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Wanna volunteer at Broward’s animal shelter? Get ready to sign a CIA-like secrecy agreement

broward's animal shelter
Broward animal shelter
Broward’s animal shelter, 2400 SW 42nd St. Fort Lauderdale

By Dan Christensen, FloridaBulldog.org

Volunteers at Broward’s troubled Animal Care and Adoption Division (ACAD) are required to sign a county-approved agreement that seeks to muzzle them from posting “any criticism or disparaging comments” about the agency or its leaders on social media.

The agreement’s restrictive language was added after several controversial dismissals of volunteers who alleged mismanagement and abuse of shelter animals, including the 2019 firing of a trio of volunteers who posted photos and videos of dogs allegedly being mistreated at Broward’s animal shelter, built in 2017 at a cost of $16.5 million.

Such disclosures touched off a series of county audits in recent years that identified a host of problems at the division. The most recent audit, more than 200 pages long with more than 130 recommended fixes, was released in late December.

Miami First Amendment attorney Thomas Julin reviewed the two-page agreement and observed, “It reads like a contract between the CIA and a new agent.”

“This causes me to wonder why the county feels this is necessary. Suggests the county has something it wants to hide about the program,” said Julin, who has represented Florida Bulldog in Freedom of Information litigation. “The vagueness of these requirements probably makes them unenforceable and if the county were to discharge a volunteer for violation of the agreement, the county could face a suit that the action was retaliatory against the exercise of speech rights.”

Oakland, CA attorney Nathan Winograd, who runs the nonprofit No Kill Law & Advocacy Center, called the new policy an “illegal” infringement of “the constitutional rights of volunteers.”

Volunteer agreement

Emily Wood, hired as director of Broward’s animal care division in January, said the county attorney’s office changed the volunteer agreement as a result of the auditor’s findings. A comparison to a previous version shows that three items were added, committing volunteers to:

  • “Not engage in disparaging conversation at ACAD.
  • “If posting ACAD related information on social media, post only management-approved animals for the purposes of helping them get adopted or fostered; not post any information on animals that have not been approved for adoption, or rescue without written permission from the ACAD Director; and not post any criticism or disparaging comments of ACAD or the shelter staff.
  • “Acknowledge and accept that not every animal will be saved and to be respectful to the employees who must make the difficult decisions on euthanasia.”
Emily Wood

Wood said the items are needed in the agreement because the shelter operates “with an open door policy” and addresses concerns that “feed into a culture of trust and finding solutions.”

“We want volunteers, we need volunteers, and we are not looking for reasons to terminate. Rather, we are outlining our expectations,” she said. “What would be concerning to us is that rather than addressing a problem, rather than looking for a solution, someone would be complaining about a problem in a broad public forum.

A volunteer sues

“It speaks to the culture we want. Don’t post on Facebook about a problem because you could talk to me face to face to fix it,” Wood said. “If that were to happen, and in my short tenure that has not happened, it would be a conversation rather than a termination. I’d certainly want to know what’s at the bottom of the frustration that led somebody to do that.”

Wendy Schugar-Martin

But at least one former volunteer, Wendy Schugar-Martin of Hollywood, has sued the county in federal court, alleging her dismissal from Broward’s animal shelter on Jan. 15, 2019 was in “retaliation” for opinions about “mismanagement” and “inhumane conditions” at the animal shelter she posted on social media one day before.

Schugar-Martin’s complaint, filed in April 2021, seeks a jury trial for alleged violations of her rights under the First and 14th amendments to the Constitution. Her Exhibit A is a Dec. 21, 2018 email sent to all shelter volunteers expressing chagrin at “those bashing the very shelter you represent” on social media.

The email went on to note “you all signed a volunteer agreement that allows us the right to terminate your services with us if we feel that you are no longer aiding our mission. If this continues to happen, I will begin to look at this option because it is unnecessary and bullying will not be tolerated,” wrote then-division volunteer coordinator Carolina Segarra.

Schugar-Martin, who also contends she was later improperly bounced of the county’s Animal Care Advisory Committee, seeks unspecified damages, including punitive damages, and asks Fort Lauderdale U.S. District Judge Rodolfo A. Ruiz Jr. to enjoin the county from preventing her to serve as a volunteer at the animal shelter.

