Hired amid shelter crisis, Broward’s new director of animal care off to a rocky start with activists

animal care
animal care
A backroom at Broward County’s animal shelter

By Francisco Alvarado,

Six months into her tenure as director of Broward County Animal Care and Adoption, Emily Wood is in a vicious dog fight with animal activists and municipal elected officials who accuse her of doing a horrendous job of reforming the embattled agency.

Since taking the helm in January, canine and feline advocates accuse Wood of getting rid of invaluable volunteers whom she disagrees with; artificially reducing the county shelter’s dog and cat population by refusing to accept stray and abandoned animals; and downplaying the need to fix 135 problems identified in a year-long county audit.

“There is a major disconnect between the new director and the community,” Hillsboro Beach Mayor Deb Torrant told Florida Bulldog. “Her Utopian ideal of keeping animals that are not sick or injured out of the shelter is a good sound bite, but it doesn’t change the reality of needing a well-run shelter that accepts all animals and focuses on placing them.”

Torrant, whose town is among several Broward municipalities that have passed resolutions urging the county to fast track solutions to the deficiencies cited in the audit, said Wood told members of the county’s animal advisory board at a recent meeting that the audit’s findings are not as important to her as changing public perceptions and culture in finding homes for unwanted and lost dogs and cats.

The mayor noted that adoptions for cats and dogs were significantly down during Wood’s first four months compared to the same period in 2018, 2019 and 2020. For instance, Broward Animal Care had 318 adoptions in February 2018, 418 adoptions in February 2019 and 354 adoptions in February 2020. This February, the animal division had 151 adoptions.

Wood takes charge of animal care

Wood, who was given a $125,000-a-year salary, told Florida Bulldog that the decrease in adoptions reflects national averages due to more people keeping pets for companionship during COVID-19 lockdowns. The criticisms against her began before she started her new job, she added. 

“It’s disappointing, but it has no bearing on who I am and how well we do,” Wood said. “There is a breakdown in trust no matter what the numbers show. I recognize their frustrations have more to do with systematic problems than with me. I am doing a lot of things that the community asked for.”

animal care
Emily Wood

After accepting the Broward job in December, Wood officially took the reins a month later following the release of County Auditor Bob Melton’s final findings on the $16.5-million No-Kill animal shelter at 2400 SW 24th St. in Fort Lauderdale. The facility has been plagued with overcrowding, minimal staff and volunteers, dog escapes and bites and poor building design since opening four years ago.

Wood previously worked as animal services director for Yolo County in California and is the former placement and customer care director for the Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA. She is also an environmental scientist who worked for more than a decade at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Her Broward predecessor, Lauralei Combs, resigned in March of last year after nearly three years on the job amid complaints from activists, volunteers and county commissioners that she was not improving the deplorable conditions of the shelter and its animals that had been documented by outside non-profit animal advocacy organizations. Combs’s failures prompted the audit investigation by Melton and his team.

Animal care audit findings

Things got so urgent that Melton issued an interim report in April 2020 outlining immediate fixes that animal services needed to implement in order to improve the quality of life of the dogs and cats housed in the shelter.

For instance, animals were left unattended for 16 to 18 hours without any human interaction; employees and volunteers were not adequately trained to handle dogs with behavioral problems, which resulted in nearly $50,000 worth of liability claims for animal bites, and that the shelter’s design did not adequately address the county’s objective of having a shelter that doesn’t kill any of its animals for lack of space.

During a recent tour of the animal shelter, which is still primarily closed to the public except for people dropping off animals or making appointments to see animals for possible adoption, Wood showed Florida Bulldog some of the steps she’s taken to address the audit’s findings. Each canine pen is now only housing one dog as opposed to multiple pooches and employees are working 10-hour shifts on four-day schedules to maximize the time dogs interact with humans.

Wood said she has also been able to reduce overcrowding at the shelter by minimizing the number of animals being surrendered by their owners and restricting the number of stray animals being brought into the shelter. One way to do this is to convince pet owners thinking about abandoning their animals not to go through with it.

“One of the best practices is to not operate at over capacity,” Wood explained. “Our goal is to only house animals that really need it. So if I can provide a person with free dog food because they feel they have to give up their pet because they can’t afford it, we are coming up with a better solution.”

