The Montgomery County Animal Resource Center is under fire for putting to death animals too quickly — in some cases while their owners are still looking for them.
“From my point of view, it is not a shelter, it’s a death row,” said former Dayton Mayor Paul Leonard, who is also an attorney representing a couple suing the county over the resource center’s euthanasia practices.
In recent days, two euthanasia deaths have come to light involving dogs that were put to death at the center, angering owners who had been trying to find them.
Savannah Slorp of Dayton said she was “completely crushed” by the news that Brownie, her Labrador retriever, had been euthanized by the Animal Resource Center.
“I had been contacting them and contacting them and looking and looking for my dog,” she said. “And they kept telling me she’s not there, she’s not there. But she was there.”
“She was supposedly euthanized in July, but I didn’t find out until September,” Slorp said.
The other death involved Dyson, a 10-year-old dog owned by Lindsey and Josh Glowney of Kettering. The Glowneys, represented by Leonard, recently sued the county for negligence and other claims, including intentional infliction of emotional distress, after Dyson was seized by a Kettering animal control official in October 2016 and euthanized five days later.
Critics of the facility say animals are being put to death without enough effort to return them to their owners, or find homes for them. Some of the criticism is coming from groups outside the area as word travels through social media and other means.
County officials say more than 3,000 dogs and cats were euthanized last year, but a vast majority of them were unhealthy, untreatable and in pain, according to Michael Colbert, Montgomery County administrator.
“Euthanasia is a tragic reality of animal control,” Colbert said. “Each and every decision to euthanize a dog or cat at the ARC is taken very seriously. These difficult decisions must be made for animals who are gravely ill or injured and animals who show aggression. It is the humane means to end an animal’s suffering and protect the public.”
The county said it is trying to grow the ARC’s live release rate and is pursuing efforts such as an independent review of ARC operations, creation of a volunteer and foster program and the hiring of an outreach coordinator to communicate updates such as photos of animals at the facility.
Skeptics of facility’s management and practices have banded together on a Facebook page, Injustice at ARC, while another fledgling group, Coalition for Animal Justice, coalesced this summer in direct response to alleged wrongdoing at the Animal Resource Center, organizers said.
Colbert said some critics have gone overboard, subjecting ARC staff, their families and public officials in Montgomery County, Kettering and Butler Twp. to harassment and social media attacks.
The center’s director, Mark Kumpf, is also a named defendant in a wrongful death lawsuit of Klonda Richey, who was mauled by a dog in Dayton after she alerted the ARC about two dozen times to a problem dog next door. Court documents filed by Richey’s estate allege key evidence in the case was destroyed by the ARC.
Kumpf, Montgomery County’s Animal Resource Center director since 2006, did not return an email and phone call seeking comment for this story.
Animal welfare activists and others have inundated the county with public records requests involving the ARC to find cases and data underscoring their grievances. Since May, the county has responded to more than 360 requests generating more than 1,700 documents, according to the county. It hired a temporary legal employee in September who is working 40-hour weeks at $17 an hour just to keep up with the requests.
“There’s so much going on with this. We’re getting emails from people all over the country,” said Montgomery County Commission President Debbie Lieberman. “They’re all not local people.”
One from out of state is Shane Rudman, founder of the Animal Justice League of America, a Kansas-based dog rescue that began receiving messages earlier this year about a dog named Stormy in Montgomery County’s shelter.
“We had hundreds of people reaching out to us through social media,” Rudman said. “We get cases all the time, but this was overwhelming because it was so unfair.”
Rudman said he drove the more than 600 miles from suburban Kansas City to Dayton in June to pick up Stormy and prepare her for a new home. Rudman said it wasn’t until he was in court in Kettering with a member of the dog’s foster family that they learned more about Stormy.
“They said, ‘By the way, we killed the dog 10 days ago,’” Rudman said.
Animal rights advocatessay a live release rate of 90 percent or higher is more in line with modern shelter standards. But the rate last year at the ARC was much lower: 56.7 percent.
Some of those arguing for changes at the ARC say county commissioners let the problem fester and failed to respond to their calls for action.
“It shouldn’t be something that we have to wait for dozens or hundreds of these animals — or thousands of these animals — to be put down for us to say, maybe we should take a closer look here,” said Beth Miller, president and CEO of Wagtown, a local non-profit organization that advocates for dog-friendly communities among other causes.
“I have reached out to different parties connected to the Animal Resource Center, including the existing commissioners as well as those running for that spot. Unfortunately, I never received any response from the commissioners.”
But the county said the live release rate is on the rise — reaching 70 percent for the year through September — and specific efforts will be made later this year to help the facility improve.
The current ARC operations will be shifted to a new department, the county announced Friday. Oversight will move from Administrative Services to Montgomery County Development Services.
While the county said it continually reviews operations, the last comprehensive review of the Animal Resource Center was 15 years ago in 2003. The plan will get updated with an independent review of shelter operations in November, according to the county.
The study by Team Shelter USA will include an onsite assessment and interviews with county leadership and other area animal welfare organizations that will take place Nov. 26-30, according to a county document. Plans call for the consultants to also visit area shelters operated by SICSA and the Humane Society of Greater Dayton.
ARC staff will be the first interviewed, followed by management during the $15,000 review. A community meeting is planned for Nov. 27 at the downtown Dayton Metro Library.
The assessment will look at current community, enforcement and shelter programs and compare those to national best practices to identify opportunities for improvement, according to the county.
The primary consultants, Sara Pizano and Cameron Moore, will also make written recommendations to the county within a week that are to address fiscal responsibility, efficient enforcement, and how to lower the number of animals coming into the center, decrease the length of stays and increase live outcomes.
A second phase of the plan calls for the creation of a volunteer and foster program to help move more animals into adoption.
Through a partnership with the Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine, the ARC will also go through the American Veterinary Medicine Association offsite teaching partner accreditation process, according to the county.
In an effort to place more animals in adoption and avoid euthanizing them, the county plans to hire a community outreach coordinator to consistently post information and photos on social media channels.
“If dogs have been euthanized that shouldn’t have been, to me that’s heartbreaking. But our staff there work very hard,” Lieberman said. “If there are things that we need to change … there are going to be changes at the ARC.”
But the county will have to work hard to prove changes to Slorp.
“The Animal Resource Center is not a safe place for animals. Instead of trying to find owners they would just as soon euthanize a dog,” she said.
Slorp has three sons and told her 15-year-old and 12-year-old what really happened to their pet.
“My older kids know the truth,” she said. “I told my 5-year-old Brownie went to live on a farm.”