Animal Shelter Reform: Open Records

Animal Shelter Reform & Transformation:

When a local, taxpayer-funded animal shelter wrongly killed Kenzie, a beloved family Golden Retriever, a rural schoolteacher, with the support of her husband, reformed their city’s high-kill animal shelter. From pet owner to animal advocate, discover how she used The Public Information Act, formerly known as the Open Records Act, to uncover inhumane problems in the shelter that was violating state laws in this 39 min video presentation. Through the power of education, consistency, and open records, one person led the shelter transformation from high kill to no kill.  Her story is an invaluable resource for animal lovers, pet owners, and advocates who wish to transform their local animal shelter to no kill – when the leadership fails to take action to save the pets. It also illustrates how failure to implement and follow state mandates for animal sheltering and humane care for the pets entrusted to their care, can result not only in shelter fines, but also media coverage and bad publicity for both the shelter and City/Town/County leadership.  

Relentless Pursuit of Animal Shelter Reform

In this 12 minute video, meet Kellie (filmed on location in her community) and discover how she became an advocate for homeless pets. Then, scroll down on this page to watch the full 39-minute How to Reform Animal Shelters and read the Guide to Requesting Open Records. 

One person can truly make a difference! Meet Kelli Alexander.

How to Reform Animal Shelters with the Aid of the Open Records Act

Kelli’s sample open record requests’ guide immediately follows this video below.

Sample Animal Shelter Open Record Requests

By: Kelli Alexander, Pet Owner Turned Advocate

Kelli provided the following as a handout for her presentation.

Animal Shelter Transformation & Reform

  • “On the ground” assistance
  • Working within shelters
  • Socializing and exercising animals, photography, adoption and other events, fostering, cleaning, feeding, paperwork, forming 501c3 organization, social media, fundraising, etc.

Working from the Outside of Animal Shelters

Advocacy

  • Working with local shelters on reform by way of voice.
  • Open records: Shelter stats, posted animal photos, individual animal intakes,
    emails, salaries, personnel reviews, training/certifications, receipts/tax money expenditures for shelter, utilities, vet services (and to whom), fines, money col- lected for adoptions, budgets, animal control daily logs, applications for animal control, city boards (animal Advisory Board), etc.
  • Meet with and/or contact, educate employees: shelter staff and director, supervisors (police chief, code enforcement director, public health director, etc.), city manager. Chain of command.
  • Meet with and/or contact, educate “officials”: City Council members, Mayor, Animal Advisory Board members. Speak at meetings.
  • Run for office or apply for Animal Advisory Board.
  • Involve the community – invite to join in council meetings, petitions, email blasts, phone calls, media alerts, letters to the editor, pass out information, share on Facebook, etc.
  • Involve the media: TV, newspapers, social media/internet/blog, etc.
  • Working with others on reform by changing city ordinances and/or state and/or federal laws.

Open Records – In A Nutshell

WHAT are “Open Records”?

  • Also known as FOIA (Freedom of Information Acts) or PIR (Public Information Request), PIA (Public Information Act)
  • Access to government records and records from private agencies that take government (YOUR) money (TAX DOLLARS); “entities that are supported in whole or in part by public funds.”
  • Records include any medium: print, microfiche, voice data, electronic documents, photographs, videos, drawings, charts, etc.

WHO can request “Open Records”?

  • Anyone! Except those in correctional facilities.
  • WHO fulfills the request for “Open Records”?
  • Generally the governmental website will list who performs this function (Public Information officer, City Secretary, etc.).
  • Sometimes there is a page on the website to fil out for PIR.

WHEN should you get your “Open records”?

  • Records are to be available to you “promptly”, not to exceed 10 business days.
    Exceptions are copious amounts of record requested.

WHERE do you file and/or get your “Open Records”?

  • MOST cities/entities will take requests via email. Requests MUST BE in writing (no phone requests).
  • 552.301 states records requested by electronic mail is acceptable.
  • MOST cities/entities will then email requested records; outdated cities (Sanger) will require you to pick up records or have them mailed or faxed to you.