Animal activists alarmed

As part of the strategy, Broward Animal Care posted on its Facebook page on May 19 that the agency would accept only sick and injured dogs and cats while “pet surrenders are suspended.” Police departments were also notified that animal control officers would not be picking up stray dogs. These decisions alarmed animal advocates who accuse Wood of shirking her responsibility to accept all dogs and cats that need new homes.

“I am so disgusted with what’s going on,” Joanne Oyen, an animal activist who recently resigned from the county’s advisory board in protest, told Florida Bulldog. “It is just criminal what is going on over there.”

Oyen said Wood also recently fired Meredith Bruder, director of the nonprofit Pets’ Broward, as a volunteer for the shelter. Bruder, whose organization has pledged $120,000 to fix drainage for the shelter’s canine play area, declined comment.

Wood didn’t like Bruder’s constructive criticisms, Oyen alleged. “They claim Meredith didn’t follow shelter protocols,” Oyen said. “Meredith got tons of dogs adopted through a lunch buddies program and was working on the backyard renovation. Yet, [Emily] cut her off.”

Wood said Broward Animal Care is not turning away dogs and cats. She said the Facebook post was incorrect and that it was quickly edited. Indeed, the post no longer contains the sentence that “pet surrenders” are suspended.

“The phrasing wasn’t perfect,” Wood said. “And it was only that month because we had a fair increase in the number of dogs. We are trying to let our police department partners know that we are not mandated to take [strays], but we have picked them up, historically.”

Reform efforts don’t end problems

Wood declined comment about Bruder, but said animal services can part ways with people who violate terms of the volunteer agreement. “We are very cognizant of the need for volunteers,” she said. “But we don’t have to accept just anybody as a volunteer. We have done a complete overhaul of the volunteer program, emphasizing a culture of solutions and collaboration.”

Although Wood’s relationship with local animal advocates is deteriorating over personality clashes, even regular residents had recent bad experiences with Broward Animal Care. On a Saturday in early April, Pompano Beach resident Mattie Smith and a friend went to the shelter to drop off a dog that had just been abandoned by its owner at a dog park in Hollywood.

When she tried to pull into the shelter’s parking lot, she was stopped by an armed guard at the entrance, Smith said in a phone interview. “He told me I had to park outside on the grass and that someone would come to the car,” Smith recalled. “We waited for like 45 minutes and no one came to get us.”

The guard allowed her to go to the front door and she spoke to an employee who informed her that “they were super-backed up and that I had to be patient,” Smith said. The same employee came out a few minutes later and told her that everyone was going on a lunch break. “I would have to wait until they were done,” Smith said. “We waited another three hours when she came back and told me that they won’t be able to take the dog because they were so busy and for me to come back the following day.”

Smith said she took the dog to the Hollywood Police Department, where officers agreed to keep the dog until Animal Services could pick it up on Sunday. Four days later, Smith said she emailed Broward Animal Care to get an update on the dog. “They told me the dog had been very sick and sent me medical records showing that he had been euthanized,” Smith said. “I had the impression that all shelters want to help animals. But in Broward, it doesn’t seem that they care about the animals.”

Wood admitted that Smith had a terrible experience and that Broward Animal Care provided bad customer service. She noted the armed guard is stationed at the entrance after her predecessor received death threats. “What was so frustrating for her is that she picked up a nice dog and we euthanized him,” Wood said. “It was adding insult to injury.”

But the dog was infested with heartworms and one of his lungs was filled with blood, Wood said. “Euthanization was a tragic choice, but the correct choice for him,” she said.  “But the frustrating, incompetent customer service doesn’t give her a lot of trust that the euthanization was correct.”

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  • I took 18 strays from Ft Lauderdale with me when I moved in November that I took in after people in South Middle River left them to.fend for themselves. LoveforCats probably neutered half of them n had many I cared for adopted as at one point I had nearly 30. I WONT TRUST THE SHELTER WITH ANY PET.

