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State to take over after Pueblo animal shelter relinquishes license

Inspectors: Unsanitary conditions, expired meds

WATCH State to take over after Pueblo...

PUEBLO, Colo. - - The state of Colorado will be taking over operations at the Community Animal Services of Pueblo after the shelter relinquished its license, sources confirmed to KRDO Wednesday.

CASP has been under investigation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, and Tuesday we learned from several city officials that the actions at the shelter have led to an increase in animal deaths.

"It is with great disappointment that [CASP] is choosing to relinquish its license to operate the animal shelter for the city and county of Pueblo," said a statement issued Wednesday.

County commissioners say cleanliness, hoarding, improper medical care of the animals, and an inability to conduct animal control are growing problems in the shelter.

CASP says the decision to relinquish its license was made as a result of failed inspections conducted by the Pet Animal Care Facilities Act and the inability to quickly replace staff veterinarian, Dr. Joel Brubaker, according to the statement.

The shelter's doors were closed early Wednesday afternoon, and some people wishing to adopt an animal were reportedly turned away.

The inspection reports

We obtained copies of the inspection reports -- the first inspection was conducted on March 6, and follow-up reports were issued on March 12 and March 15.

Inspectors say the shelter's conditions were unsanitary and didn't follow state law. Animals of different breeds were housed in the same room, some kennels had too many animals, other kennels had diarrhea and fecal matter. Several animals were significantly unsanitary, including one who had blood dripping from its mouth and another who was taken in and put in an area while still severely matted with fur and fecal matter.

The reports also say healthy animals were being kept in the same room as unhealthy animals, and some enclosures weren't being properly sanitized. Inspectors said a back room that was housing a litter of puppies had diarrhea "throughout the room." Inspectors found that staffers were replacing litter boxes with "tin foil bread loaf pans" that weren't big enough for a cat to use or to ensure that all the excrement would be contained. Another room had discharge from a cat still splattered on a window.

The Department of Agriculture inspection report says the shelter was also using expired medications and other medications that had been prescribed by a vet that was not the vet in possession of the medications. Many of the drugs had expired in 2015-2016, but inspectors also found lidocaine that had expired in 2006.

The shelter is also accused of denying access to euthanasia records until police showed up with a warrant. The Department of Agriculture says the shelter was not maintaining records as required, and the Department says several documents submitted by the shelter contained fraudulent information. One document was a medical record for a deceased animal that was amended with information after an inspector pointed out a discrepancy. Another document said an animal was "transferred" to a facility that's not licensed to officially train and rehome animals; instead, the shelter should have said the animal was "given."

The shelter also had numerous enclosure violations, and the inspection reports outline the conditions that individual animals were living in.

Read the reports here:

Initial report (PDF); First follow-up (PDF); Final report (PDF)

County response

Pueblo County Commissioner Chris Wiseman says the CASP Board informed Pueblo elected officials that they were strongly considering surrendering their license to the state.  

Today, sources say the state will transfer animals to various shelters throughout Colorado.

Kim Alfonso, acting board president, said, "Relinquishing our license is the fastest way for us to get care for the animals."

County Commissioners have called an executive session at 2:30 p.m. to review the existing contract and find an alternative. 

The PAWS for Life Board was awarded the contract to run Pueblo's animal shelter starting on Jan. 1. PAWS replaced the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, which had run the shelter for 16 years. Pueblo council members reported that the switch would save the city and county about $500,000.

Ironically, City Council President Chris Nicoll said last year that PAWS was the right organization to operate the shelter as the city aims to euthanize fewer animals under the Pueblo Animal Protection Act (PAPA), which was passed by the city last February. Under PAPA, shelters within Pueblo city limits are required to have a save rate of ninety percent.

Pueblo City Council President Dennis Flores told our crews Wednesday the closed-door meeting with the commissioners was productive. 

"We are all horiffied by what the state found," Flores said.

Right now, the leaders are looking to have the old shelter operators, the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region step in. 

