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County animal control at center of controversy

The Aug. 13 meeting of the St. Louis County Council went to the dogs, literally.

In what is becoming a regular occurrence, local volunteers pleaded with the council for action to address the plight of hundreds of animals at the St. Louis County Animal Control Center. But for the first time, a large group of Animal Control employees showed up to tell their side of the story.

Public employees often are reluctant to speak up in forums such as council meetings or to the media directly. But on that night, several county employees stepped up to make their voices heard.

“We are employees and are here because we feel we’ve been backed into a corner,” Clinton Wall, said. “Our concern come from the current discussion and planning to privatize functions of the animal shelter with the loss of county employment for many dedicated employees.”

Employees of St. Louis County Animal Control stood silently as a co-worker offered comments on the current troubles at the shelter on Aug. 13.

Much of the current controversy started with an outside audit of Animal Control conducted by Citygate Consulting Associates. The results of that audit, contained in a 268-page report, were made public last month. Among the most alarming of the audit’s findings was that many pet owners, who surrendered their animals to Animal Control, were advised to mark a box on the intake form labeled “ORE” without a definition or explanation.

ORE stands for owner-requested euthanasia and led to countless animal deaths that may have been avoided. The report also states, “No owner-surrender counseling is occurring to attempt to find alternatives to surrendering an animal to the shelter.”

This finding from the audit, among others related to both animal care and well-being, has led to a constant parade of speakers at recent county council meetings pleading with council members to act.

“This is outrageous,” Tracy Rumpf, a local volunteer, said of the current situation at Animal Control. “Animal Control has to change … please hear us … you’re not listening. And if you are listening, you don’t care. That’s what we see.”  

The employees of Animal Control contend they are also victims of the current situation and that the trouble at the shelter stems from politics and mismanagement.

“[The situation] has come about with misrepresentation of facts, counterproductive management and policy changes by various parties over the last several years,” Wall said. “We, the staff, have dealt with the political fallout of Steve Stenger taking office since 2015. The staff have been a political pawn in that game ever since.”

Wall contends that trouble started when Stenger moved the supervision of Animal Control to an appointee under his direct supervision. From that point forward, staff had no input on policy changes and important decisions that were made. Despite the fact that Stenger is no longer the county executive, Wall claims “little has changed … if anything it has gotten worse.”

In response to the concerns raised, County Executive Sam Page said an update would be provided next week, Aug. 20.

“We’ll know more next week what the plans are, and we’ll ask that the county employees are included in the conversation,” Page said.

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