WHY request “Open Records”?

  • When advocating for reform, present factual information. Facts are key. Always get information in writing; verbal information is not reliable, or even necessarily truthful. Let agencies using your money know you are holding them accountable.

HOW do you request “Open Records”?

  • Email your specific request to the Public Information Officer; include your name, address, phone number, (and email if desiring electronic response). If the Public Information Officer needs clarification, they will contact you. You can also re- quest estimated costs of records. COST for “Open Records” (as of March 2013)
  • Electronic records are generally free if stored electronically or easily scanned and sent.
  • Paper copies are .10 each up to 50 copies; at that point a $15 per hour “labor” charge + “overhead” charge may be enacted. To AVOID those extra charges, ask to “View only.” This requires an appointment and a trip to the agency. For example, I request ALL emails concerning animal control for June 1, 2012 – December 31, 2012, view only. The city contacts me when the records are ready to view (initially they set up appointments but the city secretary would break the appointment and I got the Attorney General involved; now I just drop in). I am given my packet of numbered emails to view. I write down the numbered pages I want, making sure to stay under 50 copies.
  • Some paperwork is “redacted,” meaning information is blacked out. There can be a charge for this as well.
  • Records that are archived or in storage, or located in other buildings not con- nected to the public officer’s building (not electronically accessible) can also incur costs.

MISCELLANEOUS

  • Typically, entities are to produce documents they already have. They do not have to produce a document that does not exist. For example, when I request separate statistics for dogs and cats and the city does not differentiate on their summary form, they will send me what they have. (They DO differentiate on individual intakes but I am requesting a summary form).
  • There are some exceptions to certain documents being made available to the public; i.e. land that is being considered for purchase, evaluations of public school teachers, etc.
  • IF an entity feels your request may fall under one of these exceptions, they can petition the Attorney General for a ruling.
  • IF you feel the entity is withholding public documentation or they are refusing to promptly comply with you request, you can petition the Attorney General. Their response can take up to 45 business days.
  • There are penalties that can be assessed against the public information officer for destroying records or not providing requested records.
  • https://www.oag.state.tx.us/ag_publications/pdfs/publicinfo_hb.pdf is the Public Information Handbook that explains Texas law; every state has their own laws and they are NOT identical. In this handbook are court rulings which have established precedence; very helpful. (877) OPEN TEX for violation questions and 888-OR COSTS for costs questions. Hadassah Schloss helped write Texas law and she has helped explain things to me.

EXAMPLES of Open Records

Records differ from city to city, and even from year to year in the same city. Here is what I send:
Hello, I am writing to request statistics for animal control for the 2012 year.
Jan. 1 2012 – Dec 31, 2012

  • number of dogs impounded
  • number of dogs adopted
  • number of dogs returned to owner
  • number of dogs rescued or in foster
  • number of dogs died in custody
  • number of dogs killed purposefully (“euthanasia”)
  • reason for being killed

Jan. 1 2012 – Dec 31, 2012

  • number of cats impounded
  • number of cats adopted
  • number of cats returned to owner
  • number of cats rescued or in foster
  • number of cats died in custody
  • number of cats killed purposefully (“euthanasia”)
  • reason for being killed

Also,

  • the 2012 operating budget for Animal Control Services for your city.
  • Does your city have an ordinance protecting feral cats?
  • Please send me the names and contact information of your mayor, council members, city manager(s), and Animal Advisory Board members.

I would prefer to receive the records via email. If you have need for clarification, do not hesitate to contact me. Thank you! Kelli Alexander
(address, phone number, email)
The following  is what I received from Little Elm (as an example). By looking at the records at a glance, we can where the gaps in the no kill equation exist. By having the contact information, we can contact necessary officials to share the information and show how they can increase their save rate.
Little Elm Example of Reply Received:

  • Budget: $120,389 359
  • Dogs impounded 204
  • Redeemed 22
  • Rescued 30
  • Euthanized (18 owner request) (7 sick or injured) (5 aggressive)
  • 103 Adopted
  • 139 Cats impounded
  • 11 redeemed
  • 4 rescued
  • 30 euthanized (2 owner request) (8 sick or injured) (20 Feral)
  • 94 adopted
  • No animal placed in foster care.
  • No animal died in the shelter.
  • We do not have an ordinance protecting feral cats.

