Fort Worth

Fort Worth animal shelter performs well, improvements needed

Dr. Monica Azzolini spays a dog at the Chuck Silcox Animal Care and Control Center..
Dr. Monica Azzolini spays a dog at the Chuck Silcox Animal Care and Control Center.. rmallison@star-telegram.com

A full-time veterinarian has been hired at the Fort Worth animal shelter after a citizens task force looked into allegations of mismanagement at the facility.

The hiring was among several recommendations made by the five-member group addressing issues at the Chuck Silcox Animal Care & Control Center at 4900 Martin St. The task force suggested hiring at least two full-time veterinarians among more than a dozen other employees needed to help ease the workload, according to a recent report to the City Council.

Until now, the city had been hiring veterinarians on a contract basis. The report recommends the city move from using contract veterinarians and hire its own staff, but supplement with contract workers.

Last fall, after a small group of citizens “bombarded” council members with complaints that Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman called for the creation of the task force to “review what’s going on out there.”

Task force members, who all have extensive experience in animal care and shelter work, recently submitted a 54-page report to the council.

On a base level, the report finds the shelter doing a good job of caring for the animals, but it also was critical of the shelter’s operations. Some supervisors are overseeing too many employees, and there are no volunteer or public education coordinators, the report said. About 300 volunteers work at the shelter, contributing on average 300 hours monthly, the shelter said.

The city needs to spend more than $1.1 million to hire staff, mostly to improve customer services and relieve workload, the report said.

Zimmerman, appreciative of the task force’s work, said he was neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with the report, adding that some of the recommendations may be hard to fulfill right now. Throwing money at the situation isn’t going to make some of the complaints go away, he said.

I always find that whenever you shine a light on an organization, there are positive benefits. I’m not convinced everything we’ve heard is right down to the letter, but it certainly indicates there are some efforts being taken. We’ll do everything we can to find some additional resources, but we’re going to have to recognize the wish list isn’t going to get 100 percent filled.

Fort Worth Councilman W.B. “Zim” Zimmerman

“I always find that whenever you shine a light on an organization, there are positive benefits,” Zimmerman said of the report. “I’m not convinced everything we’ve heard is right down to the letter, but it certainly indicates there are some efforts being taken. We’ll do everything we can to find some additional resources, but we’re going to have to recognize the wish list isn’t going to get 100 percent filled.”

Said Councilwoman Gyna Bivens, “I was so glad to hear some of the findings. The findings were right on touch with what I hear from people who are supporters, advocates and promoters of the shelter.”

Five-month process

Over five months, the task force toured the facility, interviewed employees, combed through a decade’s worth of state inspection reports and held a public hearing. The task force did not look at specific personnel issues. In addition to the director leaving, a contract veterinarian was dismissed last year for cause.

Fernando Costa, assistant city manager, said many of the complaints council members received revolved around the veterinarian.

Costa said he investigated the allegations, and some of them proved not true. He said the veterinarian was “terminated for cause” for unacceptable behavior. Costa said he could not elaborate.

Records with the Texas Board of Veterinary Medical Examiners show the veterinarian’s license has been suspended a couple of times since it was issued in 1990. In November, it was suspended again while the individual seeks treatment for a mental disorder and substance abuse, records show.

Costa called the task force report positive, but added, “We’re not going to rely on budget increases exclusively to make improvements.”

Staff resources needed

The task force was charged with looking into whether the animal shelter meets state health and safety standards, whether the shelter complies with generally accepted veterinary medical practices, and if the animal shelter’s facilities are adequate.

We feel like things are going in the right direction, but it might it take a little more to get it where it needs to be.

Charles Daniels, chair Fort Worth Animal Shelter Task Force

“The scope was to exclude any personnel issues that might crop up, even though at most of our meetings there were questions from attendees about one or more individuals that might warrant discussion,” said Charles Daniels, a former Fort Worth assistant city manager and current interim city manager in Forney, who was chairman of the task force.

“We feel like things are going in the right direction, but it might it take a little more to get it where it needs to be,” Daniels said.

The task force found the animal shelter performs well, but “needs significant improvement” in staff resources, its organizational structure and communication. Improvements are needed in the work environment, facilities, equipment and supplies, as well as customer service. They recommend the shelter be open seven days a week.

Customer service

The report noted that “misinformation” on social media about the shelter led to speculation and lack of trust and confidence in the facility.

In its findings, the task force said shelter employees “feel under attack by citizens with limited knowledge of shelter operations. Moreover, staff can get overwhelmed by the large number of animals the shelter sees,” the report said.

There was “no breach witnessed” with regard to state standards for animal shelters, and the shelter passes all state inspections, the report said. The shelter “is satisfactorily meeting” veterinary medical practices and state health and safety standards, it said.

The task force recommends regular customer service training for its staff, and specific training for handling stress and difficult customers.

“I wasn’t sure what to expect going into the task force,” said Max Dow, a veterinarian with the Texas Animal Health Commission. “It was a very enlightening experience and one that I came away with a very sound sense of satisfaction. There’s some really good things going on for animal care in Fort Worth.”

77 percentFort Worth animal shelter live release rate in 2015

‘Animals get better care today’

Task force members said they were impressed to see the shelter’s live release rate, or the percentage of animals that leave the shelter alive, climb to 77 percent in 2015. In 2010, the rate was 34 percent. In February alone, the rate was just shy of 94 percent.

Spay and neutering surgeries have also climbed. In 2015, the shelter did 8,933 operations, up from 7,140 the prior year.

The shelter hit a record year in 2015 when it responded to 29,635 service calls, and of those, 16,816 animals were impounded. The number is high in relation to staff resources, the report said.

Brandon Bennett, the city’s director of code compliance, the department that oversees the animal shelter, said the shelter is falling victim to its own success.

“The animals get better care today,” Bennett said. But, he said, “We just don’t have enough staff to provide what the task force would like to see us provide. They see the staff overwhelmed. This report, these findings, there’s a pathway going forward.”

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