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October 28, 2009

Gone to the dogs

Louisville Metro Animal Services and Director Gilles Meloche face a barrage of criticism about how they do business

Last Wednesday, during what should have been a routine Government Accountability and Oversight Committee hearing at City Hall, the latest chapter in the convoluted saga(s) emanating from Louisville Metro Animal Services unfolded in such spectacular fashion that the sound of collective eyebrow-raising could be heard from blocks away. When it was over, television crews were still setting up their tripods at the chamber’s narthex when LMAS director Dr. Gilles Meloche — who announced Tuesday he will resign Dec. 31 — gave a few terse interviews and proceeded to get the fuck out of dodge, leaving many unanswered questions in his wake.

The GAO hearing’s intent was to review an investigation conducted by Metro Auditor Mike Norman into the business relationship between LMAS and the now-defunct Animal Adoption Agency of Middletown. According to the report, Meloche entered into a three-month “trial case” with AAA president Michelle Hensel with the intent of increasing citywide animal adoption rates — and cash returns — despite neither LMAS nor AAA having the authority to form such a relationship in the first place (only the Mayor’s Office, with theoretical Metro Council approval, can do so).

Norman’s investigation also found LMAS failed to properly obtain commercial drivers’ licenses for so-called “S.P.O.T.” mobile clinic operators (putting the city at great liability risk), suffers from rampant inventory mismanagement and adoption revenue data inconsistencies, and has generally failed to maintain accurate adoption records even though they’ve got a fancy-sounding computer system, dubbed “Chameleon,” which is apparently more trouble than it’s worth. And all of this despite the deplorable conditions at current public animal shelters, a fact that Meloche was quick to justify by reminding the committee that a new shelter will be completed “in either December or January,” most likely because the current ones are that bad and, thus, the reason for building a new one — Kafkaesque logic at its worst; the more Meloche talked, the more my head hurt.

Yet the element of Norman’s report that surprised Councilman Kelly Downard, R-16, committee chairman, and Councilwoman Tina Ward-Pugh, D-9, was the part in which it appeared LMAS and AAA had intentionally misplaced and/or destroyed adoption records and reported incomes. Considering the content of those documents — animal identification numbers, intake dates, etc. — exist in large part to tabulate revenue streams for the shelter, it stands to reason that their “misplacement” means the disappearance of tens of thousands of dollars in Metro Government property.

The Mayor’s Office is also passing the buck, for the moment, to the Kentucky Board of Veterinary Examiners, pending its own opinion on these matters. By now, you’re probably well aware that Meloche is being sued for sexual harassment, and that he may have tortured kittens by euthanizing them without anesthetic. In addition, this week he will face the first in a series of civil rights lawsuits filed against him and several animal control officers accusing them of unconstitutional searches and seizures of pets, courtesy of LMAS’ catastrophic enforcement of Louisville’s dog ordinance.

And while rabid pit bulls always play well on the 6 o’ clock news, the truly disgusting stuff lies in bureaucratic minutia that, when taken as a whole, confirms the worst of the audit report’s findings and paints LMAS as a kind of Lennie from “Of Mice And Men”: good-intentioned, yet ultimately bad for animals and people.

According to a former LMAS animal care employee, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of retribution by Meloche[1], it is entirely within the director’s power to destroy any data via the shelter’s appropriately titled “Chameleon” computer network. The software is built so that the chief administrator (Meloche) has access to every file, e-mail and hard-drive, a power that the source confirmed was abused many times.

Then there’s the practice of keeping up to 75 dead or euthanized animals stacked on wire racks in a walk-in freezer while living, non-frozen animals at the Manslick Road shelter have been without heat since the Aug. 4 flood. And about those iced dogs and cats: They’re dumped into the city’s landfills at a rate of 10,000 every year, even though animal services received $100,000 to replace a broken crematorium years ago, a project that was never completed.

Or, consider the disconnect between LMAS’ animal control efforts and its animal care employees, where the consequences of Meloche’s focus on adoption and an unrealistic adherence to a “zero euthanasia” policy have yielded an overcrowded, disease-ridden shelter whose conditions inhibit the frequency of adoption, making a kind of Gordian knot that neither the mayor nor Metro Council can cut through. (Especially troubling is the use of adoption rates as a metric for job performance, which plays well in the media but does little to reflect the reality of the situation.)

