I don’t know what’s going on at the Marion County shelter in SC

In November, a reader contacted me asking if I would consider doing a post on the shelter where she volunteers.  She explained that everyone involved with the Marion Co shelter in SC was working hard to turn things around and they had made significant improvements in saving pets’ lives.  This volunteer sent me some information about the shelter including this local TV news clip and an online article.  I was delighted to hear this good news and agreed that I would love to help promote this shelter.

I asked if the shelter stats were available online or if I could get copies of them for my post since I wanted to show the improvements the shelter had made over time.  The reader referred me to a couple of the staff with Paws to the Rescue – the group which holds a contract with the county to operate the shelter.  I explained to Paws to the Rescue that I wanted to help promote the shelter via the blog and that I needed the monthly stats.  They gave me the runaround and told me to file a FOIA request and to call the county.  This surprised me more than a little but I did as requested.  On November 28, 2011, under the SC Freedom of Information Act, I requested the Marion Co Animal Control shelter’s monthly statistics/reports, to include complete intake and outcome figures, for the months of January through October 2011.  The shelter director, Jen Nall, responded as follows:

Hi there – are you the one that called the county administrator asking for information?

The current statistics for this year to date are:

Intakes = 2,700
Adopted/Rescued = ~71%
PTS (Put to Sleep) = ~29%
RTO (Returned to Owner) = ~1%

Let me know if you have any other questions.
Thank you,
Jen

Since these estimated figures did not fulfill my FOIA request, I replied thusly:

Hi Jen,

Yes, I called the county administrator trying to find the custodian of records for the shelter.  They told me to contact you.  While I appreciate the numbers you provided below, I’m actually looking for the shelter’s detailed monthly reports, as specified in my FOIA request.  If your shelter does not maintain these monthly reports but instead just does one yearly detailed report, please let me know and I will refile the request for the 2011 report in January.

Thank you,
Shirley

I received no response and so I sent the shelter director a status update request on 12-6-11.  Again, no response so I sent a second status update request on 12-12-11.  Yet again, no response from the shelter director.  SC law requires a response to FOIA requests within 15 business days.  Since the time allotted by law was close to expiring, I contacted County Administrator Tim Harper on 12-13-11 to see if he could assist.  After talking with him, I received some stats from the director but they did not fulfill my FOIA request which to reiterate, I had only filed at their direction in order to write a supportive post about their shelter.

I advised the director and the county administrator that the figures I received were incomplete.  I got more runaround from the staff.  I tried e-mailing the county administrator again – twice.  No response.  The FOIA deadline came and went and I waited nearly two more weeks to see if the stats might be sent.  Nope.

So this is my post on the Marion Co shelter.  It’s not what I had hoped it would be.  They might be doing good work there as far as saving pets’ lives but I couldn’t get the monthly stats to verify that and to show how things have improved (assuming they have).  To the reader who initially asked me to help promote her shelter – I’m sorry.  I tried.  I’m not planning to sue over the unfulfilled FOIA request but the county and the shelter director might take note that the next person who files a FOIA request and gets the runaround could be inclined to pursue the matter in the courts, as allowed by law.

The FOIA is there for a reason – because the public has a right to know what agencies are doing with taxpayers’ money.  Beyond that, if someone comes knocking on your door asking to help promote your shelter, it’s just good manners to oblige a reasonable request.

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21 Comments

  1. mikken

     /  December 30, 2011

    Hm. Maybe they don’t understand the request? Or maybe they don’t keep proper records?

    A bit of advice to the Marion County Shelter – whatever it is, whatever the reason, please be direct and honest about it. Even if it’s a bit damning or unflattering. They say that honesty is the best policy and they’re right.

    Reply
  2. mikken

     /  December 30, 2011

    Also…is anyone else a little concerned that RTO is such a low number? Do they post found pets online?

    Reply
  3. Lisa B

     /  December 30, 2011

    Interesting … I have been following the Marion shelter on Facebook for almost a year, and have donated a couple of times. This rather disappoints me, as I have been wondering myself what their stats are, They post many times a day asking for Chip-in donations to “fund” specific dogs’ transports, and their posts are often shared by The Patrick Movement, which has a huge following, so I imagine they have been able to raise a lot of money.

