One year ago I published the first story regarding the actions and speculated mismanagement at the Pell City animal shelter (ASPCI).
I never expected the story to stir up so much response from the Pell City community.  Over the last year I received both praise and flack for reporting on the issue.  I am grateful for both. I admit taking on a controversial issue in a small town is a challenge, but I hope a mixed reaction from the public is a positive indication that a journalist is doing her job.  
Journalists have a responsibility to investigate an issue when concerns are voiced from residents about public entities funded by local government, to hold all parties involved accountable for their actions, especially when taxpayers’ dollars are involved. Journalists hope their reporting leads to changes that impact the community in positive ways, but through this process, I have learned that outcomes, though somewhat positive, can lead to disappointment.
Some people have told me I should refrain from writing this editorial because I am a journalist.  Others have said, “Go for it.”  As a journalist I have done my job.  I devoted myself to reporting with best accuracy human error will allow, while still attempting to keep journalistic ethics intact.  And I intend to continue reporting on the issue as the need arises.
But I am not writing this piece as a journalist.  I am writing this piece as someone whose dog has been held at the shelter before, an American who has the right to free speech and one who shops in this city, providing it with tax revenue.
A couple of years ago, I took a weekend trip to Atlanta and left my dog with friends that live in Pell City.  My dog escaped from their yard while he was there.  Someone found him and took him to the shelter.  Once my friend realized my dog was missing, she called the shelter repeatedly.  She left her phone number with the shelter’s staff, requesting they call her if the dog showed up.  No phone call.  After three days of phone calls, the staff agreed to double-check their current inventory.  The dog was in the back.  If it had not been for my friend’s persistence, my dog might not have been so lucky.
At Monday night’s council meeting, Mayor Joe Funderburg pointed out that the ASPCI euthanizes 80 percent of the animals that come in to the shelter, meaning on average only two out every 10 animals that go into the shelter come out alive.  I am not naïve enough to think every animal can be saved, but 80 percent strikes me as a high statistic.  How does ASPCI’s euthanasia rate compare with other euthanasia rates around the country?
ASPCI Board President Barbara Wallace said Monday that shelter’s primary goals were taking care of the animals and providing support to the community.  ASPCI operates as a nonprofit organization.  Nonprofit organizations support humanitarian efforts; the euthanasia process is the anti-thesis of humanitarian behavior. 
In the past ASPCI’s board members have said it is impossible for them to keep up with every animal brought to the shelter because of overcrowding.  I agree that the overpopulation of animals is a problem, and the problem results from a lack of individual responsibility.  Animal owners have a responsibility in taking a proactive role to ensure their pets are spayed or neutered.  People who refuse to take responsibility for their animals are like parents who refuse to take responsibility for their children.
The city council unanimously approved a contract with the shelter that contained final revisions made by the ASPCI board and their attorney.  Final revisions were sent to the council the same day of the meeting.  Yes, I am sure council members reviewed the changes before the meeting, but I wish they had taken more than a few hours to consider what ASPCI was requesting of them. 
I realize city officials are more than ready to put this matter behind them, but an ER doctor who bandages up a bullet wound without removing the bullet leaves the wound subject to infection.  A quick fix never reaches the root of the problem.  Why is the federal government faced with so many problems?  Quick fixes.  Problem-solving starts with local government.  Without it, problems grow until they climb the ladder, affecting every level of government.
The city has repeatedly requested financial records from ASPCI, and ASPCI repeatedly gives them the same answer they gave me when I began investigating the issue over a year ago.  “Our tax returns can be found on our website.”
Posting tax returns online for public viewing is a step in the right direction, but those returns do not account for how the public’s tax dollars are actually being used.  The city of Pell City regularly makes monthly reports available to the public, both in print and online, providing detailed line-by-line information as to how the city spends taxpayer dollars -- their sources of incoming revenue and how that revenue is used to cover expenditures.  
If ASPCI wants to take money from taxpayers, shouldn’t they be willing to provide the public with detailed information about how their money is spent?
I have lost more than a couple nights of sleep in the last year trying to report on this matter to the best of my ability. But tonight I intend to put this matter aside as I laugh at another journalist’s story while watching the premiere of NBC’s newest sitcom, The Michael J. Fox Show.


This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you