  • What the author failed to note is Emily Wood worked at Yolo County for only 2 MONTHS, November and December, 2020, and took the position while she had already accepted the position at BCAC, and after being “LET GO” by Pasadena Humane Society in May, 2020. Emily Wood has ZERO qualifications as a director of a Shelter especially one of this size. Pasadena had very few animals to mention. Emily is overwhelmed and has no people skills whatsoever. Doesn’t own a dog or a cat, rather she arrived with her bunnies that have poor potty habits of “peeing on her head”; as she stated in her Presentation to the Commissioners. Emily is from a different part of the country and dislikes everyone here, she has a different perception, a warped one! She goes against everything that is productive because she was not the originator, she’s just obstinate. She has no programs to promote animals, no rescue coordinator that has any rescue abilities. She would rather set a lunch date with her staff everyday to gain friendships within, while closing to the public and stunting what little appointments that may come about. She is a complete DISASTER! WORST OF THE WORST!! Something must be done before she kills anymore animals! Emily is a complete abomination. She has cut off all the community and now refuses to answer calls or release public records, along with the lawsuits she has created in her short tenure. The dog that Maddie Smith dropped off should NOT have been killed, Emily’s ideological theory is to “Kill for Suffering”. The dog could very well have been treated, Emily decided it was “suffering” therefore it should die! She has done this on numerous occasions during the last 4 1/2 months, she’s a beast, a killer, a mad scientist! She has no compassion p, no heart, no soul. Also, Meredith did not go against any such “protocols”, Emily made that up because is threatened by anyone that has more knowledge then her, because she has NONE! She needs to pack up her bunnies and head West with the rest of the dysfunctional scientific loons!

  • Great article! Thank you for staying on top of our county because they are quietly killing homeless pets and are alienating the community and rescue groups. County administration and commissioners just don’t really care about meeting the goals of the 2012 no kill resolution.

  • Jeez Broward County how hard can it be to hire a competent, caring, vet licensed professional with a business degree to run the obviously NOT ‘No Kill’ shelter? This woman is a loon! What in God’s name is the shelter’s mandate if NOT to accept strays? What are the poor animals to do? Remain in the streets to starve, get hit by cars, maybe used as bait dogs? And what La La Land does she live in thinking she’s convincing people to retain their pets with a bag of dog food when they’ve already made what’s a heart wrenching and tough decision for many to surrender their pet? Is she extending free food and vet care for life? Because if not those pets often wind up dumped in the street or dog park like the one she MURDERED whose owner did same. Heartworm is 100% treatable as is a fluid filled lung. That dog did NOT need to be murdered. And her background? Only 2 months in one position taken when she’d already accepted BCAC’s why .. to leave those folks high and dry? And fired from her prior position? What kind of background check does Broward County’s H.R. department do? Play tiddlywinks and if enough chips land in the cup an applicant’s hired to hell with his/her background? You’ve outdone yourselves Broward. Miami-Dade’s in the midst of seeking (thankfully FINALLY!) a new public shelter director as well. Its applicants will have thorough background checks and two current applicants I’m aware of are licensed veterinarians with business degrees who want to be hired for the position precisely BECAUSE it’s been f-ed up for so long by Alex Munoz. Ask Daniella Levine-Cava to refer candidates she doesn’t hire she deems qualified to you for consideration. Daniella has a brain and a wonderful heart that beats for animals. She’s also thorough, professional and knows her shit ain’t no one gonna pull anything over on her. Since you’ve screwed up so royally 3x now I’m sure she’d lend her expertise in assisting you to finally find a competent, credentialed, experienced, open minded, supportive of community adoption events and rescue groups/volunteers suggestions who’d NEVER turn an animal away with a bag of food congratulating him or her self that the problem was solved and they’re the hero of the hour like your moronic shelter director does. Living here for decades they’ve seen, know and experienced our overpopulation crisis that’s exacerbated by the area’s high cost of living, low wages, 3rd world beliefs and practices due to the melting pot we are that 3 minutes after driving away that dog or cat has been dumped in the street somewhere alone, confused, frozen with fear and zero chance of being rescued & sheltered because your animal care director says it’s NOT in the shelter’s charter to accept strays. The what is in the shelter’s charter? Tiddlywinks?!!

  • RESET: Yes, that is Emily Wood’s mantra for the shelter. What does that mean? She has reset the relationship with rescue groups by alienating them. She has reset the relationship with the animal advocate community by removing them from receiving rescue lists and having any shelter transparency. She has reset the shelter’s volunteer program by either firing or denying valuable volunteers. She has reset the efforts to implement the valuable audit recommendations by indicating some items have been implemented, when, in fact, they have not. She has reset animals put in isolation by repeatedly claiming they are suffering so they can be killed. She has reset adoptions by closing the shelter and only allowing adoptions by appointment. She has reset the shelter by requiring outrageous credentials to qualify as a behaviorist. There are more resets and how tragic is that for the animals? The community now wants a RESET: A director who embraces the animals and does what is right for them to survive and thrive.

