BCARL debate continues

ST. CLAIRSVILLE – Treatment of Belmont County’s canines at the hands of the Belmont County Animal Rescue League (BCARL) was a topic of debate at the commissioners’ meeting Wednesday.

A group of citizens led by Cindi Yanez, former BCARL board member, spoke in opposition to the high kill rate at the animal shelter and raised issues about the alleged treatment of animals and volunteers at the facility.

Yanez said the kill rate of 51 percent for 2012 was unacceptably high. She questioned the status of the organization, alleging that the BCARL is organized as a generic non-profit under the Ohio Revised Code, meaning it is not a humane society, even though it acts as a humane society. She alleged that the BCARL’s activities, including appointing a humane agent and prosecuting cases, constitutes fraud.

She also criticized Dog Warden Verna Painter for purchasing kennel licenses for her personal pets.

Yanez alleged that the BCARL will only work with mixed-breed rescues and turn away pure bred rescues.

Other accusations included overcrowding which, Yanez said, is due to the BCARL’s unwillingness to work with rescues and their inconsistent adoption fees. She said many animals such as purebreeds are sheltered for an extended time or destroyed. She criticized the BCARL’s choice not to be proactive and use resources such as Petfinder.com or Facebook listings to create exposure.

Yanez said she served for six years and was voted off the board this past October. She said this was due to her voicing concern for two dogs euthanized for the shelter director.

“A euthanasia rate of 51 percent is extremely unacceptable,” she said. “That’s 51 percent of all the dogs in Belmont County that walked through that door of the shelter last year went out the back door in a green garbage bag and were dumped in the dumpster so that the garbage man could pick them up. It’s not fair. It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Other volunteers and donors spoke against the practices of BCARL.

One woman stated she had inquired about four dogs she found through their Web site. She said the staff at BCARL was very unhelpful to her efforts.

Another volunteer spoke against the lack of marketing of the dogs, adding that there are 23 dogs on the Petfinder.com site while the shelter holds three times that many animals. In response to questions, she said the shelter has worked with her in placing six to eight animals through Second Chance Rescue this past year.

Angelique Parker, donor, spoke against the conditions at the shelter and urged commissioners to personally view the facility.

“It’s appalling, it’s filthy and it’s dirty,” she said.

“Although we’re a small group of people here, I think you need to realize that this is the tip of the iceberg. This is going to open up a can of worms,” one visitor said. “There’s going to be a lot of us and we are going to demand that something is done, and it is not going to go away.”

Robert Painter, treasurer of the BCARL, spoke on behalf of the facility, stating that they had nothing to hide and nothing to fear.

“We certainly welcome the investigation and hope that you will take it seriously and look into all the allegations because I think you will find them to be false in most cases,” he said, adding that they are in consultation with their counsel.

He said the shelter is bound by strict rules, policies and procedures that must be adhered to. He added that they work with 50 rescues. He accused Yanez of acting out of a personal grievance and of inappropriately using social media.

“It’s clear to me that Cindi has a personal agenda here,” he said.

“Cindi primarily has turned Facebook into a place where she can make accusations and denigrate people and talk badly about whoever she wants, say stuff that’s not true, with no recourse,” he said. “In 30 years of this organization, we have never removed a board member. Never. Cindi was the first one ever removed.”

He added that the board enjoys support.

“Anytime the board would like 100 people in here to tell you the good experiences they’ve had with the county animal shelter, we can make that happen,” he said. “There are many, many people who are happy with their experience.”

Sharon Arritt spoke in defense of the shelter, claiming the social media sites are rife with rumors and unfair attacks and accusations. She said this has resulted in calmer and reasoned voices being shouted down or intimidated into silence by online smearing.

Commissioner Matt Coffland assured visitors that they have met with the BCARL board and reviewed complaints. He added that the complaints have dropped off somewhat and investigations have been underway.

“Every complaint, whether it be via e-mail or a letter that’s been received here, has been filed by this board,” added Commissioner Ginny Favede, noting that these issues have been brought up with the BCARL board.

DeFrank can be reached at rdefrank@timesleaderonline.com.