Richard Gentles Quote from ABC news story:
“I’m not going to say the animals are suffering. None of the animals are being neglected or abused.“-
Richard Gentles, in response to the footage shown of cats eating from food containers encrusted with old litter and dogs trapped inches from several piles of their own feces.
Mr. Gentles is choosing these words, “abused” and “neglected”, because he believes that most people will link them to malicious intent and dismiss the charges as extremism. This response technique is known as marginalization – people in power use manipulating words to turn criticism into extremism to maintain the status quo. Richard wants to use the most outrageous language he can to force auditors to concede that what’s happening in the buildings cannot be helped. However, an animal not getting out of its cage for two or three days is abuse and neglect, plain and simple, and it is happening because of several dangerous factors that need correction at the executive and middle management levels (the DOH is for another post):
- Staff to animal ratio is too high for workers to provide anything but the necessities. One worker can be responsible for as many as 60 animals at ACC, and they do not get the luxury of being able to focus exclusively on caring for those 60, either. Thanks to budget cuts and an already too skimpy hiring policy, the same workers responsible for managing cages are also answering the door, providing adoption counseling, walking people through the shelter who want to search for a lost pet, carrying bags of donated food, doing laundry, or updating records. Workers are spread thinner than ever and wear too many hats. Animals lose out, by not being walked at best and not being walked and sitting in soiled bedding for hours at worst. This practice also alienates good workers who got into this “for the right reasons”. People are literally being forced to neglect animals just to keep up with the daily logistics of managing a public space.
- Management has not provided a standard of care or come up with any innovative ways to get more animals out of the cages and/or socialized by paid employees. Many workers would appreciate the chance to get closer to the animals and would enjoy some one-on-one enrichment, but upper management does not encourage this by refusing to make animal interaction part of daily duties. There is an all-encompassing culture of defeatism at work here, where upper management blames the budget and/or an apathetic public, and the bulk of attention gets directed at concealing problems from “troublemakers” (i.e. volunteers) rather than addressing them. This is a fault of Julie Bank, who despite having shelter experience has not presented a single idea for consolidating or redistributing work so that kennel workers have more time allotted to animal care. Julie Bank and Elisabeth Manwiller made one notable exception to the “no new volunteers” rule this summer: they solicited administrative interns for themselves at the park place office. Did the shelters get any extra hands?
- Poor supervision and a lack of visibility from upper management mean that good workers are mixed in with people who do not deserve to be there. There are people at CACC doing the work of three or four paid employees, and people there who barely do enough to qualify as a part timer and should have moved on or been reassigned long ago. The good people far outweigh the bad and workers are generally dedicated (they sure aren’t in this for money) but in an operation so strapped for hands, every weak link is a potential disaster. Workers are fired or written up for things that have little to do with the conditions of their wards, leading to a work environment that is unpleasant and often paranoid.
- The volunteer program was always considered the lowest priority. Evidenced by the blank check of faith Julie Bank gave to Elisabeth Manwiller to place it on hold for 6 months, this is the primary issue activists concerned with welfare should be focusing on. Richard Gentles and Julie Bank will tell you that they cannot control the budget and cannot afford to do better by our animals, but they will not be able to explain why, then, they refused help from New Yorkers for nearly all of 2010 to support an employee who cannot account for her time and cannot answer for the delay. Elisabeth Manwiller shut the shelter down to new volunteers to conceive of an ambitious program, but what should have taken one month took half a year, with no consequences and with enthusiastic support. Ms. Manwiller began holding orientations in August but was not prepared with any class material, or even a venue to hold such classes, and Julie Bank again went along with this. Now, in November, many classes are still unfinished, and there is still no word on who will complete the final and most important step in the gauntlet for new volunteers. The most important step is on-the-job training, held by experienced volunteers in the shelter. Manwiller has not even made it that far in her planning.
At what point does management apathy become criminal neglect?
Mr. Gentles says that it is unacceptable to leave dogs without a walk for days, and invokes the volunteer program as an antidote to that. What he doesn’t say is that new volunteers, if they ever manifest, will be limited to walking only a small portion of the dogs while the other 80%, including sick animals and animals on hold for evictions and hospital stays, languish for days without any human interaction beyond being clipped to a wall while a cage is hosed down. This is also true for cats, who are held in multiple wards, many of which new volunteers will never have access to. He obviously believes that when he says “animals”, he’s only obligated to refer to those counted as adoptable. Citizens need to remind him, in no uncertain terms that we are demanding a higher standard of care for every animal that walks through the door, adoptable or not. Especially since the definition of an “adoptable” animal is so suspect.
Richard’s response to what he saw was to hold the charges up as unfair expectations, making those of us who were outraged seem out of touch and extreme. His thinking is, at some point, animals will soil their cages. It can’t be helped. However, to focus on dirty cages is to miss the point. The real nugget in this story is that the people on top are willfully ignorant of the challenges of maintaining a humane standard for these animals, and they demonstrate no desire to set a goal for improvement. How long is too long for a cage to remain dirty? CACC won’t say, because then they would have to live up to it. How many walks is a dog entitled to? How long should cats wait in temporary cages too small for them to turn in while they await vaccination? They won’t say. They will not reveal their definition of acceptable care, because they believe that invoking poverty will excuse apathy.
It does not, and it should not.
***To see all 3 Eyewitness News Stories, follow these links:
Eyewitness News Stories: