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Half-Dead Cat Found In Barrel Brings Down Animal Shelter Management

October 15, 1994

HILLIARD, Ohio (AP) _ A semiconscious Siamese tumbled from a barrel full of dead cats and brought the crumbling management of the Capital Area Humane Society down with it.

The discovery of the half-dead cat, which was improperly euthanized and finally put to death, was the latest, grisliest problem at a once respected shelter with a reputation for successful fund-raising.

Since the live cat was found in the barrel bound for a rendering plant this summer, the society’s executive director, development director and six board members have resigned and the national Humane Society is investigating allegations of mistreated animals and mismanaged finances at the 111-year-old shelter.

Gerri Bain, who stepped down as executive director last month, said the society may have been spoiled by its own success after boosters raised $3.1 million in two years for a new shelter three times the size of its grungy, 80- year-old building.

″We grew up, we got professional, we had rules and policies. A lot of people didn’t adjust too well to that,″ she said. ″People couldn’t cope.″

The problems began shortly after the new shelter opened in October 1992. The cost of utilities, the demand for animals to adopt and the number of animals brought in doubled - to 17,800 in 1993.

Nineteen more people were hired, but money got tight and they were laid off a few months later. That left 30 people to run the shelter 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Some exhausted workers resigned, complaining about working conditions, poor management and financial problems, but it wasn’t until August, when the board got an anonymous letter about the semiconscious Siamese, that the problems surfaced publicly. The dead cats in the barrel were turned into fertilizer.

″The cat situation made the board question and inquire as to operations in the animal-care facility, which then led to further questions,″ board spokeswoman Virginia Lohmann said.

″It appears that the operations outgrew the management abilities of those in management positions,″ she said.

Bain did not know whether the Siamese cat was given an improper dosage of drugs intended to kill it or the technician who administered the injection mistakenly thought the cat was dead. But she said there was no ″clandestine agenda.″

″We were all horrified,″ Bain said. ″This is our business. We’re the ones who have accepted the responsibility of having to put to sleep animals that we can’t place.″

A private investigation company called PICA volunteered to help. Last month, it reported finding insufficient staffing, outdated policies, lack of animal care guidelines, poor animal rescue training, inadequate supervisory training and poor internal communication.

Board members won’t disclose allegations of animal mistreatment from volunteers at the shelter.

In the meantime, business continues at the shelter and Lohmann said the society is working to correct problems. Susan Rowland, director of the Great Lakes office of the Humane Society of the United States, which oversees the Columbus society, fears the shelter will be forced to close if the public chooses to ″discontinue financial support.″

″The pain is still there, but there needs to be healing and I think we’ll bring about the healing process,″ Rowland said.