Wednesday, November 9, 2011

It's always worse in Dallas...

On Day One of Animal Cruelty Trial, A Simple Question: How Hard Is It to Free a Trapped Cat?

Tyrone McGill at Shelter.jpg
Tyrone McGill
After completing jury selection yesterday, the prosecution began laying out its case this morning in the felony animal cruelty trial of former animal shelter manager Tyrone McGill, who is currently on administrative leave and continues to draw a paycheck from the city of Dallas. "This is not a difficult case," Assistant District Attorney David Alex promised the jury. "It's as simple as a picture."

Displayed on several screens throughout the courtroom was the picture in question: that tiny hole in the flimsy sheet rock wall that was ultimately all it took to free a cat from where it had been trapped for at least 15 days. "It didn't take the jaws of life or fire and rescue to cut this hole," Alex said.

Instead, it took a knife from the euthanasia room and about 10 minutes to remove the corpse from behind the break-room wall, where it had gotten stuck after escaping from its cage some 15 days earlier. At that point, it was badly decomposed, its fur coming away in clumps. According to the testimony of animal cruelty investigator Domanick Munoz this afternoon, when found, the cat's nails were also worn down from jumping up and clawing against the wall in a desperate bid to free itself. Throughout this first day of testimony, from both the prosecution and the defense, a basic question arose: How could it be so hard to free a cat from a wall?

According to the prosecution, the answer lies with McGill, who, according to shelter employees, promised repeatedly to "take care of" the issue and then failed to act. According to former shelter worker Kimberly Killebrew and Munoz, McGill also discouraged shelter workers from taking direct action to free the animal. He implied that they would face termination for destroying city property if they did so.

"He was actually giving them a threat," Alex told the jury. "This wasn't a priority to him. He had the authority to stop the suffering, and on that Tuesday he flat-out told [Killebrew], 'We're not going to do it.'"

But throughout the day, defense attorney Anthony Lyons pointed out repeatedly that the same rules that forbid destruction of city property also prevented McGill and other supervisors from taking actions that could potentially endanger the safety of city employees. He also asked Killebrew, Munoz and another shelter worker who testified today, Adam Cooper, why they hadn't considered it their responsibility to free the cat.

"You testified to the jury about how concerned you were about that cat," he said to Killebrew. "So why didn't you cut a hole in the wall?... You just testified, blaming him for not doing it, why didn't you do it?" Furthermore, he said, McGill had made efforts to free the cat, including lifting ceiling tiles and calling Equipment and Building Services.

In his testimony, Munoz painted a picture of a dysfunctional climate where animal shelter employees were frightened to step outside the chain of command for fear of losing their jobs. The prosecution read portions of a scathing email he wrote to McGill and Munoz's own supervisor, Adrian Vela, on May 18, the day the rotting cat was ultimately removed from the wall. At that point, the smell of decomposing flesh was so strong it carried all the way down a long hall from the break room where the cat was walled up.

"Why is it so hard to have a cat removed from the wall, dead or alive?" Munoz asked. "... This is unsanitary, unhealthy, and socially unacceptable. ... Why are we turning a blind eye to this situation?"

The prosecution will continue to present its case tomorrow.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Liberation weekend!

This weekend (November 4-6), any cat or dog over 1 year old is available for adoption at your price, even if your price is $0.00!

Rockwall PETS is paying the difference in adoption fees.

Marco! Polo! Marco! Polo!

Unable to pay bill, Mich. city turns off lights

By Corey Williams - The Associated Press Published: 8:52 PM 11/03/2011

HIGHLAND PARK, Mich. (AP) — As the sun dips below the rooftops each evening, parts of this Detroit enclave turn to pitch black, the only illumination coming from a few streetlights at the end of the block or from glowing yellow yard globes.

It wasn’t always this way. But when the debt-ridden community could no longer afford its monthly electric bill, elected officials not only turned off 1,000 streetlights. They had them ripped out — bulbs, poles and all. Now nightfall cloaks most neighborhoods in inky darkness.

“How can you darken any city?” asked Victoria Dowdell, standing in the halo of a light in her front yard. “I think that was a disgrace. She said the decision endangers everyone, especially people who have to walk around at night or catch the bus.

Highland Park’s decision is one of the nation’s most extreme austerity measures, even among the scores of communities that can no longer afford to provide basic services.

Other towns have postponed roadwork, cut back on trash collection and closed libraries, for example. But to people left in the dark night after night, removing streetlights seems more drastic. And unlike many other cutbacks that can easily be reversed, this one appears to be permanent.

