Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Thursday, Dec. 28, 2023 @ 3:52 p.m.

Curry County, Gold Beach Animal Rescue In Dispute Over Impound Services As County 'Re-Tools' Animal Control

Curry County commissioners and the Gold Beach animal rescue that provides impound services to the county are at odds over their compensation as well as the building that houses the organization.

Though the county’s dispute with Wild Rivers Animal Rescue blew up on social media, prompting one commissioner to address the issue via Facebook live, the Board tabled a discussion about animal control at its Dec. 21 meeting. Director of County Operations Ted Fitzgerald said the organization’s new legal counsel had asked him to postpone the discussion until she could confer with her client.

“I don’t want to be making public statements that could potentially influence their negotiation,” Fitzgerald told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Wednesday. “They obviously have something they want to get out of this negotiation we’re in so I’m happy to let them work through that.”

This dispute comes as Curry County “re-tools” animal control services.

According to Fitzgerald, after realizing that animal control officers hadn’t read the code and weren’t enforcing them, he recommended commissioners dissolve the program. In September, the county reached out to South Coast Humane Society after speaking with Wild Rivers Animal Rescue and being told it couldn’t provide animal control services.

According to Fitzgerald, the Humane Society — whose executive director, Jenifer Alcorn, is married to Commissioner Brad Alcorn — had volunteered to provide animal control in the southern part of the county. County employees have also stepped in to provide those services in the northern areas, Fitzgerald said.

At the Board’s Dec. 6 meeting, Fitzgerald said the county had paid Wild Rivers Animal Rescue about $16,425 a year for three kennels to house three animals per month. If the county has to impound more animals, it pays more, said Fitzgerald, who got the information from David Fortman, “the original animal control guy for code enforcement.”

Wild Rivers Animal Control is now requesting $31,755 through a revised service agreement with the county, according to Fitzgerald. The organization gave the county until Jan. 28 to respond or it would terminate its existing agreement, he said.

“Right now we’re using Wild Rivers because we have this contract with them,” Fitzgerald said. “But they did notify us that they gave us our 60-day notice because we would not agree to pay them double. And so we did receive a notice of termination.”

In a Nov. 30 letter to Fitzgerald and the Board of Commissioners, Wild Rivers Animal Rescue President Julie Hopkins said the organization is losing money by sheltering animals for the county. Hopkins said a revised service agreement would allow the animal rescue to break even.

“Since the discussions have started, the County has not made its payments as promised under the Service Agreement,” Hopkins wrote. “In fact, the November payment has not been paid as of this date and therefore, please accept this letter as a formal demand for payment in the amount of $1,368.75. Please make payment on or before Dec. 1, 2023.”

On Dec. 6, Fitzgerald also informed the Board that the county had owned the building that houses Wild Rivers Animal Rescue at 29921 Airport Way in Gold Beach, but it was gifted to Pennies for Pooches Curry County Animal Shelter with the understanding that it would perform animal services.

Pennies for Pooches changed its name to Wild Rivers Animal Rescue, according to the proposed revised agreement the organization submitted to the county.

Fitzgerald said the deed to the building is still under Pennies for Pooches' name.

“Then, through a combination of a thing we’re seeing a lot of today, conflicting and nonsensical agreements generated by our county, we gave the building to the [organization] with the understanding they were not required to perform the full suite of animal control services,” Fitzgerald told commissioners on Dec. 6. “That’s where we stand today.”

According to Fitzgerald, the building is worth about $300,000 to $400,000. He told commissioners that if he’s directed to do so, he would proceed with having the county reacquire the building.

Fitzgerald also mentioned an incident where a dog that had been surrendered was rejected by Wild Rivers and then euthanized. According to him, the county employee said the organization directed him to euthanize the animal, though the rescue disputes that.

“That dog needed to be evaluated and then the final decision for disposing the dog would have come before the Commission, according to our code,” Fitzgerald said. “Unfortunately no one in code enforcement was reading the code or following it.”

The Dec. 6 Board of Commissioners discussion prompted Wild Rivers Animal Rescue to put out a Facebook post urging their supporters to speak out at the Board of Commissioners’ Dec. 21 meeting.

“They are trying to take our life saving facility to turn into Dog Pound [sic],” the post reads. “We have worked hard to save Curry County Animals and now we are in jeopardy to loose [sic] it all.”

This post and the comments it inspired accusing commissioners of corruption and making a power grab prompted Alcorn to make an impassioned 27-minute Facebook live video. In it, Alcorn mentions the dog that was euthanized, saying that outcome was unacceptable.

Alcorn also points out that Curry County is a dog control district. According to the county code, this was the result of a 1964 election and means that “no dog is allowed to run at large” in the county. It’s the county’s obligation to enforce that, Alcorn said.