Broward County has denied that Schugar-Martin was fired to silence her public criticism of shelter management.

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  • There were others, including myself, part of this lawsuit, however the attorney chose to only sue for one individual rather then all 5 together. Emily Wood continues this practice of firing without cause because she is complicit in her behavior and has zero qualifications to run a Shelter. Due to her ineptness and need for total control, she is trying to blanket herself by adding illegal aspects to the already questionable document she demands volunteers to abide by as she continues to kill innocent animals. She recently fired a long time volunteer, Meredith Bruder Monaghan founder and director of Pet’s Broward, who has done more for the animals and the Shelter then all directors combined, for no reason whatsoever, except that she was threatened by Meredith’s knowledge that she pitifully lacks. Where was her “open door policy” then? Just another fabrication in her long list of same. To add insult to injury, she touts; “Accessibility, Transparency and Accountability”, none of which she practices, rather she is a wordsmith of LIES! She was not truthful on her application but the county commissioners and Bertha Henry did not follow through with their due diligence. Now the animals suffer because of their laziness, indifference and political agendas. Mark Bogen got his TV debuts and news worthing articles then abandoned ship to push for his friend Lenny Vialpando who is Emily’s boss along with Jeff Halsey, the even bigger scam artist and catalyst in this abomination of villainess characters bringing down our County Shelter to even lower levels then the last two shams. Emily was not the county’s choice rather she was the last one standing when all the chairs were removed. Emily needs to go ASAP before she destroys everyone of our County pets as she systematically is doing under the guise of a Animal Welfare Administrator, which she is NOT!!!

  • I was another volunteer recently fired for unsubstantiated reasons from Broward County Animal Care.
    I requested several times to speak with the director to find out “why” I was fired from volunteering, but she refused to elaborate and merely said I should refer to the “volunteer agreement”.
    But as is quoted above by Oakland, CA attorney Nathan Winograd this new policy is an “illegal” infringement of “the constitutional rights of volunteers.” Also a federal statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, best known simply as “Section 1983,” can and should be applied to stop and punish action by governmental officials or employees to retaliate against or obstruct an activist’s exercise of his or her First Amendment rights in speaking out against conditions in animal shelters. The shelter’s volunteer agreement should NOT allowed to act as a muzzle that prevents voluteers from speaking up if they see something wrong.
    We live by a mantra in this world especially post 9/11, “If you see something, say something.” Our government and our police forces have hammered this into our heads, but this needs to be a two way street. If a volunteer has a concern, or sees something going on that negatively impacts the animals,
    they should be allowed to speak up without fear of retaliation! And we should be able to speak up in a manner that we think will be the MOST beneficial for the animals. Not have our hands tied by an agreement that is ethically and legally questionable and is meant to act as a muzzle.
    Shelter pets have no voice, so it is our job to be their voice. Our First Ammendment rights allow us freedom of speech and Broward County Animal Care should not be allowed to take that right away.
    Check out this link for more information;
    https://www.nokilladvocacycenter.org/uploads/4/8/6/2/48624081/section1983v2.pdf

  • When management has a personal agenda that does not include the animals they were hired to protect, tax payers have a right to speak & share their experiences; this includes volunteers who have first-hand knowledge.

    Politicizing the shelter does not allow for the animals as the core focus. Denying the value of the extensive audit does not contribute to repairing past damage that put animals in harm’s way. Firing/denying volunteers prevents animals from receiving the most comprehensive care. Changing formulas to skew results does not benefit the animals or allow for accurate reporting. Not initiating valuable programs to recruit new rescue groups, adopters & fosters robs the animals of the opportunity to find new homes. Placing dogs in isolation & pumping them full of behavior altering medications & then claiming they are suffering does not meet acceptable criteria to achieve no-kill. Having county officials who deny all of the comments listed & refer to those reporting them as “crazies” is the root cause of all the shelter atrocities occurring at the shelter now & in the past.

    It is time for the community/taxpayers to demand better care for our animals & more professional behavior from the county commissioners who are negligent in their duties to protect our animals. It is not only time to bring in an entirely new shelter management team, but to wake up the uncaring & duty shirking county commissioners & administrator. A public/private partnership would be a positive step forward in animal care & would relieve the county of full shelter responsibility which has proven to be a failure time & again.

