Lois Henry

Saturday, Apr 06 2013 10:30 PM

LOIS HENRY: Animal czar's short tenure raises big questions

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard holds a kitten at the shelter.

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By Lois Henry

Six months isn't enough time to make any kind of dent in Kern County's horrific animal euthanasia rates. Real change is going to take a massive and sustained focus on spaying and neutering animals. I'm talking years.

We cannot adopt, rescue or foster our way out of Kern's overpopulation problem.

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Lois Henry hosts "First Look with Scott Cox" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. The show is also broadcast live on www.bakersfield.com. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.

When Animal Control Director Jen Woodard was hired last October, many in the animal welfare world rejoiced.

Not so much now. In fact, things have been so rocky that the Kern County Board of Supervisors will be conducting a job performance evaluation of Woodard on Tuesday.

She looked so good on paper and was a far cry from the parade of bureaucrats we'd had running the shelter through the years.

Her resume shows a career spent in actual animal welfare work, including a stint as shelter manager at the city of Rancho Cucamonga from 2006 to 2009.

Then she hired on with the vaunted animal organization Best Friends of Los Angeles in April 2010.

But, oopsie, in between Rancho Cucamonga and Best Friends, Woodard had another very high level job that she omitted from her resume.

She was hired as the executive director of the Humane Society of San Bernardino Valley at the end of September 2009.

She lasted three weeks.

Her final day was Oct. 20, 2009, according to Humane Society General Manager Teri Seymour.

"A decision was made between her and the board that she should leave," was all Seymour would tell me about why Woodard left so quickly.

Hmmm. None of that is on the resume she submitted to Kern County.

I tried to get more details about what happened, but came up with just a few crumbs.

Brian Cronin, chief of San Bernardino County Animal Control, reached out to Woodard during her short tenure at the Humane Society. He was hopeful for her success, he said, and wanted to be available for any help she might need.

But when they spoke, he recalled, "she was highly critical of the Humane Society and the community as a whole."

Her attitude did not strike him as a good leadership style, he said.

I'm sensing a pattern.

Woodard's resume fudging doesn't have the same legal weight as if she'd left the Humane Society job off of an official county job application, which she didn't have to fill out. As a county manager, her application fell under different rules.

Nevertheless it seemed odd, so I asked human resources expert Robin Paggi, who writes a column for The Californian, what she would think of such a resume omission.

From an employer's view, she said, yes, neglecting to mention such a high level position throws up a huge red flag.

But she could understand that, from the applicant's point of view: "It was such a short duration, you might think it's better to leave it out and prevent people from being suspicious."

Of course if you do that you run the risk of having to explain why it looks like you were trying to cover up the job if anyone, like say a pesky reporter, ever finds out about it.

Perhaps there's a super good explanation.

If I were on the Board of Supes, that'd be one of my first questions on Tuesday.

My next would be, how soon can you be packed?

-- Lois Henry

A dip or bump in euthanasia and animal intake numbers during a six-month span means nothing.

I mention this because on Tuesday, when the Board of Supervisors goes into closed session to conduct a performance evaluation on Animal Control Director Jen Woodard, she'll likely try and spin them with a six-month, year-over-year glimpse of intake versus euthanasia and draw an inference that under her leadership, we're seeing real change.

Not true. A longer look shows we're still on the same tragic path. Nothing has changed.

So, Woodard can neither be deemed a success nor a failure on the numbers.

She is, however, a spectacular failure in just about every other aspect of the job.

She has alienated countless animal welfare groups and agencies, including groups that should be key partners of the city of Bakersfield and the SPCA, arbitrarily changed shelter policies and hasn't achieved basic goals.

I also believe she was deceitful with the county when applying for the position (see accompanying article).

Most troubling of all, Woodard's response when questioned on just about anything is to point fingers.

She apparently doesn't realize, or refuses to accept, that she was hired to come up with a way out of the hole we're in.

That is the very heart of her job.

"Why is it that I'm to blame for more shelter animals coming in?" Woodard recently wrote in a Facebook message to a rescuer who wanted clarification on new shelter procedures. "Does that not speak to the community and overall issues regarding pets? Why has the vet community not stepped up and helped solve this problem?"

Those statements mirror a report she wrote earlier this year called "Puppy Love" that spent a lot of ink on blame and precious little on solutions.

Enough.

It's past time to find a competent, knowledgeable replacement who's up to the task. Unfortunately, the supervisors probably won't take action on Tuesday and instead just give Woodard new goals.

Well, let's look at just a few highlights of her tenure thus far.

Disease

This, to me, is her most glaring failure.

When she started in October, Woodard said eradicating disease and cleaning the shelter would be her No. 1 priority.