When Wild Rivers Animal Rescue requested double what the county had been paying it, Alcorn said county staff asked for justification as to why.

“We haven’t received any documents to show what that justification would be,” he said. “As a county [we’re] faced with this conflict, what do we do? We need to continue to provide a dog control district and those services, we’re obligated to do that.”

Alcorn also addressed social media comments that he said stated that his wife was getting paid for working with the county to provide animal control services through the Humane Society.

“Get a hold of Dave Barnes, he’s our treasurer, and just ask him. Ask him if he wrote any checks to Jenifer Alcorn or if he paid any money to the Humane Society,” Alcorn said. “He didn’t. She volunteered. The Humane Society volunteered and, again, no money was exchanged.”

On Dec. 20, Fitzgerald sent a letter to Wild Rivers Animal Rescue stating that the rescue's social media post contradicted the termination notice it sent the county on Nov. 30. He reiterated that the organization hadn't provided a justification for the proposed increase in compensation to for impound services and said it's "not normal practice for the Board to approve a rate increase without some rationalization other than subjective opinion."

Fitzgerald offered to increase the compensation the county pays to Wild Rivers Animal Rescue to $19,225 annually that take effect July 1, 2024. If additional kennel space was needed beyond the three already provided for impound services, the county would pay the animal rescue $20 per day with no cap for the extra space, according to Fitzgerald's letter.

Wild Rivers Animal Rescue would be unable to refuse to house a dog after its impoundment period and the county would have 24-7 access to the shelter including the indoor kennels, according to Fitzgerald's proposal. The county would provide the animal rescue wiht a list of animal control and law enforcement employees who would have access to the shelter, according to Fitzgerald's letter.

"Refusing a dog post-impoundment creates an ethical dilemma for the County [sic], as that would require expenditures in order to place the dog at an alternative location, or if that is not possible, to dispose of the dog in an alternative manner," Fitzgerald wrote. "Neither I, nor the Commissioners, find it acceptable to euthanize an animal due to a shelter facility's refusal to accept that animal."

On Dec. 21, Wild Rivers Animal Rescue representatives challenged comments Fitzgerald and Alcorn made.

According to Kim Schlack, the organization’s vice president, the animal rescue has cared for dogs county animal control brought in since its inception and has accepted those dogs in most cases after their impoundment period. However, in August, Wild Rivers approached the county with proposed revisions to its contract, but didn’t get a response, she said.

In September, the county stopped making its monthly payments to Wild Rivers Animal Rescue and the organization issued a termination letter, Schlack said.

“Even when we issued the termination, we said come talk to us,” she said. “Still, nothing from the county. It’s premature to discuss any provisions of a revised contract or to put those proposed changes out for public comment or consumption as was done yesterday by Ted Fitzgerald and was repeated this evening.”

According to Schlack, Dec. 20 was the first time the county had communicated with Wild Rivers Animal Rescue about its contract.

The rescue’s executive director, Amanda Trover, spoke about the dog that ended up being euthanized, saying it was first taken to South Coast Humane Society. After a three-day stray hold, the Humane Society said it couldn’t accept the dog, Trover said, so county animal control took it to Wild Rivers.

“Our contractural dedication to you guys is over. We’re an impound facility. We’re not taking dogs for no reason,” she said. “We have a wait list just like everybody else, so we did send that dog back to South Coast where it did start a stray hold.”

In the last 10 years there have only been about three cases where Wild Rivers didn’t accept a dog for impoundment, Trover said. In those cases it was because they were aggressive that couldn’t be safely put up for adoption.

Curry County resident Becky Jacobs said it’s the county’s fault that animal control officers hadn’t read the county code. She also criticized Alcorn’s video post.

“Mr. Alcorn, you kept saying, ‘I thrive for transparency. I’m trying to be completely transparent,’ but this whole situation reeks of back door politics,” she said. “This whole situation is as transparent as mud, and I want to hear from Wild Rivers as a voter — Why do you want double [the] fees? Vet bills. Look at how much dog food has went up, look at how much wages have went up, all of these things, but they should be able to provide proof of those. What is the other side of this story [about] the dog that got refused and got euthanized? It seems like there’s a lot of he said, she said, and nothing in front of the public.”

Mark Nast, another county resident, took issue with negotiations being done between lawyers. He said he was hoping to hear more from both parties involved.

“There seems to be a lot of finger pointing at the moment with regards to who is supposed to supply animal control and who is supposed to supply a shelter,” he said. “The finger pointing is beyond belief. You guys have a classic failure of communication and I think, as somebody else previously said, do some due diligence.”

On Wednesday, Fitzgerald said county employees have stepped up to provide animal control services, but they have other responsibilities they need to handle. He said the county is working to create a separate position for animal control and hope to get that advertised as soon as possible.


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