  • Debbie and Meredith I read with interest both your statements regarding illegal firing of volunteers at Broward County Animal shelter. Kudos to you for advocating for the animals and deplorable conditions. Shame on Emily Wood and other officials for their systematic shut down and firing of people who see the suffering of animals as preventable and really want issues resolved instead of ignored. Let’s treat our “homeless” pets with dignity and also our volunteers who do what they do with kindness and love.

  • An outsider can think of several conditions that might have resulted in the failure of the county to insist that the 130 “fixes” to the shelter recommended by the county auditor be given priority and that information about progress in effecting urgently needed changes be provided regularly. The dismissal of the previous director was an essential step in this process. But the unqualified incumbent, with her irresponsibly inhumane approach to euthanasia, has attempted to rid the facility of experienced, caring volunteers. The “volunteer agreement” covering an individual’s service at the shelter is an Orwellian combination of gag order, nondisclosure agreement, and surrender of free speech rights.

    How can the county permit shameful and heartbreaking abuse of animals to continue? The commissioners have long been advised of the dire situation by rational individuals — not only Robert Melton, the auditor, but consultants from out of state and scores of concerned activists. Are all the commissioners terrible people? What’s the matter with them? Cowed by the magnitude of the problem they’ve allowed to fester, have they resorted to magical thinking (“Just ignore the situation; it will somehow go away.”)? Maybe a little bit. Another factor may be fear that if word gets out, the electeds would be shamed not just here in Broward but statewide and nationally, a circumstance that would have a negative effect on their political careers. And then there’s Mr. Green, the 600-pound gorilla, shaking the bars of his cage and taunting the commissioners with howls of “Where’s the money coming from, guys?”

  • So, I am curious as to what the shelter believes the remedy would be if someone breached this agreement? If this agreement even was enforceable, the only recourse would be to terminate the volunteer. Nothing more could be done, so why even bother making these changes to the volunteer agreement when the organization can accept or fire volunteers at-will?

  • Why did Broward County have its very own well-paid Audit Team spend day after day for months at the Shelter between the late Fall of 2019 through July of 2020 conducting a very expensive “no stone unturned” top to bottom detailed Audit of every aspect of the Shelter? By March of 2020, County Auditor Bob Melton said that he was so alarmed by the conditions that he and his Audit Team found there that he was compelled to stop and issue an Interim Report citing their deep concerns. They completed their full Report in July, 2020 citing 134 issues; however, WHY did it take the County FIVE MONTHS before they finally released it in December, 2020? This lengthy delay certainly gave the appearance of hoping that the concerned animal loving residents and taxpayers would have forgotten about the Audit by then, as well as hoping that we/they would be distracted by the holidays. When numerous Broward County animal lovers and taxpayers were awaiting the results of this lengthy Audit process, delaying its release by five months only added to the suspicions and distrust swirling around about the neglect and highly questionable animal shelter practices of what continues to occur on at the Broward County Animal Shelter, which many of us unfortunately already knew.

    I could not agree more with Meredith Monaghan Bruder about the Shelter since issuing its own responses to the numerous 134 issues raised in the Audit. As she said in the Florida Bulldog article of June 21st, this is truly akin to the “fox guarding the henhouse” and is completely unacceptable to the animal lovers and taxpayers of Broward County. In reviewing the Shelter’s responses to the Audit issues, many of them are strongly doubtful but designed to “sound good” given the lies and spin that have come out of the Shelter all along right through to this week. For example, in this very Florida Bulldog article, Director Emily Wood claims that the Shelter has an “open door policy” and wants to “foster a culture of trust and finding solutions”. AU CONTRAIRE. With the exception of three months, the consistently under-staffed Broward County Animal Shelter has been closed since March, 2020 and now more recently, appointments are required. I have heard a number accounts of people who called and emailed in the attempts of securing an appointment but never even received a response. People looking to foster or adopt who turn up at the OVERFLOWING Shelter without an appointment are turned away by the ARMED security guard. Meanwhile, an increasing number of animals compared to the same months over the past two years have been killed. The Broward County Animal Shelter is the ONLY county shelter in the State of Florida that is closed, requires advanced appointments, and has an armed security guard. And when people hit the “Shelter Lotto” and manage to secure an appointment, the new rules are that they can only see TWO animals for 15 minutes each. This is UNREALISTIC for individuals, couples and families who are sincere in making a lifetime commitment that will be a good fit for both the animal as well as for themselves. There is no sane reason for this other than to benefit the Shelter employees AND to intentionally limit transparency and Public Access.

