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