    But I rarely see any updates to their stats or their original story about being in an old tobacco barn without even an office for their director, even though I’m pretty sure they have since built an office. I also never see updates about the specific dogs, and when I donate I like to see that. I’m always wondering–did the transport get fully funded and, if not, what’s the status of the dog? Where did the money go? A few times I have wondered if everything is on the up-and-up there, but I have never publicly said anything until reading this post. Now I’m wondering why they appear to be reluctant to release their numbers?

    Reply
  4. This is ridiculous! Are they hiding something or don’t they understand the law. In any case they should be watched carefully and possibly visits to the shelter to see for ourselves what’s going on there!

    Reply
  5. This post reminded me that it is once again time to submit my end-of-year FOIA records request to local Animal Control for a photocopy of their euthanasia log for 2011. Depressing reading, but it is my way of paying tribute to those who died.
    The *new* shelter computer record keeping system has been designed to boggle and hide and confuse. They have so many categories and the numbers NEVER add up! But they are required by law to track the use of the drugs used to euthanize, and so the Euth Log is an accurate portrayal of what actually happened.
    It’s a hand written log, usually more than 100 pages long (I said it was depressing) and I have to pay 25 cents a page to get it. But this is my annual monetary donation to Animal Control (besides paying taxes.)

    Reply
  6. Arlene

     /  December 30, 2011

    I viewed the news clip and read the news article. I would say that if they were intending to apply for any grants they had best start keeping accurate records….proper records. It doesn’t seem that they are doing either one right now.

    The people who donate should be told where the money is going. Not keeping records of income and expenses, dog intakes, owner returns, total number of animals etc. makes them look guilty of something whether they are or not.

    Reply
  7. LynnO, thank you for doing the yearly FOIA records request. I wish more people would do these for all the animal shelters in their area. Too much is being hidden. Nice words are nice but we deserve to know the truth even if it is not rose colored!

    Reply
    • Anyone who files a FOIA request for shelter records and receives them via e-mail (or can scan them), please send me a copy.

      Reply
  8. MVPR

     /  December 30, 2011

    Thanks Shirley, Im very disappointing in the lack of answers you received from the shelter : / Its disheartening. But, Ive see the improvements with my own eyes and Ive been a part of Many of the transports to rescues that donations from individuals like Lisa B. have helped fund. The money Does actually get put towards the financial needs for the care, vetting and transportation of the Marion Co dogs. There is a Facebook group “Capital Campaign for the Marion County Animal Shelter” that Daily provides updates of where the dogs have gone, how they are doing in new homes, how the shelter itself is doing as far as improvements go, so on and so forth. You can also find updates listed under the animal’s photos which are in albums that belongs to the shelter’s financial director.. in that group (on facebook) there is transparency in everything that goes on at Marion, thats why its so strange and frustrating to me that you were unable to get the information you asked for and were given such a run-around.. I encourage you all to find us on facebook and get involved, ask questions, go visit (please!) and help advocate for the animals of Marion and other shelters in need around the country.Thanks.

    Reply
  9. VICKI

     /  December 31, 2011

    I get the impression from your information, that the “run-around” may largely be due to the ‘possibility’ that the numbers aren’t adding up to their saying how well they are doing or how well they’ve improved!
    Happy New Year! Keep up the GREAT articles, news, open forums, etc! (:

    Reply
  10. Volunteer

     /  December 31, 2011

    Why does anyone donate to animal welfare groups which do not report hard numbers?

    I guess doing any sort of research takes some effort, but if donors don’t care, who will care?

    Reply
    • I think that laziness is a factor for some but for others it probably has more to do with a basic trust that a group calling itself “humane society” or similar is truly dedicated to spending donations on saving pets’ lives.

      Reply
  11. Kristin Kucsma

     /  January 27, 2012

    Shirley,

    I thought I would resend the email that we sent you on December 14, 2011 with our hard numbers.

