Audit: Poor staffing at Broward animal shelter created unsafe conditions for dogs, cats and general public

Dog cages at Broward’s Animal Care and Adoption Center. Photo: NBC6 South Florida

By Francisco Alvarado,

Working conditions at Broward’s $16.5-million animal shelter are so severe, County Auditor Bob Melton is recommending immediate reforms in the midst of auditing the embattled Animal Care and Adoption Center.

Melton sent a 16-page memo to County Administrator Bertha Henry on April 23 outlining numerous problems that threaten the behavioral and mental health of the caged animals, as well as the safety of employees, volunteers and people looking to adopt dogs and cats.

“We have noted areas where significant improvements are needed that require immediate corrective action by management,” Melton wrote. “Because of this immediate need, we are issuing this advisory without waiting for the completion of the audit.”

Two days earlier, during a virtual meeting, Henry told county commissioners that the shelter had dramatically reduced animal overcrowding and improved the living environment for the remaining felines and canines. “Three hundred fifty four cats and dogs have found a home,” Henry said. “The remaining animals are getting a lot of TLC.”

Animal Care deficiencies

The county administrator referred questions from Florida Bulldog to Henry Sniezek, director of Broward’s environmental protection and growth management department, which oversees the animal division. Sniezek did not comment on what he and his executive animal staff are doing to fix the deficiencies identified by Melton. Among the findings:

  • Animals are left unattended for 16 to 18 hours without any interaction with humans, which may impact their medical and behavioral health.
  • The shelter does not have a certified animal behaviorist on staff to rehabilitate animals with behavioral issues and to assist in making animals more adoptable to reduce the risk of euthanasia.
  • Employees and volunteers are not adequately trained on animal handling procedures, which resulted in nearly $50,000 worth of liability claims for animal bites.

“County management is preparing a full response to the auditor’s memo,” Sniezek wrote in a May 5 email to Florida Bulldog. “It will be available soon.”

Broward Auditor Bob Melton

For Broward’s animal advocacy community, Melton’s findings are the latest inquiry confirming the shelter at 2400 SW 42nd St. in Fort Lauderdale is woefully understaffed, leading to filthy living conditions and poor healthcare for the facility’s stray, abused and abandoned animals. Most of the criticisms occurred under the tumultuous tenure of Lauralei Combs, the animal division’s director for two years until her resignation in March.

Among the fiercest critics was Broward Commissioner Mark Bogen, who sent independent inspectors to evaluate the shelter’s conditions last October. “I believe the auditor’s interim report demonstrates what I have been saying is true,” Bogen said. “We have a lot of problems at the animal shelter that need immediate correction.”

New shelter plagued with problems

Melton is auditing the animal division for the second time in three years. In 2018, Melton released his findings into the shelter’s euthanasia records that determined Combs’ predecessor, Thomas Adair, had altered the number of animals being put down to make it appear animal services was achieving its goal of being a no-kill shelter. Adair resigned before the audit was completed.

Combs, who earned $121,540 annually, then commissioned an independent assessment by animal welfare organization Best Friends Animal Society that found the shelter was housing 624 animals when it only had capacity for 375 to 450 dogs and cats. The animals were housed in tight living conditions, elevating their stress and arousal levels, suppressing their immune systems and increasing the likelihood of disease and cross-contamination, Best Friends noted in its report.

Over the past year, Broward animal rescuers and shelter volunteers accused Combs of mismanagement and creating a hostile environment at the shelter. Combs, who touted a 90 percent no-kill rate since she was hired, banned some volunteers from the shelter for allegedly violating a workplace culture agreement. But they told the Florida Bulldog they were kicked out of the volunteer program for sharing photos and videos of animals in distress.

Broward Commissioner Mark Bogen

Last October, Bogen sent in his team of independent investigators who confirmed the shelter was over-capacity and animals were still living in squalid conditions. In January, Melton began his audit into the shelter’s operations, according to his memo. During one of the early visits, Melton’s auditors observed a dog freeing himself from a kennel cage and being retrieved by a volunteer without incident.

“Upon further inquiry, both volunteers and employees have acknowledged that dogs are able to get loose from time to time,” Melton wrote. “Kennel areas are not adequately monitored by employees during hours the shelter is open to the public to ensure the safety of members of the public, volunteers, and animals, and reduce legal liability.”

Not equipped for no-kill policy

Perhaps the most damning discovery by Melton’s auditors is that the shelter is not designed to adequately address the county’s objective of having a 100 percent no-kill shelter. For instance, the shelter doesn’t provide animals housed for long-term stays with spaces with enough room for hiding, playing, resting and feeding, according to the memo.

Last August and November, two engineering firms made recommendations to fix deficiencies with the shelter’s air-conditioning system, the memo states. Yet, as of March 17, those fixes had not been made, the auditors found.

Furthermore, the animal division’s standard operating procedures do not align with national guidelines for no-kill shelters. Melton’s team found that shelter staff is not providing ongoing assessments of each animal’s behavior throughout their stay and that employees and volunteers are not trained in identifying, recording and reporting an animal’s behavior.

On March 24, the Animal Care and Adoption Center temporarily stopped intake of new animals and began placing dogs and cats into foster homes as part of the division’s new restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus. In addition, the volunteer program was suspended to adhere to social distancing guidelines and protect the shelter’s 82 full-time and part-time employees from infection.

As of May 6, 37 dogs and 224 cats have been placed in foster homes, Sniezek told Florida Bulldog. “As of May 4, there were 62 cats and 70 dogs at the shelter,” he said. “This represents approximately 40 percent of shelter capacity.” 