Requested Contact Information:

  • David Hillock Mayor dhillock@littleelm.org 100 West Eldorado Parkway Little Elm, Texas 75068
  • Stephanie Shoemaker Mayor Pro-tem sshoemaker@littleelm.org 100 West Eldorado Parkway Little Elm, Texas 75068Richard Stevens Council member rstevens@littleelm.org 100 West Eldorado Parkway Little Elm, Texas 75068
  • Curtis Cornelious Council member ccornelious@littleelm.org 100 West Eldorado Parkway Little Elm, Texas 75068
  • Chip Norman Council member cnorman@littleelm.org 100 West Eldorado Parkway Little Elm, Texas 75068
  • Katie Gipson Council member kgipson@littleelm.org 100 West Eldorado Parkway Little Elm, Texas 75068
  • Bill Roebken Council member broebken@littleelm.org 100 West Eldorado Parkway Little Elm, Texas 75068
  • Matt Mueller Town Manager mmueller@littleelm.org 100 West Eldorado Parkway Little Elm, Texas 75068
  • Roni Seely Animal Advisory Committee segnroni800@sbcglobal.net
  • Donald Johnson Animal Advisory Committee wadejohnson@dvm@hotmail.com
  • Kathy Phillips Animal Advisory Committee kphillips@littleelm.org
  • Chris Hanks Animal Advisory Committee chanks@littleelm.org
  • Brad Wilcox Animal Advisory Committee bwilcox@littleelm.org
  • Kaci McMillan Records Division|Little Elm Police Department 88 W Eldorado Pkwy, Little Elm, TX 75068 214-975-0442 phone|972-377-5548 fax kmcmillan@littleelm.org|policerecords@littleelm.org

City Council Information

  • City Councils typically meet at the same time, same place (City Hall), the same days (i.e., 1st & 3rd Mondays) every month. These meetings MUST be posted on a “bulletin board” (city window) 72 hours in advance, though many post their meetings, agendas, and then minutes online.
  • Upon arriving, you will be given the opportunity to sign in and, if you so wish, to sign up to speak. Sometimes a card is used and you turn the card in to the City Secretary sitting there.
  • Meetings open with the pledge(s), invocation, and then citizen input. If you have signed up to speak, this is the time the Mayor will call you up to the podium. Councils establish the amount of time (generally 3-5 minutes). Some will have an electronic- clock running. Typically if you go over the Mayor will ask you to “Wind it down.”
  • YOU can speak at ANY council meeting as many council meetings as you wish on ANY topic. You always state your name and address first. You can give handouts.
  • IF an item is on the agenda, you can petition to speak on that agenda item as well.
  • Public hearings are routinely held; you can sign up to speak at the public hearing.
  • By rule, after your speech, neither the mayor nor council has any obligation to com- ment or answer questions.
  • To present more in-depth, ask to be put on the agenda. Each entity has a method to be listed on the agenda. Contact the Public Information Officer to find out how. Then you can do a full presentation. You may be asked to present in a work session, which is held right before the council meeting.

SAMPLE SPEECH YOU CAN GIVE AT YOUR NEXT COUNCIL MEETING

(Do Open Records first & list your facts. Make it your own!) Hello, my name is ______________ and I live at _____________________. I’m here to speak on behalf of the animals in our city shelter. I just recently attended the Mission Pets Alive conference in Irving. At this conference I learned how we can make our city shelter a NO Kill shelter, which means we can save 90% and more of ALL the dogs and cats that come in. Seagoville has been NO Kill for over 2 years and so has Austin, Rockwall, and Williamson County. And there are more than 90 other open admission public shelters nationwide representing 300 citys, towns, and counties that are committed to transforming their shelters and increasing their save rate. Approximately one new shelter makes this commitment each week. If they can do it, we should, too!

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