    Jen Nall
    12/14/11

    to eiderdown, me

    Hi again! :) Here are some more detailed numbers:

    Through the end of November 2011, we have taken in 2,739 animals (to include dogs, cats & many injured/abandoned birds). R/A is the number of animals Rescued/Adopted that month, and PTS is the number of animals Put To Sleep that month. The discrepancy in numbers includes animals returned to owner, animals held for court cases, animals still at the shelter, etc. Thank you and let me know if you have any other questions.

    R/A PTS
    January 140 39
    February 101 51
    March 94 31
    April 109 72
    May 98 154
    June 141 81
    July 146 86
    August 198 113
    September 92 90
    October 141 45
    November 92 28

    Reply
    • Kristin Kucsma

       /  January 27, 2012

      If you add up the numbers in the PTS column (the last column) and divide by 2,739, you will get our save rate of approximately 70%.

      Reply
      • I’m not sure which part of “thread closed” you are not getting here. This is not new information. And it smacks of a “gotcha” attempt. I’m reeeeeeeeeeally sick of this. Stop now. Final warning.

  12. For clarification purposes and in the interest of transparency, I’m adding in the following info.

    As noted in the original post, Jen Nall provided me with partial information from my FOIA request on Dec. 14, 2011 and I responded to clarify which information she was missing (copy of my e-mail to her below). She telephoned me on Dec. 14 and told me her computer hard drive had failed some time back and she lost her spreadsheet containing the shelter records I requested but that this data can be recreated. This was the first I’d been advised of this information. Prior to this, I’d merely been given some estimated stats. My follow up e-mails were ignored.

    On Wed, Dec 14, 2011 at 11:21 AM, Shirley Thistlethwaite wrote:

    Thank you. These figures represent part of the information I requested. I still need the monthly intake numbers and the monthly RTO numbers. If possible, please specify which figures represent dogs and cats vs. wildlife.

    ———–END of e-mail message—————— _____________________________________

    Since it would be unrealistic to assume that the monthly intake numbers could be worked out by adding the number adopted and the number killed – because this would leave no animals on hand – the figures Jen Nall provided are only partially useful. In addition, there are no figures for RTO, so it is not possible to calculate a live release rate even if we had the total intake numbers. As my intention in requesting the stats was to promote the shelter, calculating the live release rate was essential.

    I never received the total intake numbers or RTO numbers as requested. I’m not a lawyer but in my view, this constitutes a failure to comply with SC law by Paws to the Rescue. And without the complete stats, I was unable to tout the accomplishments the group claims to have made.

    Reply
  13. JennCool

     /  November 11, 2012

    If you understood the conditions under which this Shelter is running to save pets you might be a bit more understanding. From reading this post and the comments I get the impression that the Shelter may not completely understand what it is that is being asked for. Having said that, the insistence of the author of this post reminds me of a person pointing out something of interest to a blind person saying “Did you see this isn’t it amazing.” Bottom line, end of the day, the staff at this Shelter are doing their best in the worst possible conditions to save animals’ lives. They are not hiding anything, they are not misleading or misrepresenting anything. Could it be that they possibly don’t know what is being asked specifically?

    Reply
  14. Jen P

     /  February 12, 2013

    Wow, maybe instead of just consistantly emailing the shelter director and bombarding her with ‘this law, that law’ you could do some further research into the shelter. Simply putting Paws to the Rescue at MCAS in google you get multiple news articles about how much the county gives the shelter to operate on (including to pay among other things, vet care, salaries for employees, food, etc.) is $50,000 a YEAR. Now I’m not stupid so even I can do to the math that with the intake numbers that’s NOTHING for what they aim to do. In addition I found another acticle that stated the kill rate at 90% BEFORE Paws to the Rescue and Jen Nall took over. The rural shelter has patchy internet when they’re able to GET online so maybe take a look at the situation and FACTS instead of complaining and accusing based on faultless claims. You could’ve simply even went on their facebook group to glean some information if you were truly interested. It’s trolls like you that give rescue a bad name.

    Reply
    • Well you are obviously well informed. Thanks for chiming in with your wisdom on this year old post. Also, trolling is not allowed here so you are banned.

      Reply

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