Thursday, August 29, 2013

"Pay No Attention to The Man Behind the Curtain"

Remember in the film, "The Wizard of Oz", when Dorothy and her lovable band of companions discover the truth behind the great and powerful Wizard?

Well this post has been inspired by this scene. Like the Wizard, the Rancho Cucamonga City Manager, John Gillison, wants the public to be distracted by smoke and mirrors, and to never question authority.  But in reality, he is hiding the truth, and even when the curtain is pulled back and he has been exposed, he still tries to con everyone. 

The release of the San Bernardino Grand Jury Report and Mr. Gillison's zeal to send it anyone and everyone who makes a valid concern or inquiry regarding the Rancho Cucamonga Animal Center (RCAC) demonstrates that the man behind the curtain is alive and well. And all of this while many animals continue to be killed under the guise of being "unadoptable".

On June 28th, 2013, the San Bernardino County Grand Jury, released its report regarding the operations of the RCAC. It is still featured on the shelter's homepage.   (Link to the full report: 

City Manager John Gillison and the RCAC were quick to point out what they call “high praise” by the Grand Jury. Two months later, it still remains in the RCAC and City Homepage. On their website homepage, the RCAC states, “it’s findings should provide closure for the public that the Center continues to be well run and faithful to the original goals the of the City when it started in 2006.” However, public records requests have shown a very different story of what is going on at the RCAC under the current leadership. It is odd that the Grand Jury managed to not see what has transpired over the last 19 months. 

Or maybe it is not so odd. The first indication that shows this was a completely one-sided investigation, is the thanking of the City Manager of Rancho Cucamonga, John Gillison, for his assistance.

Here is why this is a BIG problem. Mr. Gillison, as City Manager, is responsible for overseeing operations in the City, which includes the RCAC. Mr. Gillison also had the final say in hiring the current RCAC Director, Veronica Fincher, who he fully supports in every decision she has made at RCAC since taking over in December 2011. This included cutting programs, allowing the killing of more animals in 2012, as well as firing longtime volunteers and an employee (in good standing), after they spoke out regarding conditions at the RCAC. 

Now, does anyone honestly believe that a fair perspective was given by Mr. Gillison to the Grand Jury regarding the operations at the RCAC? Concerned volunteers had been reaching out to Mr. Gillison and the RC City Council since June 2012 to address the increased and unfair killing of healthy animals. Apparently, this was another aspect that the Grand Jury felt they didn't need to look into. Mr. Gillison likely assured them there was no need to, because according to him, everything was fine.  

The shelter also had advance notice about visits by the Grand Jury, as indicated by the Caretaker notes that were written by the RCAC Care Supervisor. According to the Grand Jury's own guidelines, everything done is supposed to remain confidential until the final report is submitted in the month of July. In the notes it says, “The Grand Jury will be "surprise visiting" us again”. 

These notes are dated February 11th, 2013, two days before the Grand Jury stated they made their first visit to the shelter! Say what?! This "first"visit was during the shelter’s Open House event on February 13th, from 6-8 p.m (after the shelter's normal operating hours). Does anyone really believe this was a coincidence, and that the Grand Jury was presented with a fair and unbiased view of the operations of the shelter during this overly staged event? Well, how about their second visit, On March 8th, which was a guided tour given by Director Fincher herself, before the shelter was even open to the public! Do you really think she would be critical of her own operations? The third visit, on April 2nd, was led by one of the field officers, and it was noted in the report that the rabbits were placed in a pen in the front lobby to exercise; meaning this visit had to have happened yet again, before opening hours. So it doesn't seem like there was any insight into the real operations during public hours. Of course everything is going to look great.  

Further proof that the shelter had advanced warning, and that the City had nothing to worry about? Councilman Sam Spagnolo mentioned the shelter was undergoing a Grand Jury investigation. He did so in April 2013, two months before the report was released:

Taken from Daily Bulletin article, April 19th, 2013

Based on all of this evidence, the shelter and the staff were under strict orders to keep up appearances for the Grand Jury visits. The Grand Jury Report itself lists the following "allegations" that were filled against the RCAC:

The City Manager and the RCAC management are stating that the Grand Jury did an "extensive review". However, by the Grand Jury’s own admission above, they did not conduct a through investigation,  and stated that there were allegations that fell out of their purview. Yet they do not elaborate on what those were. 

