By Lois Henry
When I saw Kern County Animal Control Director Jen Woodard ranting at several members of the public on the department's Facebook page last week, I almost greeted the social media meltdown with a shrug.
Why? Because her short time here has been marked by a number of gaffes.
Culture versus nurture
In my long ranging conversation with Animal Control Director Jen Woodard, she said she was upset with me for my coverage of her report "Puppy Love" back in January.
"Out of a 14-page report on parvo, you picked one thing and used it to call me a racist," she said.
Not exactly true. I never said she was a racist.
But I was appalled by a section of the report that blames "cultural beliefs" in the Hispanic community for animal overpopulation and disease.
It asserts that many communities in Kern are "98% Mexican and Spanish speaking."
Pet care in Mexico is not up to U.S. standards as far as spay/neutering and vaccination, she writes, and that culture has been transplanted here.
My contention has always been that poverty and lack of awareness are the real barriers to responsible pet ownership for many people.
Woodard said she was just trying to "frame the problem," not point fingers at any one race or ethnicity.
After that article came out Supervisor Leticia Perez decided to make lemonade out of that lemon of a report by paying for a spay/neuter/vaccination clinic in Lamont with her own Supervisor Special Project money.
The clinic was held Feb. 24 and was a smashing success with hundreds of people coming to have their animals vaccinated and altered. The county issued nearly 160 licenses in that one day alone.
I asked Woodard if that outpouring had changed her mind.
"No. I stand by my report."
There are cultural differences in attitudes toward animals, she said.
Woodard then seemed to contradict herself by saying poverty is a key component and that no one has historically reached out to rural communities like Lamont.
"Those people would never go even to (low-cost spay/neuter clinic) Critters," she said. "You have to provide the services in their back yards."
Uh... yeah, that's what a lot of us in backwards old Kern County have been saying for years.
Lois Henry hosts "Californian Radio" every Wednesday on KERN 1180 AM from 9 to 10 a.m. You can get your two cents in by calling 842-KERN.
* She has alienated numerous local animal welfare groups almost from the time she set foot in Kern County with her defensive, autocratic style.
* She did herself no favors in December when she went to the Board of Supervisors with a proposed no-bid contract of nearly $1 million with Angel Dogs to perform shelter spay/neuters without consulting the county's partner, the city of Bakersfield.
* Then she wrote a report on the county's parvo epidemic that slammed Hispanics as culturally opposed to responsible pet ownership, blamed local vets for not investing enough of their own time on the problem and accused local animal welfare groups of apathy.
* Not to mention her recent foray to the Supes to ask for an extra $50,000 for more microchips. When challenged by a local citizen about the need for more chips and the costs, Woodard told supervisors she was "unprepared" to give that information. Even after a week's reprieve, Woodard's information was sketchy at best.
In the meantime, she had found time to email the citizen, Liz Keogh, to ask that Keogh not bring these tax dollar issues up in public but work with Woodard privately instead.
Supervisor Mike Maggard also chastised Keogh for sending the board information at the last minute about cheaper chips she'd found online.
Wrong Maggard. And wrong Woodard.
Wrong on all counts.
Keogh does this county a great service by counting the beans and bringing it to the public's attention. Since the person we're paying more than $126,000 year obviously isn't doing it, someone has to.
And now Woodard, in my view, has dug herself a deeper hole by going off inappropriately on social media.
It all started on February 22 when Deborah Goncalves posted a note that started "You guys suck." And went on to say shelter staff refused to tell members of the public the outcome of animals, whether they'd been adopted, sent to rescue or euthanized, per a new policy.
Woodard answered, saying that wasn't the shelter's policy and asked for the ID number of the dog, a pomeranian, that Goncalves was looking for. A few posts later Woodard said the dog was euthanized because of a respiratory ailment.
A few more posts popped up from people upset that the animal had been killed, even though it had a treatable illness.
That prompted a lengthy diatribe by Woodard on Feb. 23 about how overwhelmed shelter staff are.
"I'm not saying we're perfect but we don't 'suck' and we are human beings doing the best we can.
"We have 175 kennels and hold about 600-700 dogs at any given time. You do the math."
The Facebook posters responded vehemently that they'd been told the "no tell" policy was, in fact, instituted by Woodard herself.
Back and forth they went until a woman named Karen Parks posted, asking for a clarification of the policy. She also wrote that previous emails she had received from Woodard and the shelter had been inconsistent.
Woodard took on Parks specifically, saying she's been "abusive, rude, and threatening to my staff and me constantly" that she "is repeatedly crossing the line" and "mean."
Parks offered to post the emails she had received and Woodard answered "Karen, go ahead. Again, the threats get us nowhere. You are the most difficult to work with and I wish we didn't waste time trying to make you actually care about the animals versus trying to prove us wrong."
It goes on, but you get the picture.
The entire thread was taken down on Monday.
On Tuesday, I asked Woodard if she felt it was appropriate for a county department head to engage the public in this manner and she said she stood by what she'd written.
The exchanges were only taken down, she said, because the public's posts had become negative and the department doesn't tolerate name calling and attacks.
I said it read to me like Woodard was doing most of the attacking while members of the public were simply trying to get a straight answer on a policy.
As an aside, she said while there was some internal confusion, the shelter's policy is to be open and forthright about the outcome of every animal. There is no "no tell" policy.
As for getting into a slugfest on Facebook, Woodard said "I know you're going to try and put me in a bad light" and then proceeded to give me a long history of Parks, whom she said had been a thorn in the shelter's side for several years. Parks takes dogs for various rescues in the Napa area.
She sends multiple emails, Woodard said, and if she's not responded to immediately Parks will threaten to get an attorney or call the supervisors.
"She doesn't treat us with respect so I told her straight up we didn't want to work with her anymore," Woodard said. "We work with hundreds of rescues and it's not fair for staff to have to spend that much time on one person."
That could all be true. Parks may be a constant, annoying blister and time sucker. Believe me, I have people like this commenting on my work, too.
But again, I asked Woodard, do you feel this is how a county department head should engage the public?
Again, Woodard blamed Parks.
Then she lit into me saying, "I know you're gunning for me."
If she really believes that, maybe she should stop handing me more bullets.
Opinions expressed in this column are those of Lois Henry, not The Bakersfield Californian. Her column appears Wednesdays and Sundays. Comment at http://www.bakersfield.com, call her at 395-7373 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org