Six months later, disease is still rampant.

Unlike animal intake, this is an area where Woodard could have effected rapid and dramatic change. It could have been done fairly simply by ramping up kennel cleanliness and finding alternate shelter, such as trailers or temporarily moving animals to other county facilities, to isolate animals.

But that didn't happen.

We are killing the same number of animals for "medical reasons" as ever.

Meanwhile, Woodard has increased hold times at the shelter. The legal requirement is five days including day of impoundment. Instead, she's holding most animals six days (not including Sundays and county holidays). For animals with identification, her hold time is 11 days.

I don't want to rush any animal to the gallows, but that extra time means a whole lot more animals for a shelter already bursting at the seams.

That translates directly to more disease.

In the last few months I have begun receiving emails, phone calls and photo packets from Animal Control staffers and volunteers too afraid of retaliation to use their names.

The stories I heard and the photos I received would turn your stomach. The photos show kennels covered in feces and diarrhea, even in some of the food bowls. In one photo, a dog lies unconscious in feces after having been spayed or neutered, according to a note that came with the packet.

The note accurately pegged the conditions as criminal animal cruelty.

These photos were taken during regular business hours four months into Woodard's tenure.

Rescues

Given Woodard's background with Best Friends of Los Angeles, which focuses on adoption and rescue, I was surprised when I started getting calls from rescues complaining about what they felt were rescue-hostile policies by Woodard.

In an effort to appease adopters who felt rescues were given first pick of animals, Woodard arbitrarily changed shelter procedures on who gets animals.

It had been done via an open list that adopters and rescues could put their names on. Without notification or any discussion, Woodard changed that to first-come, first-served.

That meant rescues had to be at the shelter at the same time it was open to the public to put their names on animals. Some of these rescues are a two- to four-hour drive away.

One woman who owns a prominent local rescue and has saved hundreds of dogs from Kern, went to the shelter on March 19 to put her name on an animal.

She was told by a staffer in an email that "Per Jen, we are going to have a drawing for this dog at 10 a.m."

Woodard later learned she couldn't raffle off county property so, she went back to first-come, first-served.

"The policy changed three times in the space of a few hours," the exasperated local rescue owner told me. She didn't want to use her name, for fear of being branded a troublemaker and being blackballed from working with the shelter. Other rescues who contacted me were also worried about using their names.

Stacey Wideman, who runs Foxy Doxy Dachshund and Dog Rescue in San Luis Obispo County, wasn't afraid. She's just flat fed up with the changing policies, confusion and different stories she's been getting since Woodard came on board.

She pointed out that all rescues have signed contracts with the county that expressly lay out the list procedure. She asked Woodard about the rescue/adoption confusion in a private Facebook message.

"It was a miscommunication with me and staff because with 12 people in our weekly task force meetings you'd think someone would've mentioned that (the contracts), but on the flip side, they all probably assumed I knew," Woodard wrote back on Facebook.

She said Animal Control would be going back to the list procedure for the time being.

Wideman still felt her questions were left mostly unanswered.

After having put 10,000 miles on her truck last year coming to Kern for animals, Wideman is now considering focusing her efforts elsewhere.

Foster to adopt

In mid-March, Woodard launched a new program allowing animals between 2 and 6 months old to be taken from the shelter unaltered. Letting unaltered animals out of the shelter is a big no-no, legally speaking.

But Woodard says it's perfectly fine since it's a "foster to adopt" program.

This in no way compares to a real foster program, which requires home visits, training, etc.

These foster-to-adopters are barely vetted and there's no way to ensure the adopters come back for the animal's spay/neuter appointment.

The local rescue owner was appalled when she learned of the program.

"Someone could take a German shepherd puppy and in a few months start a backyard puppy mill," she said. "There are so many holes in this.

"I just can't believe anyone would let an unaltered dog out to the public in Kern County!"

Rescues, she said, are legally required to alter animals before adopting them out and must provide proof to the shelter that they've done so.

I asked Woodard if she had records on how many foster-to-adopt dogs had come back for their spay/neuter surgeries, but she never answered.

She never answered a lot of other questions, such as whether her new policy of mixing pit bulls with the general population has resulted in maulings and dog deaths, which numerous volunteers and staffers have said is happening.

She never answered whether animals are being properly temperament tested (which the shelter is still under court order to do), especially those going out under the foster-to-adopt program.

She didn't respond when asked whether her free microchip program requires members of the public to get their dogs licensed.

The list goes on but I'm guessing you get the picture. I hope the supes do, as well.

Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or email lhenry@bakersfield.com LOIS HENRY: Animal czar's short tenure raises big questions

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