Six years later it seems to be happening again
PORT RICHEY, Florida––Pasco County Animal Services and Suncoast Animal League personnel on May 3, 2019 removed thirty-two dogs, four cats and a gerbil from the rented premises of the Humane Society of West Florida, a dilapidated former self-storage building in Port Richey, Florida.
“According to Pasco County Animal Services,” reported Isabel Rosales of ABC Action News WFTS, in nearby Tampa Bay, “the rescue was operating illegally for nine months without an active rescue license. A county spokesperson says the Humane Society of West Florida failed to renew its rescue license in August 2018.”
“Hoarding. Overwhelmed caregiver”
The Pasco County Animal Services seizure report described the case, Rosales said, as “Hoarding. Overwhelmed caregiver.”
The allegedly overwhelmed caregiver was identified as Sharon McReynolds, 66.
Continued Rosales, “McReynolds faces several citations, including failure to vaccinate and failure to obtain animal license tags. While the county cleared out her rescue of any pets,” Rosales said, Suncoast Animal League founder and executive director Rick Chaboudy’s “biggest worry is she’ll be in charge of animals again.”
Inside the Humane Society of West Florida building, Chaboudy told Rosales, “That smell was a knockout punch. How does she go in there and smell that smell and even think that’s okay?”
Alleged perp denies wrongdoing
Asked by Rosales whether he would testify in court against McReynolds, Chaboudy said, “I’d be the first in line.”
McReynolds, in a 402-word statement posted with Rosales’ report on the WFTS web site, essentially denied any wrongdoing, accused Chaboudy of a lack of professionalism, blamed the intense ammonia odor that Chaboudy described on “the failure of one of the four air conditioning units and refusal of the landlord to repair such promptly,” and said that because of this, “for the benefit of the animals’ well being, assistance was sought.”
Rosales, however, reported that she “spoke with the property owner, off camera, who told us he was the one to call in the complaint because of the horrible smell. This owner says he will not renew the rescue’s lease.”
Accuser set positive example
Chaboudy, 65, meanwhile knows quite a bit about running animal shelters, working with all-volunteer rescue organizations, and operating in the climatically challenged, economically depressed Suncoast environment.
For 20 years Chaboudy was executive director of the Humane Society of Pinellas. He was a frontline rescuer in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. He founded the no-kill Suncoast Animal League a year later, in 2006, in a similar building also near U.S. Highway 19, ten miles south.
“When Chaboudy and Annette Dettloff, a former HSP volunteer, set up in their modest Suncoast Animal League digs behind Palm Plaza off U.S. 19, they had $232 in the bank,” reported Belleair Bee editor Chary Southmayd.
The Suncoast Animal League is scarcely rolling in the clover now, but by dint of 13 years of hard work is now a $750,000-a-year organization, according to www.Guidestar.org, though IRS Form 990 filings show annual income as being more like $450,000 per year.
New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit
The Humane Society of West Florida, ten miles north, incorporated in 2015, has yet to file an IRS 990, according to Guidestar.
Within the same time frame that Chaboudy and Dettloff have been building the Suncoast Animal League, McReynolds became well-known within the Florida animal rescue community for entirely different reasons.
On October 1, 2012, the nearby city of New Port Richey transferred the community animal control contract from Pasco County Animal Services to the newly formed New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit, formed under the umbrella of the New Port Richey Police Department, supervised by then-police chief James Steffens.
Promised to take New Port Richey to no-kill
Sharon McReynolds, her husband Jeff McReynolds, and veterinarian Terry Spencer founded the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit and won the endorsement of the project from the New Port Richey city council, Tampa Bay Times correspondent Robert Napper reported, with the promise that they could simultaneously take the city to “no kill” status, with a 90% “live release rate” for impounded animals, and save taxpayers about $26,000 of the $60,000 per year previously pad to Pasco County Animal Services.
Sharon McReynolds became executive director. Longtime local rescuer Tonya Vogt was named shelter director, though the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit had no actual shelter, housing animals in 11 borrowed runs at the nearby SPCA Suncoast instead.
(Founded in 1964 as the SPCA of West Pasco, the SPCA Suncoast is not to be confused with the Suncoast Animal League.)
Spencer dropped out of the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit before actual animal control operations began.
Pit bull shooting
Jeff McReynolds, a former police officer, and New Port Richey police officer Greg Williams were designated the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit animal control officers.
Within days two pit bulls were reported for menacing a pedestrian. One of them charged Jeff McReynolds and was shot dead by Williams. Criticized by Jeff McReynolds, Williams remained a police detective, but resigned as an animal control officer.
That may have sparked the first of many controversies to embroil the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit, at least after it officially existed, as there were already disputes about the mission of the new agency even before it had a name.