  • Still NO BEHAVIORIST and NO ASST DIRECTOR, because Emily wants to CONTROL what she can’t handle and keep anyone that is a threat to her OUT!! What a SHAM!

  • Emily – you have confirmed that your Customer Service is ” frustrating and incompetent ” so how about using the salary for the Armed Guard to hire qualified and No Kill dedicated staff!! True Rescue, Volunteer, Foster, Adoption Coordinators. AND a Cat Supervisor to stop the continued killing of cats AND kittens without Rescue Bulletins!!
    3 months ago a well-known behaviorist was offered at no cost to the County to come to the shelter part-time to work with the dogs, staff, and volunteers.
    This offer was made by the same amazing volunteer Meredith Bruder who has created the Lunch Buddy Program and is working on redesigning the play yard for the dogs. (see above)
    Emily wants to surround herself with sycophants who either agree with her or fear retribution if they speak out!! So if you disagree with Emily Wood, you do not Respect her.
    My point is that Respect is earned not given and she has done very little to even try to earn respect.
    Ultimately, no part-time trainer has resulted in more dogs becoming anxious and reactive at the shelter which results in ultimately being killed “for suffering” which the shelter has created.
    Regarding Maddie Smith’s dog found in the park, we were able to get an opinion from a private vet after getting the medical records. This dog did have a chance and could have been treated – but no chance was given! Decisions regarding the animals status are made regularly by the clinic without thorough testing, X-Rays, bloodwork!
    Commissioners – PLEASE do not take the easy way out here – show that you care – not when it is politically expedient – but because you have Compassion and care about Doing What is Right!
    Emily – this is far from California – it is time to GET OUTTA Dodge!!

    Thank you to those above who have commented. I could not agree more!!

  • Thank you for writing this article to help give the shelter animals a voice. Sadly, our shelter animals continue to suffer, as our County Officials don’t seem to care. They have allowed horrendous conditions and suffering of the animals under past leaderships. They continue to perpetuate the chronic problems at the shelter through the present deficient leadership, lack of transparency and accountability. How sad for the animals. Our County is way off course from the 2012 No Kill Resolution.

  • Six months into this job, she admits that her customer service staff is frustrating and incompetent. Interesting since the resume she submitted to apply in Broward notes her highest shelter position was previously middle management in customer care/pet placement. After applying in Broward, she occupied a position as director for a small shelter for only a few months and left them to come here. That position wasn’t even listed on her Broward application. She was hired based on her lower level experience. This is especially alarming since the last, failed director similarly had no upper level management experience. Regardless of the scathing audit, Broward hired another inexperienced director.

    Let’s not forget that while the shelter “may” impound strays or owner surrendered pets, the public “must” report found animals within 24 hours and cannot legally rehome or adopt the animal for 30 days! How many good samaritans are willing to keep a stray they find for 30 days and take responsibility for finding them a new home? Animals will end up roaming the streets.

    Now this new director is hold up in the shelter, closed to the public, denying public notices to the community about sick and injured animals. She and the same failed staff who were complicit with the last 3 failed directors continue their self-righteous justification for doing whatever the hell they please – and Broward Commissioners stand behind them. It is absurd.

  • After reading this article and the following comments I’m horrified at the egregious behavior of Emily Wood. Also if the hiring of this person’s questionable experience with animal welfare. Clearly she doesn’t have the welfare of animals as a priority. My heart breaks for the poor stray dog brought to the shelter by Ms Smith. It’s needs meant absolutely nothing to Ms Wood and therefore it’s “rescue” was euthanasian!

  • It is a sad day when the director was hired to protect the animals and build a coalition with staff and the community. The pets deserve better. From the funds the shelter is given and earned from tag licenses has not been used to save pets like the Smith’s dog. This has occurred multiple times since the director started. She is inept to how to manage a shelter. My friend that works there said she is alienating staff and the other director teaching her the ropes is no better. He has not shelter experience.
    There is one incorrect item in the article. Woods makes 150,000.