    Director Emily Wood’s statement of “Accessibility, Transparency, and Accountability” could not be further from the truth. Why would she DENY a conversation with Meredith Monaghan Bruder, an IRREPLACEABLE and incredible Volunteer who raised funds for the Shelter, started the very successful Lunch Buddies Program of taking the Shelter’s dogs out to lunch wearing an “Adopt Me” vest, found wonderful homes for numerous animals there, spent countless hours volunteering there, and has been passionately trying to accomplish a pet backyard refurbishment there? The REAL REASON is that Meredith knows far more about Best Shelter Practices than all of the Staff of the Broward County Shelter combined and they are threatened by her knowledge and honest desire to improve the sordid conditions for the animals there.

    The Shelter Management claim that the reason for the Armed Security Guard is due to “death threats”. None of the knowledgeable Shelter volunteers nor I believe this for a minute. I ask the Shelter to provide proof of this which I strongly doubt they will be able to furnish. The REAL REASON for the Armed Security Guard is to LIMIT TRANSPARENCY and benefit the comfort level of Shelter employees.

    And it must be said that numerous requests for public records from the Shelter have been either spun or stonewalled. In spite of Shelter documents outlining Shelter Protocols for Euthanasia by its “Pathway Panel” (Euthanasia Committee), the Shelter has recently denied in emails that a Pathway Panel and/or Euthanasia Committee even exists and has repeatedly refused to provide the names of the County Servants who are on this Committee and what their qualifications are. When they have produced some of the requested records of specific animal killings, it is clear to see that the Shelter employees who approved these killings signed of with INTENTIONALLY ILLEGIBLE INITIALS making it very hard to determine who approved the killings of the animals. I have been shocked to see that Jeff Halsey, the well-paid former head of the Broward County Taxi Cab Division up until late Fall, 2020 when he arrived at the Shelter, sign off on the killings of some of the animals. While Mr. Halsey is the Interim Director Shelter until a new Assistant Director arrives , his expertise is taxi cab regulations. He is neither medically or behaviorally certified/qualified to sign off on the killings of animals.

    After years of the Public and invaluable Volunteers being stonewalled and thousands of healthy and adoptable animals being UNNECESSARILY killed at the Shelter, many without even the benefit of one rescue bulletin on their behalf, a full blown investigation by the Media of the Broward County Animal Shelter is unfortunately now warranted, especially as to which Shelter employees are signing off on the killings of animals there AND what their specific credentials are.

    I thank both Francisco Alvarado and Dan Christensen for their impressive investigative and journalistic work in informing the Public about what is going on at Broward County Care (?) and Adoption. I urge everyone who appreciates the work of this donor-supported digital publication, whether Shelter or other topics that warrant exposure, to make a donation to Florida Bulldog.

  • We had a loose dog walk up to our house yesterday. My wife went and had it checked for a chip and it has one that comes back to broward County animal care and adoptions. My wife called the number and low and behold nobody answered. “Fill out a form on line and we’ll get back to you in 1-2 business days.” I already have 2 dogs. I can’t hang on to another one. We’ve posted everywhere with no responses. Sweetest male dog you can imagine. Service sucks.

  • PMAG I will take the dog off your hands

  • Thank you Daniel but, Debo was just picked up by the sweetest young lady from Broward Animal Care & Adoption. After our initial bad experience with them, they have been extremely helpful. Debos adoption number is A2046970. Great well behaved dog. Very affectionate. Climbed right into the van. Will make someone very happy. If we didn’t have 2 Catahoulas we probably would have kept him.

  • Very poor Leadership at the helm. When will the powers to be step up and remove this Wood’s person.
    How did she get this position? Show her outstanding qualifications and her true concern for the animals.
    Once again it’s not what you know it’s who you!!!