There is also no mention of interviews with staff and volunteers being conducted. This is in stark contrast to a complaint filed against the Indio Animal Shelter to the Riverside County Grand Jury, which was published only a month before the RCAC report. Their report was extensive and they clearly stated their methodology: (To see the full report:

The Riverside Grand Jury conducted sworn testimony from a number of individuals, including volunteers, and also did extensive work into looking at shelter law, records and reports. If you look at the Grand Jury report for the RCAC, you will not find a Methodology section. This should be of serious concern that this Grand Jury did not feel it was necessary to include this information, or talk to individuals that would be able to provide proof and insight into the claims that were made. So if items didn't fall under the Grand Jury's "purview", then it must not exist? If you look at other claims made in the report that cover other agencies, a methodology is listed and interviews were conducted in other matters. So why not for RCAC? Maybe this is a question that Mr. Gillison could provide insight on? However, something tells us that he wouldn't be too forthcoming with that information. 

The RCAC is blatantly stating on their website, “there is NO evidence to substantiate the complaints filed against the Center.” When you don’t look at all of the facts, and talk to individuals who did see and experience these things, of course you are going to say there is no evidence. But there was a plethora of evidence to the "allegations" stated in the report:

1. Dogs confined to crates for long periods of time without exercise. 

The practice of housing dogs in crates had started in 2010-2011 under the current Animal Care Supervisor, and these would sometimes be permanent locations for the dogs, until kennel space would open on the adoption floor (public accessed area). However, in 2012, Director Fincher and her leadership team cut down on the number of rescues, and also stopped the practice of pairing dogs in kennels. Animals continued to pile up since many other efforts to showcase animals for adoption had been cut. Volunteers raised numerous concerns via email regarding the keeping of dogs in crates for such long periods of time, and then killing them for "behavioral reasons". In 2012, dogs were being housed in travel-sized crates from 2 weeks up to two months. Many didn't make it to the adoption floor. 

Photo taken November 2012 

The kennel card above is of Pam, just one tragic example of the dogs that were housed in a crate and never put on the adoption floor. To see her story, you can view her video: 

She was housed for 8 weeks in the CRATE (this was also listed on the RCAC website for Kennel No.) Dogs were only let out twice a day for 5-10 minutes in a yard to use the bathroom and then put back in the crate after the staff cleaned it. So if a dog was let out at 6 p.m. to relieve itself before the shelter closed, and then put back 10 minutes later, it would remain in the crate until 9 or 10 a.m. the next day. That is nearly 15 hours that 40-60 pound, large dogs, were kept in a travel crate, unable to turn around! If volunteers were not there to walk them, which was the case for several of these dogs, how could the Grand Jury consider getting out for a 10 minute potty break twice a day, adequate exercise? 

And how could the Grand Jury overlook how little many of the dogs were actually walked in a given week? This photo was taken during the Week of 3/4/13, the same week that the Grand Jury made their second visit to the shelter. This visit occurred on March 8th, 2013, meaning they should have seen that some dogs hadn't been out for 4 days. That must have just slipped the Director's mind as she led them on their guided tour. 
Walk Chart for Week of 3/4/13-3/10/13
What can be seen here are several dogs that did not even get out of their kennel once for an entire week. Some actually went two weeks without getting outside to see the sun, go for walk, or get any human contact. We don't think too many people would agree this can be considered adequate exercise. Without being walked by volunteers, the dogs are also forced to relieve themselves in their kennel, day after day, after day. We would assume the shelter staff didn't point out the lack of dog walking to the Grand Jury, and they didn't bother to conduct interviews with current volunteers that could have corroborated this evidence. 