  • While I was very grateful to Mayor Steve Geller for appointing me to the Broward County Animal Care Advisory Committee, the nearly four years that I was on it have been a stunning series of experiences. What a shock that hundreds, if not thousands, of healthy and adoptable animals that should have been saved and placed in good homes by this County Shelter were instead allowed to deteriorate mentally and physically at the Shelter and were either immediately or ultimately killed. Many of these cases have been well documented by the committed animal lovers and rescue groups of South Florida. I attribute many of these cases of shocking neglect and killings to absolute Shelter Management ineptness and apathy, and, in a number of very disturbing cases, even intentional lies and coverups. Unlike the Shelter employees, the very experienced South Florida Animal Community volunteers do not receive paychecks but, instead, pay dearly with enormous amounts of their precious time, money, and other resources to desperately save animals from the Broward County Animal Shelter.

    Many in the South Florida Animal Community were stunned that within the first week of new Director Emily Wood’s arrival in late January, 2021, she made the wrong decision to kill a dog, Trey, that a rescue group had not only already committed $2,000 to but was standing by to immediately rescue. And how disappointing that the Interim Shelter Director was brought over from the Broward County Taxi Cab Division without an iota of animal shelter knowledge and experience, but only years of County bureaucracy. How could this possibly benefit emotionally and physically traumatized animals?

    There have been too many lies coming out of this Shelter with claims of death threats and volunteers not following Shelter protocols. The real and unfortunate truth that is very well known by many in the South Florida Animal Community is that the Broward County Shelter Management, whether under the disgraced and dishonest Lauralei Combs and now Emily Wood, is not at all receptive to Best Shelter Practices nor constructive suggestions from very knowledgeable and local animal volunteers and the Community. The Broward County Shelter Management has intentionally kept good-hearted volunteers and the Public out as much as they possibly can by creating all kinds of barriers – whether an armed security guard at the front entrance, not returning phone calls and emails, requiring volunteers to re-apply and then making them wait months to see if they “made the cut”, working poorly with rescue groups, and numerous other excuses.

    One of many examples of the surprising ineptness evolving out of Broward County related to the Shelter is that I very recently received an email from the County acknowledging my resignation and thanking me for my time on the “Central Examining Board of Mechanical Contractors”. Unbelievable! I am not nor have ever been a Mechanical Contractor but, as mentioned above, I was on the Broward County Animal Care Advisory Committee.

  • Year after year, independent assessment after independent assessment, the Broward County Animal shelter stays the same. Why is that? It is simple, there is no accountability. Broward County seems to think that just hiring a new director each time the previous one fails (miserably) is all they need to do.
    How many negative articles need to be written, how many national advocates and organizations have to
    come down here and try to help our shelter before our County managerment realizes that this is just not working.
    Everyone in life needs to be accountable for their actions, whether it be in their personal lives or in their
    work lives. In this instance we are asking that the Broward County shelter management also be held accountable. The Broward shelter is here to serve the residents and the pets of this community. Based
    on what has been happening lately, that does not seem to be the case at all. Our shelter needs to open
    back up to it’s community. The armed guard at the entry gate needs to go. The low cost spay neuter program needs to be expanded and opened again. Intake of pets needs to be done more efficiently. Broward resident’s needs are not being served by our shelter currently. Decisions appear to be made based on what is best or easiest for the shelter.
    The extensive Audit that was released last year lists over 130 items that needed to be corrected and
    completing this Audit Checklist should be a requirement for the new management. Your house needs to be in order before you start anything new. And, it is very important that these audit items that the shelter notes as “completed” be verified by an outside source. This is where accountability comes into
    play. No more “fox guarding the hen house”. It has been allowed for far too long and each time it leads to the same ending, a shelter in complete chaos, pets not getting the level of care that they deserve, a community not being served, and the director leaving town.
    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result, so
    let’s try something new! The new leadership’s mantra is “Transparency, Accessibility, and Accountability”, So lets try this “accountabilty and transparency” thing out. Allow a 3rd party to verify all audit items that are checked off as “completed” actually are FULLY completed. Let the community back into the shelter, maybe even just on weekends if HVAC construction is an issue on
    the weekdays. Ramp up the volunteer program so the dogs and cats are getting all the love, attention and exercise that they need and crave.
    Lets do what’s best for the pets and the community.
    If we all want the same thing, the best shelter in Florida and beyond, then I think my above suggestions will only help us get there.