Another controversy developed in January 2013, with all of the borrowed kennels full, along with an array of stacked cages, while a plan to build kennels behind the New Port Richey Police Department proved unworkable due to police security concerns.
Having previously been a Miami Beach police officer, a Polk County animal control officer, and a veterinary technician for the Pasco Animal Welfare Society, I volunteered my services as an animal control officer to the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit.
Sharon McReynolds accepted my offer and seemed very happy to have me aboard. Speaking at length by telephone, we agreed that I would come to the shelter to meet the dogs and have a brief volunteer training session with another volunteer, as well as signing a nondisclosure form.
Upon arrival, Vogt showed me around.. I never received the volunteer training session because Vogt determined that it wasn’t necessary because of my background.
I also never received, nor was asked to sign, a nondisclosure form. In the weeks to come, I would realize the significance of that.
“No kill” sounded good…
Instead I was given a tour and met some of the dogs. Soon I was equipped with a uniform and began ride-along training with Jeff McReynolds, by then the only other animal control officer. Jeff McReynolds acknowledged to me that he had failed the Florida Animal Control Association certification test. The purpose of the ride-along training was to help me become familiar with the geography of New Port Richey and with the specific procedures of the New Port Richey Police Department.
The concept of “no kill” sheltering, meaning that animals would not be killed simply for exhausting a set holding time or because a shelter was out of housing space, sounded to me then like a sensible and humane plan for shelter animals.
But as I learned, first through my New Port Richey experience, and since then through extensive research into other attempts to convert animal control agencies to “no kill” by delegating much of their work to volunteers, what I saw first-hand in New Port Richey is occurring all over the country.
“No kill” secrecy mirrors the “high kill” era
Overcrowding, sickness, suffering and secrecy to conceal the realities of “no kill” have become the new norms of animal sheltering, in mirror image of the “high kill” era, when shelters practiced secrecy to keep the public from finding out about that.
I received no paycheck during my short tenure in New Port Richey, though there was talk about the two animal control officer positions becoming salaried. I purchased some incidentals that were needed for the job with my own money.
A month into my time with the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit, I could see that impounded animals were getting sick, had become emaciated, and were receiving at that time little or no veterinary treatment.
Most of the impounded dogs were pit bulls or pit mixes. I had a pit bull of my own then, had been involved in pit bull puppy rescue and transport, and was sympathetic toward their plight. (See Why pit bulls will break your heart.)
No vaccines, few adoptions, little care
No one wanted them and they were the dogs who suffered the most in custody of the New Port Richey Animal Control Unit, languishing in their kennels, habitually spinning in their wire crates. I bought $100 worth of Nylabones for the dogs with my own money, as otherwise they had nothing to do but stare off into space.
Unfortunately, the dogs were also dying of parvovirus and becoming emaciated, without receiving adequate veterinary care. The dogs were not receiving vaccines to prevent disease.
I told Sharon Mcreynolds that we needed vaccine protocols. I also strongly suggested euthanasia for at least one of the dogs, Bones, who had become weak from neglect and lack of veterinary care.
There were no measures set in place to prevent or reduce diseases, such as quarantining newly arrived animals. Because so many of the dogs were pit bulls, and/or had serious behavior issues, very few dogs were adopted out.
The borrowed SPCA Suncoast kennels became a hoarding situation, incubating diseases, including parvovirus, which rapidly spread through the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit facilities, then jumped to the SPCA Suncoast puppies.
By default, because of my experience as a vet tech, I become the dogs’ “veterinarian” in absence of regular veterinary visits. I used my own money to purchase canine distemper vaccines from a local store. The canine distemper vaccine is typically given in the form of the DHPP vaccination, which protects a dog from parainfluenza, parvovirus, hepatitis, and distemper at the same time. Had this been given to each dog impounded, promptly upon admission to the shelter, as is recommended procedure for animal shelters throughout the world, the parvo outbreak we experienced would not have occurred.
I advised both Sharon and Jeff McReynolds that we needed to be honest and forthright about the parvo outbreak.
Sharon McReynolds’ response, however, was to hang a lock on the shelter gate. She did not take my advice until it was too late and she could no longer keep her secret.
Though I was quite articulate about everything I witnessed, even interim New Port Richey city manager Susan Dillinger dismissed my concerns, in effect enabling McReynolds. Perhaps Dillinger was too invested in the transfer of animal control from Pasco County Animal Services to the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit to see the situation clearly.
At that point, six weeks into the job, I realized that I needed to remove myself from what seemed to be Doggy Bedlam, an insane asylum for dogs and volunteers who remained fixated on achieving the no-kill goal at any cost in suffering.
Dillinger and police chief Steffens asked me why I was leaving. I told them the truth.
