Demand Reform for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control in Phoenix, Arizona
Demand Reform for Maricopa County Animal Care and Control in Phoenix, Arizona
Why this petition matters
Update: After searching for a new director for 6 months, the second interim director, Debbie McKnight, was named the director. Fortunately, she does have experience in animal welfare and behavior. An animal behavior administrator was also hired. We have been informed that operational changes will be announced soon regarding several areas of concern, however we are not privy to this information. In the 4 months since Ms. McKnight came on board, we have stepped back to allow her time to transition into her new role. The job of director is extremely demanding and, although many toxic, incompetent individuals are gone, some still remain. She also has to still work under the unsupportive Maricopa County Board of Supervisors. Our hope is that she does have their support to enact positive changes.
We do know that there is still a fear of speaking up by employees and volunteers, animals still receive substandard care, training is inadequate, and the toxic environment still exists with no significant consequences for those who bully and act unprofessionally.
Our hope is that Debbie McKnight has the support, desire, and management skills to enact positive change.
Update: We are pleased to report that Director, Michael Mendel, has 'exited' and Assistant County Manager, Valerie Beckett has been reassigned. This is merely the starting point. We are hopeful that Maricopa County will truly address our concerns and work hard to hire the best candidates they can find.
We, the concerned animal welfare community of Maricopa County, have no confidence in the ability of the elected Maricopa County Board of Supervisors : Jack Sellers, Thomas Galvin, Bill Gates, Clint Hickman, and Steve Gallardo, appointed Maricopa County Manager, Joy Rich, Maricopa County Assistant Manager, Valerie Beckett, Maricopa County Animal Care and Control (MCACC) Director, Michael Mendel, and MCACC Deputy Director, Crystal Enojos to run MCACC effectively and to provide proper medical and behavioral care for the animals in their charge.
The elected Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (BOS) is mandated by Arizona state law to provide a shelter for Maricopa county and they determine the strategic plan for MCACC. Daily operations are directed by Valerie Beckett, Michael Mendel, and Crystal Enojos under the supervision of Joy Rich. Residents of Maricopa County have tried unsuccessfully - for years - to affect change at MCACC. Our efforts have largely been ignored or met with outright disdain and obfuscation by MCACC leadership and the BOS.
The BOS refuses to communicate with concerned citizens by ignoring telephone calls and emails and by refusing to meet with individuals or a group. The BOS refuses to place MCACC concerns on its formal meeting agenda. Citizen recourse is limited to speaking (2 minute limit) during public comments of board meetings, expressing concerns on social media and going to the media. Even recommendations from a 2015 Task Force the BOS itself commissioned have been largely ignored. Repeated requests to meet with MCACC leadership and pleas for responsible course correction have been met with silence. Task Force Final Report
We will share details below and link to additional specifics of shelter failings. We encourage you to review this information and most importantly, sign this petition to demand change on behalf our shelter animals—past, present, and future—and our communities that depend on and deserve a shelter system and leadership worthy of America’s fourth-largest county.
On June 21, 2022, a veterinarian employed at MCACC for 9 years was mauled by a dog who was exhibiting signs of extreme kennel deterioration. The dog, Kronk, had been taken to an office because he was hyper-salivating, chasing his tail, and self-harming in his kennel. The deputy director, Crystal Enojos, requested a vet check for Kronk while he was in her office. As the veterinarian opened the door to the office, Kronk attacked the vet. Kronk had no collar on and was not leashed so he was unable to be pulled back. The vet could have potentially been killed had the director, Michael Mendel, not been close enough to hear her screams and to pull Kronk off of her. Kronk bit Michael Mendel on the arms and the vet suffered severe wounds to her foot, face, right hand, and head. This was Michael Mendel’s second bite in his short tenure as director from a dog showing serious, documented signs of deterioration. Tow Mater was the first dog to bite him. Both dogs were immediately euthanized.