"We feel confident that Pikes Peak is probably the short term solution," Flores said. "We think that if we can work out an agreement with them for maybe six months, that we can get everything up and running."

As for the future of the shelter, Flores hopes this experience will make things better.

"I'm optimistic that we can come out of this catastrophe, really, into a much better situation than we've ever had," Flores said. 

We're working on getting more information about the state's takeover of CASP. 

PREVIOUS STORY

Lisa Buccambuso will also no longer serve as interim director of Community Animal Services of Pueblo. In a press release, she says she has withdrawn her acceptance of the position, after learning of conditions at the facility.

Buccambuso, who serves as executive director of the SoCO Spay and Neuter Association, says she made her decision after learning conditions at CASP were far worse than any one organization could work to solve. On Tuesday she addressed CASP board members and says that a full-time committed director was needed immediately so that the shelter could continue providing adequate care for sick animals.

“I had hoped to provide the leadership needed to allow CASP to run smoothly for the 2-3 weeks I was told I was needed for, until their full-time director was in place, but I quickly witnessed that the need was greater than what I could offer, and that immediate intervention needed to take place,” Buccambuso said in her press release.

At this time it's unclear who will take over as interim director.

Previous Story:

After a state investigation and personnel changes, the turmoil surrounding Pueblo’s animal shelter took center stage at the Pueblo County Courthouse Tuesday.

Both Pueblo County Commissioners and five Pueblo City Councilmen -- Larry Atencio, Ray Aguilera, Bob Schilling, Chris Nicoll, and Dennis Flores -- were at Tuesday's work session to hear from Community Animal Services of Pueblo (CASP). 

County commissioners say the animal care organization's actions since taking over as vendor a little less than three months ago have been "egregious and unacceptable."

I’ve been informed there was an animal hit by a vehicle and wasn't tended to for five days, and eventually died," said Pueblo County Commissioner Garrison Ortiz. Ortiz says that 14 animals have died under CASP's care in two months, a number he says is considerably higher than the previous vendor. 

Commissioners say cleanliness, hoarding, improper medical care of the animals, and an inability to conduct animal control are growing problems in the shelter.

CASP Board President Ruth McDonald asked for more time to properly train staff. However, many commissioners and city councilman present at the work session weren’t buying it.

“We’re paying you to learn how to do this job and that’s not what this money was for," said Pueblo City Councilman Bob Schilling. "That money was for you guys to run this thing effectively.”

At Tuesday’s work session, it was revealed that inspectors of Colorado Department of Agriculture weren’t allowed access to certain areas of the shelter in early March, causing them to come back one week later with a warrant and police escort.

This, along with improper care of the animals, led to the suspension of shelter manager Linda Mitchell and termination of veterinarian Dr. Joel Brubaker.

As the former deputy commissioner of agriculture, I was appalled. Those things should never happen, said Commissioner Chris Wiseman. My concern now is ongoing can they fulfill the contract my sense right now is they can’t. How do we facilitate the change and do it in a way that we are not making mistakes again.

“We really worked hard and tried to do what we were supposed to do,” said Ruth McDonald CASP Board President. However, she admits they fell short of expectations set by the city and county.

However, she says they only had three weeks to prepare after being awarded the contract. She tells KRDO that they were set up for failure. 

Plus, McDonald says she was lied to, setting the shelter back even further. 

“We were blindsided by key staff who we trusted and believing in and it is just devastating,” said McDonald. 

According to the CASP Board, there was no good reason not to let inspectors into every part of the shelter, and they aren't sure why the shelter manager failed to allow inspectors into certain rooms. 

McDonald says they will continue to care for the animals as long as they are there. 

As for the elected officials at Tuesday's work session, half explicitly said they’d like to move in a new direction when it comes to the animal shelter. 

Pueblo City Councilman Bob Schilling outright asked the CASP Board if they would step down as the vendor of the animal shelter. Schilling then compared CASP to a rotten tooth that needs to be yanked out.

A joint meeting between Pueblo City Council and the Pueblo County Commissioners will be held to discuss terminating the contract sometime in the near future.


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