  • Just recapping…Emily Wood accepted the top spot at Broward ACAD an agency according to you, investigators, pretty much everyone, that failed the babies miserably prior to her arrival – she traveled over 3000 miles with her pet rabbits Arlo and Mary Lou 🙂 from Yolo County, CA to Broward County, FL during one of the spiking points of the Covid pandemic – where the death rate from Covid-19 is nearly twice as high here than Yolo for every 1000 people. With over 20 years as a research scientist and 10 years experience in ACAD with 7 years of them in a leadership role………….facts aside………….she’s got the job and it’s her mission, we’re past the point of a nice welcome to her…….that failed, how horrible……….her background and reputation maligned and slandered here publicly, other places too…….ok ok the jury is still out if we’re dealing with animal lovers / activists or a hybrid of an also rabid micromanaging mob cult, attention seeking, disgruntled folks that weren’t chosen or thought they had an in to possibly get her job or help her lead…………..because if I, You, really wanted to help the babies, I’d disengage from this bs sabotage, lol federal lawsuit, and self shame you brought and keep bringing upon some of yourselves………then re-engage with the same vigor and passion and love to help the babies in a civilized and intelligent demeanor – on your own or with the agency……….Until today I never met Director Wood, but I saw her apologize for a failed cs with a dog drop off and backed up medically a well discussed euthanization in the media. A Broward County employee apologizing in the media that’s a almost a first………………I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt, please let her and the staff, the county at large “breathe” while she stabilizes our county shelter and that may we all see in the very near future – fast turn around times at all shelters, until they’re empty and all of us and the babies are in happy homes, together. Amen to that brother and sisters. Peace & <3

  • Wow, I thought I was reading about Hillsborough County Pet Resource Center, Tampa, FL. So sorry Broward is going through this. What is it with these Animal Shelter Directors? HC could be Broward’s twin. HC just fired a wonderful volunteer, one that went every weekend, brought treats, worked with the larger behavior dogs, just unbelievable!

  • Does anyone have Emely’s email? She posted on Facebook that their is help and to email her, so far I heard no one has gotten a response.
    I would like to take a shot and see.
    I can’t find post where she posted her email and would appreciate if anyone has it.

  • After going to the shelter last week and meeting all the adoptable doggies and kitties, giving them treats and attention as well as helping guide potential
    adopters to the right pets to suit there lifestyle, suit the needs of the pets as well as wants adopters
    I went to the shelter again today and brought blankets, towels and sheets. For the animals.
    Emily came out herself and loaded the bags on a cart.
    She knows alot of the animals names in her care and has implemented some wonderful programs with volunteers that help rather than hurti and I see a vast improvement and they want your help.
    People forget that the county commissioners dictate what she does and while one wants to do wonderful thing the other one feels all pitbulls should be killed and they are the ones in charge of Emily.
    In the past 11 years,since Susan Peterson, which we all agreed against nobody has liked any of the director’s.
    Why cant everyone help instead of hurt. The shelter needs people in the trenches as well as on the internet.
    (((The complaints don’t help,)))
    Take time to spend directly with the animals and help get animals out of there.
    The rescues are being given the small cute dogs ASAP but even the pit bull rescues are getting cute little frenchies out and leaving the pit bulls
    Maybe if the homeowners associations,condo association weren’t so Breed specific, with weight limits & charging high fee’s for pet deposits we could make more homes for dogs.
    Especially the pit bull doggies, that all rescues have difficulty placing ,once there over a year old
    There are several dogs that have been givin extensive medical care,heart worm treatments, long term boarding care and this is a major change from what I watched for years.
    Try helping,as you can get more done with teamwork.
    There not going to find a Dr. that is a great business person, as that breed of Dr. does not work in a state facility with there hands tied by the county commissioners with there antiquated rules and regulations.
    I will do my part and I hope all the people commenting here, do theres to help and not hurt.
    Remember there are just so many cages, so even though the new shelter has alot more room and cages,with the police having many pets boarded at the facility until the law case comes up, and it ties the hands of the staff and the animal just sit and wait.

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