With most employees rounding up strays, more tasks are stacked on overworked LMAS care staff and volunteers, the latter category being largely composed of Dismas Charities recruits, e.g. minor criminal offenders paid pennies on the dollar and looking to reduce their sentences. The result? Inadequately trained workers tasked with increasing responsibilities as animals die in increasing numbers, placing great emotional stress on employees: One volunteer I spoke with broke down in tears when she told me that they receive 60-70 cats every day, and that only 40 percent of them wind up being adopted/avoiding the ice box.

As a public agency, LMAS acts like a corporation: The measures it heavily invests in — the seizure and selling of pets, intense license policing — yield a higher return on the dollar compared with other activities like spaying/neutering, public outreach for low-income pet owners, or building a crematorium. This also means the vast majority of non third-party animal rescue services (aside from AAA) wind up being treated like competitors; because their motives are to reduce the amount of product (stray animals), they are alienated from the process. So in a sense, Meloche’s recent request for even more funding shouldn’t be that surprising, because to invest in the shelters — and, thus, the ethics of rescue groups — would be too costly in the long run.

True to fashion, Meloche did not comment for this story. According to the source I spoke with, the outgoing director “is sincere, but deluded.” It rang a bell, because after last week’s hearing, I had a chance to ask Meloche about the upcoming criminal and civil suits against him.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” he told me with a smile, which sounded about right.

[1] And who was, in this source’s own words, “his biggest fan, in the beginning.”

Visit fatlip.leoweekly.com to read about Jonathan Meador’s recent tour of a city-run animal shelter


MAS and Dr. Meloche

By Newsie
I'm a volunteer at Metro Animal Services and I am greatly preplexed by your idea of "journalism." For one, how could there be "retribution" against a "former" employee? What exactly could Dr. Meloche do to a former employee? Was there any consideration given to the idea that maybe this form employee is pissed? Did you ask if he/she was just mad about something? I'm not saying the person is out for revenge, but it just seems this whole thing is a little self serving. I'm not sure if there was wrongdoing or not, but is this really the way to "report" the story, the facts? It seems more like an opinion piece. An opinion piece with parts of it based in made up truths. For instance: A) there's no "zero euthanasia" policy in place - there are animals killed there every single day - healthy animals, good pets, it's very sad B) if everyone was focused on lifesaving as the answer, then it COULD be the answer, but that's not the case C) The Humane Society itself kills animals, but no one seems to be aware of this - they actually believe it's the only answer and that spay/neuter programs to fix and release feral cats are not okay. What's humane about killing just because it's easier D) just because someone "tells" you the only answer is the killing answer, why not look at other options and think there may be another answer? I mean really? E) Why not use adoption rates as a metric system? Is it better to use the number of animals killed? Or maybe neither one is good. Maybe they should reward the employees who go the extra mile to work with rescues, even find rescues for the animals, or work to foster the animals themselves or find fosters so the animals can get healthy or grow up to be adopted because I've seen staff do all of those things. F) I've also seen some that don't care if they kill a cat or dog and see it as just how it is. I've even heard the words, "Don't interfere with the ET list." (euthanasia list) What? What's wrong with "interfering" with the animals to be killed by finding homes for them or rescues or fosters? It makes no sense. G) If you really want to do something about the problems down there, why don't you volunteer or foster or adopt or donate. That is something proactive. This article is nothing but biased and beyond lacking in journalistic integrity. I'm not saying Dr. Meloche did nothing wrong, but at least he was trying to help the animals in some form. He even got rid of the barbaric gas chamber. It seems he is far from perfect and may even be guilty of mismanagement or worse, but to continue spreading the word that the only answer is the killing answer as you've done in the article is beyond lame. Killing is not the only way. It's just the easy way.

good comments newsie---- I

By tallman
good comments newsie---- I am also involved with MAS and feel this article is off base as well... Only wanted to say the negaatives with nothing about the great job that is done daily over there...As I said before Dr Meloche has his issues for sure BUT mas has come great steps forward under his watch...consider where our animal services were 3-4 yrs and look now... More adoptions, more interaction with citizens, more caring by employees overall....This article is the way some see mas but those are the ones who dont really want to see or take a minute to go see for themselves how things are... Yes there are still problems BUT they are being addressed daily ....The employees of mas deserve better publicity than they are getting..........