However, the crated dogs would have been gone by the time the Grand Jury came in to do their "investigation". The San Bernardino County Humane Society had been "called" in October 2012, after a video was posted of the crated dogs. By the end of November (which, according to records requests, was one of the highest months for killing), the crates were gone, many of the dogs housed in them killed. However, the Humane Society never filed an official report, and all that was stated in a call to them was that as long as the shelter was holding the dogs the mandatory 3-day hold, they could dowhatever they wanted to the animals after this period. Instead of reaching out to rescues and letting volunteers help the crated dogs, the shelter management made the decision to kill instead of save.  

2. Staff Discharging Fire Arms on the Grounds of RCAC in violation of City Code Ordinance 9.04.010

A staff member that was privy to this information and had photographic evidence, was never brought in  by the Grand Jury for questioning. Why? Turns out, this employee had been fired after speaking out at a January 16th, 2013 City Council Meeting, regarding the coercion and corruption occurring at the RCAC. This employee had been in good standing with the shelter for nearly 6 years. Of course the shelter claimed other reasons, but like with the fired volunteers, there had been no problems preceding this decision. The discharged fire arm in question? A tranquilizer gun that was used to target a political sign. A number of volunteers had supported Marc Steinorth in the 2012 City Council elections, while the shelter was in support of Chuck Buquet (husband of a volunteer and big donor at the RCAC who is an avid supporter of the current Director). 

According to the Rancho Cucamonga City Employee Handbook, absolutely no political material will be allowed in the workplace. After the RC election ended, and Marc Steinorth won against Buquet, there was a political sign of his sitting in the Field Officer's office. In fact, when one of the volunteers was being fired on November 11th, 2012 (five days after the election), she saw the sign in the office, as she was being led into the Director's Office to be dismissed. So not only would the Director have seen the sign, but HR Director Chris Paxton was also at the dismissal, and had to walk by the office and see the sign as well. The sign remained there until Thursday, November 15th, when Councilman Steinorth made his first visit to the shelter with the Shelter Director, Veronica Fincher and City Manager John Gillison. Other volunteers saw it this day and took photos of it still in the Field Office. It was filled with small holes, like it had been used for target practice. 

The Grand Jury claims they did not have enough evidence to substantiate this claim; and indeed they would not, since they did not even interview the individual who had the information to testify it was there and what he was told by the officers that shot it. There was also no reprimand for the Director or other staff that allowed this sign to remain on City property for almost a week, in direct violation of the employee handbook, which was written by the City. It seems they can break their own rules as they see fit. 

3. Funds raised at charity events were not used exclusively for the benefit of the animals by RCAC.

There is no specific 501(c)3 for the RC Animal Center. All donated funds are given to the RC Community & Arts Foundation (, which is a larger foundation that any City entity can pull from. Donations must be earmarked to the specific department, or else they go into the general fund. This can easily be overlooked if donors do not put in their check note, that they want it to go to RCAC and to specify what they want the funds used for. Once again, very misleading. The City voted to take over the Animal Shelter in 2005, and started in 2006 officially. Why has it been nearly 8 years and they do not have their own non-profit? The report does not indicate that records requests were made to substantiate the use of the funds through raw data. Could it be they only took information provided to them by the City Manager and/or the shelter Director?

4. Claims of higher rate of adoption than was actually experienced.

The shelter continues to state an over 80% adoption rate, regardless of intake. Yet, evidence of creative accounting is seen in a number of poorly run shelters across the country. Here are some of the RCAC statistics.

Adoptions as a percentage of intake for January to September of 2012 was 47% for dogs and 31% for cats for an average of 39% adoptions.  That's a significant difference from 80%+ and an obvious lie.  To get to their fictitious 80%+ figure they have to do some very creative accounting and then re-name the category "live outcomes". That category includes a whole lot of things that occurred in spite of, not because of, shelter staff and management.  For example, there were some animals taken by rescue groups, but there are considerably fewer rescues who are able to take dogs from RCAC than there were even a year ago (down 35%). Live outcomes also include animals sent to foster homes, but if you look at the number returning from fosters, it's pretty much even.