Police chief Steffens asked me to attend a city council meeting to speak in front of them and describe what I had experienced. I accepted his invitation, and was escorted to the meeting in a police car. A police officer stood by my side as a bodyguard against a packed room full of New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit supporters who wanted my head for speaking out.
Spoke up for Hero, Frankie, Bones, & others
I stepped up and spoke my three minutes about all the suffering I’d seen, especially about the deaths kept secret, while all traces of the dogs were removed from Facebook as though their lives did not matter.
I spoke up for Hero, who died alone in his crate because of his lack of veterinary care. I was called early one morning to help him, but I believe he had died during the night, as he was already in full rigor mortis.
I spoke up for Frankie, a beautiful blue-eyed merle dachshund, who was continuously sick and received no veterinary care until he just vanished as if he never existed.
And there was a pit bull whose name I cannot remember. I was also called in to help him. His kennel was covered in blood and feces and that smell of parvovirus that cannot be mistaken. I insisted that he be taken to a veterinarian, who euthanized him.
And there was Bones. Bones was confiscated in a neglect situation. He was deteriorating, losing weight, listless and weak, with patches of fur missing. Bones was the dog whom I strongly suggested should be euthanized. McReynolds’ answer was to return Bones to the owner who had neglected him in the first place.
Tampa Bay Times editorial
At that point in time, I was the only New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit volunteer who had spoken up for the animals. I was vilified and attacked for months on social by other volunteers and supporters of the unit.
But the Tampa Bay Times editorial board supported me.
“New Port Richey’s animal control experiment is failing,” the Tampa Bay Times editorialized on March 9, 2013, “and the city must repair or replace this amateurish department with a professionally led effort.
The Tampa Bay Times mentioned “volunteers bad-mouthing a trained expert who determined that an aggressive pit bull with a large tumor was not suitable for adoption.” This was the pit bull who was running with the one Williams shot.
“Instead,” the Tampa Bay Times recounted, “untrained volunteers did their own assessment and ran up a $1,400 veterinary bill to treat the animal,” while other dogs in custody went without even basic medications.
“Missing professionalism allowed volunteers to unfairly scapegoat departing police Chief James Steffens,” the Tampa Bay Times continued. “Steffens championed accountability, but that seemed to be of little concern elsewhere,” perhaps persuading Steffens to leave New Port Richey to take a position with the Pasco County Sheriff’s Department.
“Animal control officer Jeff McReynolds backed a city-owned vehicle into a parked motorcycle and failed to document the accident until weeks later,” the Tampa Bay Times recalled. “His wife, Sharon McReynolds, failed to notify City Hall or the neighboring SPCA Suncoast when two dogs died of parvovirus.
“A few weeks later, she told police officer Greg Williams, in an email, ‘We appreciate if this is kept somewhat quiet, as it could become a nightmare in the press.’ The SPCA lost 10 dogs to the virus and refunded adoption fees to the families who unknowingly took home sick animals. As a result, the SPCA wants to evict the city from the kennel property for failing to disclose the virus outbreak.”
Nothing promptly put out of misery
After describing my resignation, the Tampa Bay Times concluded that “It’s time for the city to put this animal control effort out of its misery.”
But nothing about the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit was put out of its misery when it should have been.
Although I was no longer part of the nightmare, I closely followed what came afterward, including the relocation of the impounded animals to a leased facility ten miles away in Land O’ Lakes, and the subsequent resignations of Vogt and others.
Not in a million years did I imagine that months after my own resignation, I would receive a tearful apology from some of those who had treated me so poorly, much less sit in a room with 13 of them, united to expose the suffering they had seen under Sharon McReynolds.
“Sort of like a restroom wall”
New police chief Kim Bogart nonetheless defended Sharon McReynolds, telling WTSP reporter Beau Zimmer that the criticisms of her management were “sort of like a restroom wall.”
New Port Richey mayor Bob Consalvo told media in August 2013 that the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit was “really not working out,” and that he believed the animal control contract should be returned to Pasco County Animal Services.
Even then, though, the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit staggered on through Jeff McReynolds’ resignation in November 2013 and Sharon McReynolds’ resignation at the end of the year.
Retaining Pasco County Animal Services for 2014 and 2015 cost New Port Richey $197,000, half again more than the city had been paying per year before the New Port Richey Animal Protection Unit fiasco. At that, Pasco County Animal Services declined to accept the 35 dogs and 14 cats remaining in New Port Richey custody, who were reportedly left to Sharon McReynolds to house or rehome somehow.
At least one of those dogs, the pit bull Chester, vigorous in 2013, was still in McReynolds’ custody on May 3, 2019, when Chaboudy found him paralyzed at the Humane Society of West Florida.
Chaboudy told ANIMALS 24-7 that Chester was briefly fostered and taken to the beach, “so that he could have some good memories,” before he was euthanized to relieve incurable suffering.