In September, euthanasia rates spiked in dogs while Community Services Director, Tobey Phillips, was temporarily in charge of euthanasia decision-making. Under her watch, one dog that was put down was wanted by the person who had found it, as indicated on the animal’s kennel card after-the-fact. Another dog was put down even though a Rescue Group had significant interest in the animal. In fact, a former Pet of the Week was also euthanized; and, normally Pets of the Week find a new home.
The carelessness exhibited during the Animal Services Director vacancy period brought a fresh round of protests by animal rights advocates, in the form of public demonstrations in downtown Inverness and at the Board of County Commission (BOCC) meetings. Most protests were genteel. But other orchestrated attacks on social media towards Community Services Director, Tobey Phillips, became personal. Director
Phillips claimed that social media attacks were becoming increasingly threatening, to the point that she was forced to discontinue the use of her personal Facebook account. She even asked for extra security during a recent BOCC meeting.
Some, like Bob Schweikert, Jr. of Groundhog News, claimed that her request for extra security was an attempt at distracting the public away from her poor job performance at the shelter because she walked across the parking lot near the courthouse, unattended, and without police escort on the meeting day when she asked for the extra security. Others like Chris Lloyd, a well-known community watchdog who attends almost every BOCC meeting, was incensed that Director Phillips would make such an unfounded accusation of violence against the animal rights advocacy community.
Commissioner Scott Carnahan and County Administrator Oliver both demanded a temporary ban on euthanizing dogs at the shelter, but even with such calls for a temporary ban, even more dogs were euthanized by Director Phillips, begging the question why was Director Phillips killing more dogs in defiant opposition to Commissioner and Administrator directives?
At this point, County officials finally prioritized filling the Animal Services Director position. Director Phillips and Administrator Oliver quickly interviewed only 10 of 25 applicants for the position before choosing an applicant who possessed experience as a previous county-based Animal Services Director.
After a tumultuous two-month period, enter Morgan Woodward, our new Animal Services Director. The Suncoast Standard had the opportunity to meet with the new Animal Services Director during his first week on the job.
In the animal services field for about a decade, Mr. Woodward saw his longest stint, for six years, in Seminole County, in an identical role as the one he now serves.
When I first met him, he was greatly concerned with getting the lay of the land. We agreed that the Citrus County Animal Shelter is a unique facility. And, as such, Director Woodward shared that he was actively seeking “to make the most of the space that [he] has, including the Uppers.” In terms of volunteers, he made it a priority to meet every one of them, and to ask them for suggestions, to find processes that made the most sense. “I want them to work smarter, not harder. We all need a seat at the table. We need volunteers and staff to almost be indistinguishable to visitors.”
When I asked him if he wanted a new facility, he quickly shared “every director wants a new facility,” but he also realized that right now the County will not pay for one and it will depend on Shelter Me Citrus and/or other community non-profits to collectively raise private capital to build a new shelter.
On November 3rd, Community Services Director Phillips conducted a phone interview with Sara Girard, a WUFT-TV reporter, concerning the higher than normal dog euthanasia rates in September, when she was in temporarily in charge of animal services. Director Phillips claimed that aggression was the sole cause for a spike in euthanasia rates, while volunteers like Joan Miller, provided another possibility, that Director Phillips simply lacked the experience to make such life and death decisions, especially in the absence of a certified animal behaviorist on staff.
The latest policy approach, it appears, is that Director Phillips and Director Woodward have decided to take “aggressive” dogs for the time being and focus on using rescue groups to minimize the most “at-risk” group. Citrus County Animal Services still lacks a certified animal behaviorist and still has an outdated set of “defined” animals who are not eligible to be adopted.
At first glance, Director Woodward has a calm personality, seeks compromise between staff and volunteers and recognizes both groups must be properly managed and served. It will be interesting to see how much autonomy the new director will have from Director Phillips – in essence, how long of a leash she will keep him on.
When asked why there was no press conference to announce his arrival to local media sources, volunteers, staff members, rescue groups, and the public, like may have been offered in larger counties where department heads may have more managerial or public relations experience, he flatly said, “I don’t know.”
Editor’s Note: The Suncoast Standard offered free newsprint space to help place shelter animals into adoptive homes months ago. We are still patiently waiting for such weekly content to assist in lowering our animal shelter’s animal population.