5. Off-site animal adoptions, dog training classes and other programs have been reduced or discontinued.

Really? Really?! Here is a list of Programs that have been cut or reduced at RC Animal Center in 2012-2013, under the current Director. Again, if the Grand Jury had bothered to conduct interviews, this could have been made clear to them:

Pit Bull /Large Dog Training Classes- Organized and ran by volunteers (the ones that were dismissed), training 10 dogs under the guidance of the staff Animal Handler. These actually began in 2010, and were set up by a former RCAC staff member. The classes continued with the help of funding provided by the Best Friends Pit Bull Grant awarded in 2011 to the shelter.
·                        Session #1: 2/6/11-3/13/11
·                        Session #2: 5/29/11-7/10/11
·                        Session #3: 7/24/11-/8/28/11
·                        Session#4: 9/18/11-10/23/11
·                        Session#5: 11/17/11-11/29/11
      The Director did not allow training classes to be run, until after it was brought up by a volunteer in July 2012, who was than dismissed later for doing so! The shelter, to save face, held a 4-day training session with Ufuria between Oct-Nov 2012. No training classes for the dogs have been held since.

No Dog Left Behind- This event was started by a volunteer in 2011 as a way to help get every dog walked at the shelter in a single day. They were regularly held the second Saturday of every month. In 2012, these events were becoming harder to do with the uncooperative management, and by the end of 2012, it became a two-day event because there were not enough dog walking volunteers to get all the dogs out. The shelter held one in February 2013, and then had nothing until August 2013. The only reason this event was even scheduled again in August, was because it was addressed earlier by the dismissed volunteers during public comments in a City Council meeting.  Yet the Grand Jury report says that they were still occurring at the time of their visits! This is clearly untrue, and a lie told by the shelter. If they had interviewed volunteers, they would have had evidence of this event having been suspended.

Off-Site Adoption/Outreach Events- These are events that were specifically organized and run by the volunteers (now dismissed) and they were in addition to the events that the RCAC hold. They cost no money to the shelter, and volunteers used their own transportation, crates, and other supplies.
·                        3/5/11-Juice It Up! in Rancho Cucamonga
·                        5/21-5/22/11- Best Friends Super Adoption Event in Los Angeles
·                        9/10/11- Neighborhood Pit Bull Day in Rancho Cucamonga
·                       10/30/11- Victoria Gardens Cultural Center
·                       11/6/11- My Delight Cupcakery in Ontario

For the year of 2012, there were no off-site events that were been able to be set-up or run by the volunteers. “Field Trips” with dogs were also allowed in 2011, where dogs could be taken off shelter property to places like Victoria Gardens, Bass Pro Shop, etc, in order to get video, photos and market the animals. These field trips are no longer allowed due to “liability” (stated in email from Director Veronica Fincher), even though there had never been a problem. 

The only off-sites that occur currently are run by paid staff, which was already being done well before Director Fincher started, and what the Grand Jury report must be referring to when they say they haven't been cut.

Bake Sales- Started on 9/2/10 by volunteers to raise funds to pay for training classes for the dogs.  During the 2010-2011 years, bake sales were held at Rancho Regional Veterinary Hospital and volunteer orientations. There have been no bake sales for 2012.  A volunteer was actually cited in her dismissal (two years after the event happened) for trying to take a shelter dog to one of the bake sales in order to showcase it for adoption!

KONG Kennel Enrichment- Kong toys and a freezer were purchased with the Best Friends grant money in June 2011 to help start an enrichment program for the single dogs in the kennels to help ease kennel stress. But in late 2011, there were not enough volunteers to keep the Kongs cleaned and distributed and the efforts stopped and have not been brought up again by the shelter. (Emails provide further documentation of this). There is currently no regular kennel enrichment for single dogs in 2012-2013, even though most kennels now only house one dog.

Playgroups- Started on 6/20/2011 under the Best Friends grant. Playgroups included all sizes/breeds of dogs (not just pits), and were run solely by volunteers and under the guidance of Animal Handler, Taun Brooks. The Vet and Animal Care Supervisor did not want the playgroups initially, and made their concerns known to the Grant Manager from Best Friends, who was overseeing the project. Volunteers were running the groups 4 days a week in 2011, but they were reduced in 2012 due to the number of crated dogs needing to be put in the yard for their 10 minute potty break. Volunteers asked to help staff with crated dogs, in order to have more playgroup time for the dogs. This was denied by Director Fincher (documented in emails). Now in 2012-2013, small dog groups are run once to twice a week.

