CCSO launches investigation of local animal shelter

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The Carroll County Sheriff's Office has launched an investigation of the Good Shepherd Humane Society's animal shelter in Eureka Springs after receiving a complaint alleging animals were severely neglected and adoption files were deleted, forcing animals to remain in harsh conditions with little food and no real chance of finding new homes.

"I discovered the dogs were being underfed by half their required amount of daily food, which can lead to aggressive behavior," said the shelter's new manager, Rachel Brix.

"The animals have a lot of health issues that are compromising the welfare of other animals in the shelter. Many are overdue for vaccines which is a public health concern. In some cases, dogs and cats were not separated," she said.

At an emergency board meeting Saturday, the board voted to close the shelter for two months.

CCSO Chief Deputy Maj. George Frye said that because the investigation is ongoing, he can't discuss any details of the case.

Brix replaced Lisa Castillo as shelter manager two weeks ago and has been working with shelter volunteers and staff to overhaul the online adoption system and rehabilitate the animals so they can be ready for adoption.

"We are going to conduct ASPCA temperament testing to evaluate each animal for health and behavior issues, which every dog needs here desperately," Brix said."Then we will re-institute the SAFER program."

The shelter began taking all dogs and cats picked up by Berryville Animal Control early last year after the shelter consolidated and moved to Eureka Springs. The decision to move came after board members said repairs and renovation at the Berryville Animal Control Facility, formerly a water treatment plant, would be too costly and instead decided to move the operation to Eureka Springs.

Dr. Dan Bennett, who stepped down from his position as board president in September, said in news reports last May that the consolidation included a plan to hire a full-time adoption coordinator responsible for improving and updating Good Shepherd's "fragmented" online presence so dogs don't miss opportunities to find homes in other states.

But, according to Brix, that never happened.

"The shelter has a lot of imminent safety and sanitation issues and the only way to remedy them properly is to shut down," she said.

Brix contacted CCSO when she found major issues with the Adopt-a-Pet system and a computer technician told her the shelter's computer programs were being "compromised maliciously by an outside source."

"The database that we use to input all of our animals is compromised," Brix said. "We just restored Adopt-a-Pet which is tied to that database so we can distribute adoption notices locally. The national Adopt-a-Pet function isn't working so notices haven't been getting out.

"Someone is going in and making it so we can't have full access to our accounts and is deleting and changing information," she said. "Animals have been deleted from the site so they weren't getting adopted. A lot of records are missing. It's debilitating for us because we have an extremely small staff."

Over the last year, three shelter managers -- Janice Durbin, Lisa Castillo and now Brix -- have been in charge of caring for the animals.

Board president Mark Jankowski, a resident of Holiday Island whose job as a frozen food distributor keeps him busy on the road, said that since Brix took the helm, she "has brought a lot of things to light" about the shelter's conditions.

"The board didn't realize how bad it was," he paused and said.

When asked how he and the six board members overlooked that the animals were allegedly being fed half of the food they need daily, Jankowski paused, sighed and said, "Good question."

"We knew there were some issues and fixing up that needed to be done but with a lot of it, you need to trust that the managers are giving you the right information," he said. "Castillo didn't have the skills to do job."

Arkansas does not require background checks for animal caretakers, nor does it regulate the ratio of caretakers to animals in non-profit shelters.

When it came time to cut costs last November, the board had to "let go" of two animal technicians and one adoption coordinator, Jankowski said.

"We were in dire straits," he said. "You can't put a Band-aid on a problem. You have to stop and fix things."

Jankowski said the board was approved for a loan last fall because it was planning to expand and that money collected from grants, fundraisers and two thrift stores helps to cover the costs of caring for the animals.

After hearing Brix's recommendations during Saturday's emergency meeting, he said, the board is instead using the money to make critical improvements, including erecting an extra storage building and perimeter fencing and painting and remodeling.

Both Brix and Jankowski said the health and welfare of Good Shepherd's dogs and cats is their main priority and Jankowski said he is very excited about the positive changes Brix is bringing to the shelter's operation.

"It's going to be an uphill battle but we already making headway," he said.

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  • Taking the animals from Berryville? That was a stupid move. They need to take care of their own problems...beginning with getting a REAL ACO.

    -- Posted by Gearhead on Thu, Jan 21, 2016, at 10:58 AM
  • Wow - so no one thinks to interview Lisa Castillo or Janice Durbin - instead they interview an employee who has been on the job a couple of weeks.

    She is well intentioned and sounds like she knows her stuff, but she doesn't know the recent history - A full time adoption coordinator was hired. The fragmented online presence was solidified. These things were in place all summer long before the board dismissed the coordinator because of extreme financial difficulties.

    What a hack job, Citizen - clearly you bought the company line instead of seeking out the truth.

    -- Posted by Artsifrtsy on Thu, Jan 21, 2016, at 12:44 PM
  • I know Rachel Brix professionally, and believe she is the absolute best person for this job. Even if improvements were made over last summer, it sounds like they were very temporary. My hope is that Ms. Brix's expertise and communication with the board and community will improve life for these abandoned animals. Let's all pull together and get involved. Donate, volunteer, commit, support....that's what this shelter needs now.

    -- Posted by ESCabiner on Thu, Jan 21, 2016, at 1:42 PM
  • I have either worked as staff or volunteered (alot) at Good Shepherd shelter since 2011, and my partner Dave does alot of volunteer work too and we donate and are active foster parents.

    We love Good Shepherd Shelter and will continue to support it - I know what a tough job it is (and not alot of volunteers since it is emotionally challenging too, bless all those who do volunteer!)

    We support Rachel Brix 100% and hope the community will help by volunteering, donating, etc. The new assistant manager (who was previously the cat tech), is also amazing (she has been there awhile and works harder than anyone I have ever known and loves those animals like they were her own!!) Taking on Berryville dogs was a difficult move.

    Working at an animal shelter in a rural community (with no spay/neuter laws) is a heartbreaking and back breaking job, so we are so grateful for Rachel and her staff!!!! Many blessings.

    -- Posted by nan j on Thu, Jan 21, 2016, at 3:12 PM
  • I volunteer at the ES store 6 hours a week. The store needs me every day for every hour and in between. TraceEllen Kelly and Janet Chupp, my bosses, work more hours than they are paid for. Many more hours. All the volunteers at both stores and the shelter give of their time and energy without reservation to help the over 100 plus dogs and cats that are always in residence. For those of you who criticize us taking over the BV shelter, who think you know ANYTHING about us from reading this article then you need to get up off your sofa and come and spend some time with us. Volunteer!!!!! We need help, desparately. I actually had a woman tell me, when I asked her to volunteer,"Oh, you have enough volunteers." Really? We have had to turn down donations enumerable times this summer and fall because we do not have people to price and sort. Our animals in the shelter are craving someone to come and walk them or play with them, much less help our few volunteers feed and clean up after them! Wake up, people! If you care about this shelter then help us!!! And another thing, don't use us as a dump. I have spent endless hours going through tobacco smelling clothing, dirty clothing, 30 plastic bins one day of material with mouse droppings and spiders that I had to trash, not to mention the detritus of you cleaning out your garages. Have some respect for us. We very much appreciate the donations that we can easily and quickly go through and get on the sales floor fast in order to put more money into taking the best care we can of our animals. Don't just donate sellable goods, PLEASE donate your time.

    -- Posted by penny sullivan on Fri, Jan 22, 2016, at 6:27 PM
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