach, according to Team Shelter USA’s recommendations to the county. Shelter statistics show the live release rate during 2019 neared that mark, improving to 88.6%, up notably from previous years.

Only 423 animals were euthanized there in 2019. That’s down from 1,836 animals that were euthanized in 2018 and 2,644 animals euthanized in 2017.

The shelter took in 3,865 animals in 2019, compared to 5,542 in 2018 and 6,545 in 2017. More animals, 1,600, were adopted in 2019 than during the previous year when 1,090 were placed.

MORE: Critics target Montgomery Co. Animal Resource Center for animal deaths

Dr. Sue Rancurello, a veterinarian with a Bellbrook practice who also runs Second Chance Rescue, said ARC has been more responsive to the community and to rescue groups that help find dogs homes to reduce euthanasia rates.

“They are continuing to move in the right direction. They are open and willing to change. They are open and willing to listen,” she said. “I really think that for the first time in a very, very long time, you have people that are really working to improve the function of the shelter and positive outcomes for the animals.”

Kumpf did not return a phone call from the Dayton Daily News for this story. He did speak with the Detroit News for a story in December.

Kumpf, who was ARC director from 2006 until he was fired, was hired as Detroit’s animal control director in September, earning $100,000 a year. Kumpf’s annual salary during 2018 at the ARC was $86,611, according to the county.

“From my perspective, I’ve transitioned to a new job and my focus here is Detroit and making lives great for the people and pets in Detroit,” Kumpf told the Detroit News.

He told the newspaper then he wanted to be judged by his accomplishments and not “go back and answer ‘He said, she said’” allegations.

MORE: Ex-Dayton animal shelter director facing scrutiny in new Detroit job

But Kumpf will likely be answering more questions in Montgomery County as a named defendant in an ongoing lawsuit.

A revised amended complaint was filed this week in a suit brought by Josh and Lindsey Glowney. The Kettering couple allege that in 2016, Kumpf, others working at the shelter and Kettering officials, were responsible for taking and euthanizing their family dog, Dyson, within days without contacting the family.

The filing by attorney Paul Leonard, who represents the Glowneys, added a complaint for the disappearance of Dyson’s remains, which are so far unaccounted for after last stored in a freezer at the ARC.

The Glowneys were prosecuted for misdemeanor animal cruelty/neglect. They pleaded no contest and were found guilty. They appealed the decision in the case and Kettering Municipal Court Judge Fred Dressel ordered Dyson’s frozen body kept as evidence.

MORE: Frozen dog kept as evidence now missing from embattled animal shelter

Leonard, a former Dayton mayor and former Ohio lieutenant governor, is also founder of Alliance for Animal Justice Fund, a group in which Lindsey Glowney is the nonprofit’s director.

Leonard said many positives emerged from the past problems at the Animal Resource Center, including its new director.

“It really served as an incident that allowed people who have an interest in animal welfare to come together and do something,” he said. “I certainly would not trade today’s Animal Resource Center with the one that was addressed a year ago. It’s two different organizations. Not perfect, but making progress.”

The Glowneys’ lawsuit against Mark Kumpf, the county and Kettering, isn’t being waged for monetary damages, Leonard said.

“Our goal is to try to set some precedents under the law that will provide protections for animals in the future to make sure that these kinds of things don’t happen again,” he said.

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