Complaint against Tri-Cities Animal Shelter alleges fraud

By Geoff Folsom, Tri-City HeraldMarch 31, 2014 

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Kennewick attorney Mary Mahoney has filed a complaint against Tri-Cities Animal Shelter & Control Services with the state auditorÕs office, alleging fraud, misappropriation and theft of public resources.

TRI-CITY HERALD FILE

Kennewick attorney Mary Mahoney has filed a complaint against Tri-Cities Animal Shelter & Control Services with the state auditor's office, alleging fraud, misappropriation and theft of public resources.

The complaint also names the cities of Pasco, Richland and Kennewick, as well as A2Z Animal Sheltering Services -- which contracts with the cities to operate the shelter -- and Washington State University's veterinary school.

Animal control and other agencies failed to provide Mahoney with tax returns and other documents she requested, she said.

Animal control director Angela Zilar told the Herald that she has met every one of Mahoney's requests for which she has documents available, including tax returns.

Mahoney's requests have included asking for the shelter's 2013 tax returns in December 2013, before they were even filed, Zilar said.

"We have asked for her to sit down with us to see what it is she is looking for, and have had no response to do so," Zilar said.

Many of the documents Mahoney seeks relate to the city of Kennewick's case against her client, Rigoberto Hernandez.

Hernandez was cited by an animal control officer for having a dangerous or potentially dangerous animal in June 2012, after his shih tzu, Soldar, allegedly bit a skateboarder. Mahoney argued that evidence did not support Soldar being the dog who bit the skateboarder. He lost the case and was required to get renter's insurance for liability and pay a permit fee so he could keep Soldar.

But Mahoney wants to continue fighting to try to change what she describes as dangerous and potentially dangerous animal laws in the Tri-Cities, she said.

She calls the laws invalid because they allow animal control to seize property and expose pet owners to criminal violations while making it difficult to appeal.

"A lot of people see their dogs and cats as family members," she told the Herald. "It boils down to enforcement versus service. With animal control we pay our taxes for government services, not for invalid enforcement. It creates much heartbreak."

-- Taking aim at WSU

Some of the requested records relate to animal control's relationship with WSU, where Mahoney said the shelter sent animals for research.

WSU and the animal shelter have canceled their agreement, Zilar said. The agreement was for a free spay and neuter program, but it allowed for animals sent there to be used in euthanasia labs, while already dead dogs were also provided.

The dogs euthanized at WSU were ones the shelter would have had to kill anyhow, Zilar said.

"Healthy, adoptable animals are typically not euthanized at our shelter," she said.

Mahoney wants to know what it cost for Zilar to attend a three-day seminar in 2008 in Las Vegas, where no-kill sheltering procedures were taught, she said. She also asked for information showing if tax dollars will be used for no-kill programs to save animal lives and save money.

"These animals are not killed, but adopted out in an aggressive program," Mahoney said of no-kill practices. "As far as we know, these no-kill programs have not been implemented."

Some of the practices from the seminar have been implemented, Zilar said, including allowing no-kill shelters to pick up animals for adoption from the Tri-Cities shelter and offering a more detailed adoption program.

That has helped the Tri-Cities shelter go from an animal kill rate of more than 60 percent when Zilar took over in 2007 to around 6 percent now, she said.

-- Prolific requester

A recent public records request from the Herald showed Mahoney has requested more public records from Pasco than anyone in recent years, including Roger Lenk.

The city has estimated spending 900 hours of staff time and more than $46,000 on Lenk's requests, not including legal fees.

Mahoney's public records requests aren't as time-consuming as Lenk's, according to Deputy City Manager Stan Strebel. But she often asks for documents the city doesn't have.

"Many of her requests are not requests for records, they are requests for information," Strebel said. "She wants us to prepare a report, compile information for her or to comment on something we're not prepared or able to comment on."

Leland Kerr, Pasco's attorney, sent a letter to Mahoney this week. The city isn't the custodian of records for WSU or A2Z, he wrote.

She also made requests that don't involve specific documents, such as asking for the number of dangerous or potentially dangerous animal citations issued in the city or whether tax dollars will be used to implement no-kill sheltering, Kerr wrote.

"If you have a genuine request for a document held by the City of Pasco, please identify it, and we will do our best to locate it and provide a copy for your inspection and copying," Kerr wrote.

-- Geoff Folsom: 509-582-1543; gfolsom@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @GeoffFolsom

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