Fate of Pueblo animal shelter uncertain following state investigation

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Despite previously approving the staff of the Paws for Life animal shelter to operate the city and county’s joint animal shelter, elected representatives for both the city and county of Pueblo had harsh words for the operators Tuesday. 

“We’re in the big leagues now and you need to do better, said Dan Kogovsek, the Pueblo city attorney.

Lawmakers from both of the local governments held a public hearing with the operators of Community Animal Shelter of Pueblo after an investigation by the Colorado Department of Agriculture found a myriad of violations.

“You’re doing the very best that you can, but I don’t think you have the capacity to run that shelter, said Larry Antencio, a city councilor.

The state’s investigation has yet to be made public, but Pueblo County Commission Chairman Garrison Ortiz shared some findings during the meeting. They include improper cleaning, maintenance, and quarantines, a lack of timely veterinary care, and overcrowding of cats including males and females that were kept together despite some not being spayed or neutered.

“This sounds like a syllabus for someone who is learning these things, not someone who can do them, said city councilor Dennis Flores. 

In the instance of untimely care, the state claimed an animal that was suspected to have been hit by a car died after five days of not receiving care.

“These animals are suffering as a result of this on-the-job training, Ortiz said.

Ortiz said the report also found 14 animals died in the shelter’s care in two months’ time. 

We are appalled by the findings during the inspections. Appalled, said board president Ruth McDonald, While the board was blindsided, it was also a wake-up call for having the right people in the right positions.

Board member Kim Alfonso said veterinarian Joel Brubaker was fired last week, and the shelter’s manager, Linda Mitchell, was suspended pending further investigation. She also announced an interim director, Lisa Buccambuso, was named Monday.

[There are] some additional long-term correctional actions that we are working on,” Alfonso said. “We have additional employees that will be hired as needed to ensure we are following the requirements of PACFA. All employees will receive additional training as needed. The board will prepare a detailed action plan for correcting the violations permanently.

PAFCA is the Pet Animal Care Facilities Act that governs inspections and licensing in Colorado. McDonald said the state told them they have 20 days to correct violations, and sounded willing to give the shelter longer.

Local elected representatives were less flexible with the timeline.

“You don’t take over a business and then come back and say ‘I didn’t expect this or that,’ said city councilor Bob Schilling. “You’re so far in over your head. So, the question to you directly is: will you guys step away, let the process take the 90 days or whatever it is, and then walk away. You ran such a great organization at PAWS. Go back to what you are really good at.

After problems with the previous animal-care provider Pueblo Animal Services, which was run by the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, the city and county of Pueblo were looking for a new provider.

PAWS for Life threw their name in the hat, promising a no-kill shelter that would provide animal law enforcement and shelter services at a lower cost.

“My greatest concern actually was about animal control issues, emergency management, and public health. Pueblo County commissioner Chris Wiseman said, “A lot of that got lost in this ‘no-kill’ cry. That is the statutory requirement of an animal shelter.

McDonald told the elected officials the board is prepared to take full responsibility and expects to be held accountable for their actions. Many of the lawmakers from both governments said the consequences would be dire.

“You have a real passion for what you are doing,” Wiseman said. “I had a passion to play basketball at Notre Dame and it just wasn’t going to happen. I just would like to know at what point are you going to tell us it’s time to move in a new direction.”

Alfonso listed each violation one by one, along with how they plan to fix the issue. She said they were in the works of creating a comprehensive corrective plan to the representatives.

“We need help,” Alfonso said. “Every person in this community should be out there reaching out if they have contacts with vets. We are open to help. We believe Pueblo is a great community. It’s not only the home of heroes, it is the home of helpers.”

There will be a subsequent meeting between the City Council and County Commission to determine the future of the animal shelter. That date has yet to be set.

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