Roz Harris, founder of Friends of Broward County Animal Care & Adoptions, said while the animal population has been lowered, once the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, the shelter will revert to its old problems unless Sniezek heeds the auditor’s recommendations. “My point is that the neglect was ongoing for a very long time,” Harris said. “At this moment they are low – but once they reopen the neglect will begin as the inventory rises again.”

Commissioner Bogen said he doesn’t trust Broward’s animal division will get its act together soon. “It’s hard to have confidence when you see all these problems,” he said. “We don’t have the protocols, we don’t have the standards of operations and we don’t have the right people to execute them.”

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Latest comments

  • Why not go to MDAS which probably needs it more in terms of all areas and how they kill people dogs there either young after being there a few days don’t bother to check chips or notify owners and putting dogs out it sight for adoptees’ I have had good experience at Broward Animal Care and Adoption p

  • Excellent reporting. God Bless Melton and Bogen for standing up.

  • Thank you for your reporting. As an advocate who has been telling the county administration this same information for 1.5 years, I feel vindicated at the same time I feel great sadness for all the animals that have suffered under county leadership. Henry Sniezek said we were lying. How did he not know the truth? He is either part of the cover up or that incompetent. Our tax dollars wasted again on unqualified bodies. It’s time we ousted all these lazy county employees and brought in real dedicated animal lovers.

  • It would be a very bad idea for Henry and Bertha to try and SPIN the findings in this audit. They should own their failures, Henry especially. He should have told Bertha he was not capable of overseeing the shelter. His blind loyalty to the disgraced and incompetent director will now come back to haunt him. Not only did he deny our claims, he was rude and obstinate.
    “County management is preparing a full response to the auditor’s memo,” Sniezek wrote in a May 5 email to Florida Bulldog. “It will be available soon.”

    There is NO response other than: “We let the animals suffer and we will do whatever needs to happen to try and make it right.”

  • Thank you so much for your interest in the animals , this shelter has had so many advocates, advocating to help improve the conditions inside the shelter & these articles are very important & helpful !
    Thank you
    Michelle benoit

  • We have been saying this for months. Henry Sniezek ignored our concerns for you months. Mr. Melton mentioned the same concerns and more in his audit. What possible response could Henry have to this audit? Henry cannot deny the inadequacies of the shelter mentioned in the audit, otherwise he is calling Mr. Melton, Commissioner Bogen and the the many animal advocates and volunteers liars. If Henry acknowledges the findings, then he is admitting that he was responsible for many animals who suffered and were killed on his watch.

  • Bertha Henry and Henry Sniezek have been complicit about these ongoing horrific issues at the shelter for the past 18 months. For months animal advocates and volunteers have been ignored and dismissed when the issues accompanied with supporting evidence had been brought to the attention of Ms. Henry and Mr. Sniezek. Finally, this audit confirmed the neglect and abuse that these poor animals have been enduring for months. It is time for a change. Incompetent and uncompassionate management and staff must be replaced with true animal lovers. The change must start by ousting the people at the top who hire and oversee the shelter management and staff. This county audit and this article has given our homeless shelter pets a voice that was not being heard loud enough by our County Administrator or the Director of Environmental Protection and Growth.

  • First, thank you to Mark Bogen, for going the distance with all our concerns and not lettering up. Secondly, a great thanks to Bob Melton for stating the truth and following through. Lastly, thank you to all the animal advocates, like myself, who were relentless in our fight for justice for the animals. Shame on Bertha Henry, Henry Sniezek, and all those guilty of fostering the neglect and horrid conditions that abounded this facility, and took advantage of our County’s taxpayers.

  • I amonfis e davilien i come to us at young age i had no family no parent i spook no english. I puch miself in school. I accomplish my goals i graduated in bs criminal justice & master business administration i had my ex girlfriend she jalous for what i am to day she only do fraud then she tried to muder me or lock me in prison for her secret i discovered but state never discover her. i keep prayer if state release cheriff tony secret i know one day state will be able to see ms marie nicole marseille marie nicole dor secrets too ms marie took money from irs for child not exit. Ms marie took my daughter state of florida remove my two sons from me and give ms nicole leaving with her fraud then bad guy kill ednickson i still dont know for why my son’s murder a

  • Historically EVERY director at Broward has been a failure (for over 20 years!) And community has exposed issues at the shelter – yet every time the administration minimizes or disregards our cries until we push for an Audit or Inspector General report. Over 18 months of actual proof provided yet failing shelter staff were believed. Just who is policing these ‘police’? Constant cronyism even in the face of neglect or abuse. The entire management team and beyond needs to be replaced. they are all guilty.

    And now there is a rumor that the COMPLICIT crony Asst. Director Alessandra Medri may apply for the job of Director. Yes, that’s the assistant who helped the last failed director who just resigned to continue the neglect and abuse of the animals has the gall to apply for the job. She should be criminally charged along with the director and other management who orchestrated this abuse and neglect!

  • Hello,

    We have a Cage / Kennel Management System that will solve several of their operational issues and provide accountability of who/when did something on each cage. We did contact them but no response.

  • Cage / Kennel Management System .

    Sync Pet.

  • I left my 2 small dogs in the care of Pet Paradise in Coconut Creek, Broward county and I monitor them through a 24 hour camera that have. My dogs were kept in a cage 24 hours locked in a cage, only left out log enough to clean out the fecus and urine in the cage. One morning, the worker put their food with the fecus and urine still in the cage. Their advertisement stated the dogs will have 2 hours a date play time, outside the cage, that did not happen. My 7 month puppy, ate her poop since she was locked in her cage so long. I was not even charged, because the manager was not able to proof to us that the dogs were taken out of their cages. My puppy just kept throwing up when I took her home, she had fecus stock in her behind. They did not look good. Please someone go investigate, look at the cameras, they do not lye.

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