To many, this would look like an unprovoked attack however there were clear indications that Kronk was mentally struggling and should never have been placed in this situation. Instead of looking at management’s responsibility in this tragedy, they immediately banned any dogs from being in offices and started labeling more dogs as deteriorating and placing them on the euthanization list. As a result of the attack, both the vet who was attacked and another vet resigned immediately. One of the vets had previously emailed HR about her safety concerns following the dissolution of the behavior team. This was the second mauling in less than 3 weeks. Veterinarian Testimony
What they didn’t do is place blame where it belonged and that was on human error and mismanagement. In November of 2021, Valerie Beckett, as interim director, restructured the organization and made the rash, irresponsible, and ill-advised decision to disband the 8 member behavior team. It was decided that all kennel staff would become ‘shelter experts’. In doing so, which was not popular with staff, volunteers, rescues, nor the public, Beckett relegated those who were experts in assessing a dog’s behavior to other tasks and put all involved at a significantly higher risk of serious injury.
Controversy has plagued MCACC for years. Major complaints include the following:
-Basic medical needs of the animals are not met resulting in a year-long distemper outbreak, botched surgeries, and an excessive number of dogs becoming sick in the shelter or actually dying in their kennels.
-Basic behavioral needs of the animals are not met resulting in dogs not being assessed with other dogs, dogs only getting out of their kennels for exercise approximately 20 minutes per week and some dogs not getting out for weeks, staff lacking skills and training to handle fearful dogs or any with behavioral needs. High quality, in-kennel enrichment is sporadic and not funded by MCACC.
-Frequent firing of volunteers and silencing of those who speak up about inhumane conditions.
-Putting up roadblocks for community members, non-profits, and rescues willing to help.
-Toxic work environment that results in a high turnover and hiring practices that indicate nepotism and favoritism.
-Failure to be transparent and excessive efforts to find information leaks, including obstruction and delay of public record requests.
-Inability to identify all stakeholders and refusal to allow stakeholders any voice in decision-making that directly affects them.
Employees, volunteers, and the community have repeatedly observed incompetence and lack of transparency from MCACC. Those who speak up are faced with bullying, discrimination, and retaliation. Those who are incompetent at their jobs remain employed. Those who put ego, power, and control above saving lives are in charge.
Mismanagement, nepotism, and unprofessionalism continues at the highest level. The most qualified are not hired to the top positions. Those who are true animal advocates and move the shelter forward are either forced out or fired. Management monitors communication by both employees and volunteers and threatens them if they speak publicly. Mejorando Report Workplace Assessment
In the past 3 months, under the direction of Michael Mendel, the pattern of poor decision-making continues, bullying and intimidation tactics have increased, employee and volunteer morale has decreased, and effective communication and transparency are at an all time low. Michael Mendel Decisions
We demand the following from MCACC management and the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors:
1. An independent Citizens Advisory Committee created through cooperation with both Maricopa County and the community to work closely with management to ensure transparency, collaboration, and communication with stakeholders.
2. Maricopa County Animal Care and Control and related issues to be included in the County's 2023-25 Strategic Plan as a pillar of focus.
3. Quarterly public forums in which the community is informed about decisions that have been made, allowed to ask questions, and provided answers to their questions and concerns. .
4. MCACC leadership, including the assistant county manager, MCACC director, and the deputy director to be evaluated by their subordinates once a year and this information be used for performance plans. In addition, all senior management are to receive yearly leadership training.
5. An independent firm contracted to hire management positions and the hiring process of senior leadership be transparent to the public.
6. Fully and adequately fund the animal shelters in Maricopa County and respond appropriately to population increases in the county.
7. Provide compassion fatigue education/training and related support to staff on a continual basis.
8. The Six Freedoms shall be the cornerstone of all decisions made at MCACC:
1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
By ready access to fresh water and diet to maintain health and vigor.
2. Freedom from Discomfort
By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease
By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior
By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
5. Freedom from Fear and Distress
By ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.
6. Freedom to Live
By finding adoptive homes for all healthy and treatable shelter dogs and cats.
Under the direction of the Maricopa County BOS and Valerie Beckett, the current path that MCACC has decided to follow is not acceptable and is putting the lives of the community, lives of staff, and lives of the animals at risk. The volunteers, employees, the community, and most importantly, the animals, deserve better. If this governing body and individual administrators are unable or unwilling to humanely manage the people and animals in their charge, then it is time to find an organization and leaders who will.