Bob Gruhl, interim 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

Dog rescues: Rules seek ‘to stifle’ animal shelter criticism

A weekend adoption event helped ease the strain at a crowded Montgomery County Animal Resource Center, but some local rescue operators said they could help more if not for a county-imposed agreement the rescues called one-sided.

“They put a lot of stipulations on their rescue partners. Most of those are issues we have with non-disclosure agreements and things like that that basically forbid us from saying anything about the shelter or the shelter practices if we decide to pull from there,” said Blake Jordan, Miami Valley Pit Crew’s director/community outreach. “That is why we have not started working with them.”

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The ARC is trying to recover from a host of problems that ended last year with the firing of the former director, a tough review of operations by an outside group and a promise by county officials to do better.

But dog rescuers like Jordan are told they must sign a “code of conduct” that includes a policy that they may not engage in any activity or communication negative to the Animal Resource Center or attack others in the animal welfare field. The agreement also holds that rescuers must “waive and forfeit any and all claims I or my organization has or may have in the future against the ARC.”

Bob Gruhl, interim director of the ARC, said the county recognizes it needs more help from rescues and put out recent calls for their help, as well as asking them how to fix relationships broken in past years.

“We want to come up with a new agreement,” Gruhl said. “Of course, there will be items we want; there will be items they want. But it’s about repairing the trust in the community with our rescue partners.”

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The county recently sent a questionnaire to dozens of rescue organizations to identify priorities and learn why some are reluctant to work with the shelter. After the results are collated, Gruhl said the county will meet with the groups.

“We want them to be able to help us put together what’s going to work for them, what’s going to work for us, what’s going to work for the community, what’s going to work for the animals,” he said.

But skepticism runs deep after a decade and more of the county’s uneven treatment of rescues, said Dr. Sue Rancurello, a veterinarian with a Bellbrook practice who also runs Second Chance Rescue.

“It has been a very difficult relationship between the ARC and rescues for a number of years,” she said. “The ARC in the past has not made it easy at all for most rescues to go up there and get animals out of the ARC.”

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Rancurello said her rescue “begrudgingly” signed the agreement in order to be able to remove animals from the shelter.

“We thought and still feel that agreement is inappropriate,” she said. “It basically seeks to stifle the rescue groups from commenting on things they don’t like about the ARC.”

Gruhl was put in charge of overhauling the shelter in December after an independent review raised alarm about its operations and led to the firing of Mark Kumpf, the former director.

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The assessment by Team Shelter USA came following months of criticism by animal welfare advocates who said too many animals were being put to death at the ARC with little effort to find them new homes.

In 2015, only about 50 percent of the animals entering the shelter exited alive. But in January, the shelter’s live release rate was 90 percent, a figure more in line with modern shelter practices and often reached with much assistance by animal rescue organizations, according to Team Shelter USA’s recommendations to the county.

The county has hired a new rescue partner coordinator to focus on fostering relationships with rescue partners to get more pets into permanent homes. Despite an improved live release rate in past months, 2018 still saw 1,836 animals euthanized at the shelter, including those done due to poor health or at the request of owners.

Gruhl said the county works with about 50 rescue groups, though some very rarely pull dogs from the shelter with a capacity of about 160.

“We reach out to all of them on a regular basis, particularly now when we know we are approaching capacity,” Gruhl said.

Rancurello said the number of rescues offered by Gruhl is likely inflated.

“The ARC has probably had a very limited number of rescues that they would work with — or that were willing to work with them,” she said. “My opinion is that there is a far larger number of rescues that would work with them if we could improve relations on both ends.”

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Paul Leonard, an attorney representing a Kettering couple who filed suit against the ARC after their dog was euthanized at the shelter, said three rescue operators recently sought his counsel regarding the agreement he said was “completely one-sided.”

“I understand they have a problem and they have a challenge. I don’t think the document they have prepared, in my opinion creates, a trusting, work relationship or trusting professional relationship between the rescues and the Animal Resource Center,” said Leonard, also a former Dayton mayor and former Ohio lieutenant governor.

Rancurello said the ARC’s recent outreach efforts “are extremely positive steps” that would improve the perception of the shelter in the community.

“If they can maintain good working relationships with rescues, their live release rates will increase significantly … That would be an incredibly positive thing for the ARC, the rescues, the community, and, especially, the animals of the shelter,” she said.

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