WARREN – Volunteers at the Trumbull County Dog Pound are now only allowed to walk the dogs, but have no role in any other part of their care, it has been reported. Pound staff and volunteers say the policy change will hinder the dogs’ chances of being adopted.
The county employee union contract states that work normally performed by bargaining unit members cannot be contracted out to another person as long as a bargaining unit member is present and able to complete the work.
Pound volunteer Amanda Hebert, who is usually on site four to five days a week, said she believes this should not apply to volunteers because they are not paid, so they should not be classified as contractors. Volunteers do jobs that union members often do, he said.
The only union members are the clerk and four deputy dog wardens, one of whom is on leave after being charged with four counts of animal abuse.
“If I was getting paid, I would understand what a violation this would be” Hebert said. “But I don’t get paid. I do it because I want to take care of animals.”
He said the volunteers were told the change was made to avoid county liability concerns and a union complaint.
Hebert and other volunteers attended Thursday’s county commissioners meeting to voice those concerns. Commissioners Niki Frenchko and Mauro Cantalamessa each said they would contact the union.
Cantalamessa said they shouldn’t alienate people who want to help animals, noting that volunteers save the county money.
Frenchko said: “We just have to be careful that we do the job the right way and don’t create any union grievances.” That doesn’t mean you can’t walk the dogs, that’s cool, but I’m just trying to avoid liability.”
All volunteers must sign a waiver releasing the county and its employees from liability in the event the volunteer has an accident on or off the pound’s grounds, Hebert said.
Wardens are tasked with filling out all the paperwork, coordinating volunteers, managing money associated with dog licenses, picking up strays from the street, and completing intake procedures that take up most of their time. With the recent change in what volunteers cannot do, the supervisors’ workload has increased.
Before the recent change, one of the primary roles of volunteers was to take animals to training appointments. Hebert said this is important for the animals to eventually be adopted. This training helps alleviate behavioral problems the animals may have when they first enter the pound due to previous mistreatment.
Training has been suspended for most, if not all, dogs because deputy handlers do not have time to take the animals to training or do the paperwork required beforehand.
Hebert said he worries that no one wants to adopt dogs with behavioral problems. This can overload the pound, which prevents dogs from turning away. At that point, the only option would be euthanasia.
Hebert said an increase in euthanasia would hurt the pound’s relationships with other animal shelters. Currently, the pound rarely euthanizes an animal. The last time this happened was more than a year ago.
Volunteers can no longer participate in training sessions, nor can they use their social media accounts to advertise for adoption or change the dogs’ water.
“The superintendent (Michelle Goss) did everything she could to eliminate the euthanasias” Hebert said. “She’s made connections with dog rescues so she can take them in if we can’t, but as close as we can get, it’s the same everywhere. This is a national issue.”
On Thursday, there were 14 dogs inside the pound, the maximum amount; in space that will soon cease to exist as eight cooler air approaches; and three, in boxes not designed for long-term use, but the pound has no other option.
Hebert said the pound had to cancel its participation in an adoption day fundraiser Sunday in a different state because of these ongoing issues, which further limit exposure to adoptable animals.