The Animal Cruelty Task Force of Ohio suggests new dog boxes and a review of adoption polices at the Belmont County Animal Shelter following a visit there late last week, and its volunteers want to return soon to rescue some dogs there and relieve overcrowding.
County commissioners Monday provided the list of recommendations they received from ACT Ohio President Steffen Baldwin, and the first of these suggests commissioners give ACT Ohio permission to return with a team from the Humane Society of the United States "to remove and place into reputable and verified rescues."
While the Belmont County Animal Shelter is owned by Belmont County, it is under the operation of the Belmont County Animal Rescue League, explained Judy Geimer, president of the BCARL board of directors. The agency recently came under fire after former board member Cyndi Yanez criticized the shelter's euthanasia record - reported at 51 percent - and conditions at the facility.
"The majority of things said about us are not true," Geimer said. "Mostly, they came from a former board member who was removed from the board. It started the day after, and nothing was said before that. Since then, there has been an onslaught of the worst viciousness I've ever seen. Most affected were the dogs."
Geimer didn't deny there is overcrowding at the shelter, and that workers and volunteers there need assistance.
"It's been a difficult two months on us," she said. "We had a nice, nice visit with some nice people. They say we are working well with what we are dealing with, and they are passing that on to the commissioners. ...They understand we're a group that works with a lot of heart."
ACT Ohio suggests workers and volunteers at the animal shelter undergo workshops on compassion fatigue, burnout, customer service and electronic data management.
"We have burnout," Geimer said. "The dogs come in abused, we care for them and make their lives good, then we have to make decisions about euthanasia. We love them. It's a difficult part of life, and we probably have not euthanized as much as we should."
BCARL saves many dogs, she continued. Geimer estimated the shelter takes in three to 20 dogs each week.
"And we are careful about placements," she said. "We saw how some were being treated after adoption, and we realized we made a mistake. Now we try to be more careful. ... Very few people can stay at a place where dogs are euthanized. We do stay because we love them. I just wish people would check out the situation out before they judge us."
ACT Ohio suggested the county purchase 30 elevated and insulated dog houses for the shelter. These dog boxes could be built at cost by inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women for $50 each.
Baldwin also recommended a review of all adoption, rescue, euthanasia, animal care, cleaning, volunteers, length of stay and medical care policies and procedures at the shelter, as well longterm physical improvements at the facility. These upgrades should include outdoor runs, better drainage and ventilation and more rooms to care for stray cats.
Baldwin also said Verna Painter, manager of the shelter, plans to retire Nov. 30, 2014 after more than 40 years at the shelter.
"ACT Ohio is not here to either condemn or exonerate anyone, but rather to focus on the animals and what is truly in their best interests," he said. "We feel that if the changes above can be made during a time of transition between management, with the support of the community and the commissioners, 2014 can be a terrific year for the animal of Belmont County, Ohio."
Commissioners did not act on any of the recommendations Monday.