  • Ms Wood retained the position by default! The commissioners gave up on hiring a qualified person with integrity and resorted to the last man standing, which turned out to be the biggest disaster yet! Emily Wood is the antithesis of what we need and want at our County Shelter! She knows nothing about being a director of a Shelter this large or any other for that matter. She fabricated her knowledge and attained a CAWA WITHOUT the requirements needed to do so, but she used it anyway to slink her way in like a snake. She is destroying animals on a regular basis, refusing to hire a Behaviorist and Asst Director because she craves power but lacks the ability to guide her staff so the animals suffer! Her ineptness is overwhelming and detrimental to the survival of all our County pets. She is a disaster refusing to admit her incompetence and leave, she’d rather ruined a Shelter further and the commissioners are allowing it!

  • PMAG, the person you are speaking about, Animal Control Officer, M. Castro, is expected to be nice since it her job to pick up, confiscate and take care of all strays at large, anything less would be reprehensible especially since she is paid by our tax dollars. No need to compliment for doing what is expected when most of the time, they DO NOT! However, I am glad you found Debo, let’s hope he gets out of the Shelter before it’s too late!!!

  • This is DISGUSTING…

  • I spoke with Emily Wood once. She is condescending and rude. Turning her back on hoarding and drowning dogs will be her undoing. I hope she didn’t unpack because she is not staying. There are too many of us out here watching and dedicated to making this shelter safer for the homeless animals of Broward County.
    There are at least two programs which any decent director would have implemented within weeks of being hired. One would be for the hundreds of thousand community cates (TNR) and one would be to help better educate and give more resources to help the bully or larger breeds. Until someone is smart enough to figure this out, nothing will change. We need a director who is not only good at staffing and budgets, but also understands creative marketing and advertising campaigns.
    Bertha Henry and Human Resources need to stop using the same old headhunters to find a director. They obviously do not know what they are doing. Let the advocates find one. We know what we need.

  • Have we learned nothing from the animals we claim we love more than ourselves – adaptability, forgiveness, conserving our energies for constructive matters and true unconditional love and loyalty.

    Last Tuesday my 4 dogs and I traveled to the Broward Animal Pet Clinic in Ft. Lauderdale. I sat in the car as instructed and was provided 30 seconds worth of forms to complete. Each dog was taken from the vehicle and brought back having been provided their rabies vaccine. After all 4 dogs were attended to in less than half the anticipated time, staff brought out folders of the certificates, post rabies advice and instructions and the vet came out with staff and made thoughtful observations and recommendations of my 2 of elderly dogs. I, in turn evaluated the entire process and made some suggestions and commended them, showed my appreciation and gratitude via email.

    Be an eye witness to an event, or if not try to maintain objectivity while dealing with those providing facts, and conclusions, and listen, evaluate before forming your own. As animal lovers it’s so easy to get inflamed and get radicalized when believing a vulnerable being is being harmed, or killed and not every possible measure is taken despite the risk, cost. I get it!, but until I see it, know it it’s conjecture.
    I worked for the federal government, and in doing so I formed one important conclusion there is no bad government, but just like our society, some bad people. And when citizens rage out at it (them) out comes the silence, or plausible deniability, spin, excuses, and the hoping the 24 hour news cycles. It’s a cause and effect we’re all responsible for.

    Let’s show our best as a Broward County community to come together to build and commend the strengths of our leaders and in this instance for all the poor babies that were brought to this point and need homes, to offer our assistance, advise in an intelligent manner and do it with a determination so we will meet and exceed our goals. We did it before covid. Support the people who have a million moving part organization with everything in the world thrown at them from one day to another because of an not limited to arbitrary rules of landlords and home owners associations, emergencies or unforeseen events that separate us from our furry families, financial deficits where folks weigh their own survival over there pets…..much less those clowns who feel it is ok to let unspayed and unneutered strays and feralls breed and think they’re doing them a favor by feeding them and not calling the county to spay and neuter and let these babies to continue to now interbreed.

    We can do it and without the hostility, negativity and threats, do it together. And have empty shelters and happy homes and beautiful communities and move on immediately to awareness and the science to improving the life expectancy of our furry and unfurry family, be resourceful and inspire those with power, time and wealth, to create scholarships for the youth to dedicate themselves to veterinary science and have our efforts transcend out of the bounds of Broward County.

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