CCSO launches investigation of local animal shelter
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.