Playgroups for big dogs are only held one day a week, and had been run by paid staff. Only 5-6 dogs are in at a time, versus upwards of 10-12 at a time and getting close to 20-30 out in one week in 2011 and early 2012.

Videos- Started in April 2011. Videos created by volunteers and posted with the help of a staff member. Over 155 videos had been posted of dogs, cats, and bunnies for adoption. Dana Keithly and Vicky Reust, two of the dismissed volunteers, were responsible for filming most of these videos. Since November 2012, less than a dozen videos have been uploaded to the RCAC website that showcase the animals for adoption. 

Promotions- Several promotions had been done in 2010 and 2011. We reached out to news stations and media to promote:
·                    2010- The Spice (Girl) Pits
·                    2010- The Village (People) Pits
·                    2010- Pit Idol
·                    2010- Homecoming
·                    2011- Pitcademy Awards
·                    2011/early 2012- Top 20 Promotion (for dogs that had been at shelter the longest, included reduced          adoption fees).

The goal was to have new promotions for 2012 and include all animals and staff as well as volunteer input. Currently, only the Center does promotions, volunteers have not been allowed to create or market new promotions.  Promotions only include reducing the price of adoptions or offering two-for-ones, which was already being done on a regular basis in 2011.  Most promotions now are only included as a flyer on the shelter website/Facebook page or in the shelter lobby.  The shelter once got City employees involved to sponsor an animal in 2013, but it was not ongoing.

Yappy Hour- Started by staff member Taun Brooks and volunteers in 2011 under the name “Pit Mixers”, these events have volunteers bring animals out in front of the Center to promote the dogs. In 2012, these are once a month events, but are currently not being promoted City-wide, only on the RCAC website. Yappy Hours stopped being held in August 2012.

Volunteers Workshops- Volunteers were key in getting meetings in 2010 with then Assistant City Manager John Gillison, and continuing throughout 2011. The City Council also addressed the need for workshops to improve communication between the Center and Volunteers.
·                     4/27/11- City Council Special Meeting on Animal Center
·                     6/28/11- Staff/Volunteer Workshop
·                    11/8/11- Staff/Volunteer Workshop

For 2012-2013, no workshops have taken place that allow volunteers to address concerns/issues with the shelter. 

In the report, there is also no mention made in the to the fact that four longtime volunteers, some that had been there 6 years, were dismissed from the shelter, never allowed to volunteer there again. They were let go after speaking out against many of the conditions that have been addressed here, as well as attending a City Council meeting to ask for help with the shelter concerns. The shelter Director must have a lot to hide to dismiss volunteers for exercising their First Amendment rights, and to then keep these volunteers out for good. And the fact that the Grand Jury did not address this, or even talked to these individuals, is extremely suspicious. 

Grand Jury Report still listed under Latest News for the City Homepage
The City Manager continues to cite the Grand Jury report as evidence that there is nothing wrong with the shelter, and that their operations are transparent, even though many of the issues listed in this post have been brought to the council's attention for the last 8 months. And if this was such a glowing report, why did City Council say they were “unconvinced” by it? At the July 3rd City Council Meeting, Councilman Bill Alexander explained, “In my estimation, regardless of what the Grand Jury report doesn’t say, I think the shelter to some degree is broken. It needs repair...I hope it can be repaired. I’m disappointed, and I’ve been involved with Grand Jury investigations before. I’m sorry it seemed to take a very brief and short look at this”. To see the complete Daily Bulletin article:

In the end, it is Toto, the dog, who pulls back the curtain and uncovers the Wizard's smoke and mirrors act. He exposes the truth. The jig is up. A fitting end. We wish we could say the same could be said for the RCAC and their constant attempts to pull the wool over the public's eyes.

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