Los Alamos Police Sgt. Daniel Roberts responds to criticism by Animal Shelter Ad Hoc Committee Chair Wendee Brunish during Wednesday evening’s meeting. Photo by Maire O’Neill/losalamosreporter.com
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
The May meeting of the Los Alamos County Ah Hoc Animal Shelter Committee took an awkward turn Wednesday evening after committee members voted to recommend a specific option for the shelter’s path forward to the County Council June 25. The meeting was attended by chair Wendee Brunish, vice chair Linda Zweck, members Wendy Marcus, Melissa Bartlett, Mary Timmers and Sally Wilkins. Committee member Jennifer Young was absent.
After Brunish opened the meeting, Marcus said she and other members of the committee had reviewed a draft report compiled by Brunish and had some changes they wished to include. Marcus said the committee needed to choose one of the four options listed in the report and submit one as the recommended option for the County Council. The committee voted to take a vote on which option to submit.
Marcus then proposed that the committee submit to Council the option which would have the County Community Services Department (CSD) manage the shelter and Los Alamos Police Department continue to be responsible for animal control, with “enhanced staffing”. She said this option solves “a myriad of issues”. She said the CSD manages a lot of groups that have active volunteer groups such as the library and the historical society and has more experience managing volunteer programs.
“I also think there have been situations where there have been police priorities of preserving evidence but they don’t realize that the evidence is actually an animal, a live animal that needs to be treated in a certain way. I also think it makes a very nice break between the duties of the shelter and the duties of animal control,” Marcus said.
Bartlett said she was a little gun shy because in the past it was dependent on who the players were, who was directly responsible for animal control and her concern would be that if Sgt. Daniel Roberts who is currently overseeing the shelter left that “these confusions” can happen.
“It’s an example of where what makes sense for animal control butts heads with what makes sense for animal welfare,” she said.
Zweck said if you don’t have a fairly decent set of policies and procedures it doesn’t matter who’s overseeing the shelter.
The committee voted to recommend the CSD/LAPD option to Council and then Marcus asked if the committee wished to rank the remaining options.
“I wouldn’t want the public or the County Council to get the idea that the transfer only shelter option and leaving the shelter under the police department are equal because if we have the transfer only shelter, we know a lot of the public is not in favor of that,” Marcus said. “That is very different than just continuing to have a shelter, continuing to have adoptions. It’s just going to remain under the police department. I don’t want to call those equal.”
At this point, Brunish, who had advocated for the transfer shelter only option over the last few months, lashed out against the police department.
“I don’t think they’re equal but I don’t agree with you about the options. The problem I see is leaving the shelter under the police department. I see that as a dead end because over the last eight months the shelter has made it clear that they have no interest in drafting policies to address these issues. They have no interest in putting in training to teach their people how to run the shelter. They have no interest in strategic planning or checklists for the shelter. They have no interest in developing outreach and adoption programs,” she said. “The County reputation is such that future hiring will be very limited to the kind of people that we have now and I see that option as a dead end where we can not make progress and we cannot go forward.”
Sgt. Roberts, who is the LAPD liaison to the committee, quickly responded to Brunish saying the LAPD’s stance is that they disagree with almost everything she had just said.
“My job is to write policies and having a policy where you have to do everything XYZ – you actually put yourself in a dead end,” he said. “Policy is not black and white. Policy is the rules and procedures allow you to flex with the directive. A directive is, ‘Hey, I could see this wasn’t working this way so we adjusted it’. We change a lot of directives as we go through a policy. That’s part of the reason that we became internationally accredited and are only the third police department in all of New Mexico to be internationally accredited out of 672 in the entire United States.”
Brunish interrupted saying there are no policies that address animal welfare at the shelter and policies and procedures are not the same thing.
“Policies are policies, procedures are procedures,” she said.
“It’s been eight months or 10 months or whatever. I haven’t seen any policies drafted about animal care. I haven’t seen any training directed at animal care, I haven’t seen any strategic planning or methods adopted, I haven’t seen any new adoption programs and I also need again to repeat that the County reputation is such in the animal shelter community now that I think it will be near to impossible to hire someone into the PD as an animal care worker who actually has animal sheltering credibility,” Brunish said, appearing to read from a prepared list in front of her.
Roberts told Brunish he has been on every board within LAPD for the last year for a police officer, animal shelter staff.
“The animal shelter manager is doing an outstanding job. We’re getting compliments every day on how much it has improved. Part of the other individuals who were hired prior to me becoming staff had moral conflicts that they couldn’t follow policies and procedures and they had to go. I don’t think that’s really the stance of the police department that we’re not training our individuals. Our individuals are very well trained on various aspects,” Roberts said.
“They’re well-trained in some aspects but they’re not well-trained in running an animal shelter and caring for animals, and that’s a fact,” Brunish shot back. “I’ve reviewed the training plans and don’t see anything in there that any other person working at a shelter in this area would call appropriate training”
Roberts agreed with Brunish that the shelter has not changed its policies directly in the last eight months.
“This (committee) is not a management board – this is to look at the shelter from an outside perspective, unbiasedly, look and see how we’re doing, yea or nay. We’re not supposed to automatically jump at anything the committee sees until that’s what the County Council adjusts. If you guys do find policy issues – sure they could be there – we hope that you guys find something to improve. That’s our goal in being here. But if you find something you talk about in a meeting that’s not my job, or the PD’s to do a knee-jerk reaction and start writing policies and checklists,” Roberts said. “You have made suggestions that I absolutely agree with. As you have seen, we’ve changed some things but we’re not going to write policies until we get this overall report and the County Council says this is the way we want to go or don’t want to go.”
Brunish told Roberts that she’s not saying he should have written policies because the committee said he should.
“I think you should have written policies because you’re taking over an organization and there’s lots of animal care issues and you want to do the best job you possibly can, so you want to have the best policies and procedures you can to protect those animals’ welfare,” she said. Roberts responded that the committee has only been around for eight months but that he has been around for a lot longer. Brunish shot back that it she had been Roberts she would have been writing policies from the very beginning.
Marcus said a theme that went through the committees work was that the committee thinks it might be aood idea to have some sort of advisory committee over shelter management and this committee would look at each animal’s situation and new policies and procedures. She asked if LAPD was to continue running the shelter, would this advisory committee still be able to happen.
Brunish quickly responded that “unfortunately animals are suffering every day”. Roberts said he thinks that is a one-sided opinion that is not factually true, that there are no animals currently at the shelter that are suffering.
“Perhaps not at this moment in time but the stuff that we’ve documented that we’ve seen over the last several months, it does concern me,” Brunish responded. County Councilor James Robinson asked if those concerns were noted in the draft report that was distributed to himself and the committee members at the meeting but nobody responded to his question.
Robinson and the Los Alamos Reporter were the only people in the room besides Roberts and the committee members. The committee has opted not to make the documents they discuss at their meetings available to the Reporter, however those documents are available under an Inspection of Public Records Act request and the latest draft 60-page report which was discussed throughout Wednesday’s meeting has been requested.
Roberts told the committee that the County Council is not going to take the report at face value.
“They may request additional information, they may tour the facility themselves, they may come and talk to the police department, they may ask us to provide the same stats that have been provided to the committee. It’s not a yes or no flat out. They might take a part of it and they might look at it and have their own opinions,” he said.