The city is $58 million in debt and has many more people than jobs, plus dozens of burned-out or vacant houses and buildings. With fewer than 12,000 residents, its population has dwindled to half the level from 20 years ago.

Faced with a $4 million electric bill that required $60,000 monthly payments, Mayor Hubert Yopp asked the City Council to consider reducing lighting. Council members reluctantly approved it, even in an election year.

“We knew it was going to hurt,” Councilman Christopher Woodard said. “We’re all hurting.”

In late August, contractors from DTE Energy Co. began rolling through the streets, taking out two-thirds of the light poles.

“It is a winning proposition, but that doesn’t make it a winner with the citizens who find themselves in the dark,” Woodard added. “We had to watch our backs when we got out of our cars before. Now we have to watch them even more closely.”

Unless the government gets an unexpected infusion of cash or sees an uptick in its dying tax base, many parts of Highland Park will remain beneath a shroud every night.

The city’s monthly electric bill has been cut by 80 percent. The amount owed DTE Energy goes back about a decade, but utility executives hesitated to turn off the juice.

“We are extremely concerned with public safety,” said Trevor Lauer, vice president of marketing and renewables for the Detroit-based utility. “We recognize that street lighting is something that contributes to public safety.”

Now, he said, the company has “a municipal lighting customer I’m confident can pay its monthly bill.”

Most of the 500 streetlights still shining in Highland Park are along major streets and on corners in residential areas. DTE Energy has listed the city’s overdue bill as an uncollectable expense.

The leader of a nonprofit group that works to reduce energy costs for low-income families said he’s not heard of any other communities becoming so desperate to save money that they turned off streetlights. It might be a sign of things to come.

“If it works in Highland Park, I could not imagine other cities not looking at that as one option,” said David Fox, executive director of the National Low Income Energy Consortium in Alexandria, Va.

In its heyday, Highland Park was one of Michigan’s urban jewels, with large yards, spacious homes and tree-lined streets.

Henry Ford put his first moving assembly line here, and his factory eventually churned out a car every minute. By 1930, the city had grown to 50,000 people.

Ford later moved his primary manufacturing operations to River Rouge, southwest of Detroit, in search of room to expand. Highland Park survived that loss. But it never recovered from Chrysler’s decision in the 1990s to move its world headquarters 50 miles north to Oakland County.

“That took away $6 million” in taxes, Woodard said. “That was a lot of money to not have anymore. It was a major industrial operation moving out of here. When Chrysler moved out, things started to happen.”

Small businesses catering to Chrysler workers began to fail, and the city struggled to pay its bills. And like Detroit, which lost 250,000 residents from 2000 to 2010, people moved out, leaving hundreds of abandoned houses.

In 1980, the census counted 27,000 people living in Highland Park. By 2010, that number had fallen to 11,776.

The median household income is $18,700, compared with $48,700 statewide. And 42 percent of the city’s residents live in poverty.

“It’s pretty ghetto,” Cassandra Cabil said from her front yard. Voices drift in the darkness from down the street, but the speakers can’t be seen.

The 31-year-old short-order cook works odd hours and sometimes makes it home late at night. She watched recently as crews removed the streetlight and pole from in front of her rented home.

“It’s really dark unless people have their lights on,” she said. “There’s a lot of vandalism going on, people breaking into these houses.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

No Clapping!

Peekskill Residents Livid About No Clapping Rule At City Council Meetings

Critics Say They Feel Like They're Being Treated Like Kindergarteners

Reporting Al Jones

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. (1010 WINS) — Want to get yourself thrown out of a Peekskill City Council meeting? Start clapping.

After a series of boisterous meetings, Mayor Mary Foster is trying to bring decorum back to the chamber by banning clapping.

“We’ve had to end meetings because the disruptions just became too unruly,” Foster said.

However, critics of the measure spoke with 1010 WINS’ Al Jones and said they felt like they were being treated like kindergarteners.

“If that was the only incident, it would be very different. But we’ve been receiving that kind of treatment consistently and this is just one little piece of that puzzle,” Jim Adler said.

Adler said the mayor and council are trying to silence anyone who doesn’t agree and he’s not happy about it.

“The bullying and the lack of decorum when she and her leadership in Peekskill treat people with such disrespect,” he said, adding he would continue to attend the bi-monthly meetings and clap.

Tracy Breneman admitted that the meetings have become a bit loud, but doesn’t agree with the rule.

“They institutionalized this no clapping among other things, which is absolutely absurd,” she said.

Mayor Foster argued that the rule is just another attempt to get through meetings with less interruption, but critics in Peekskill were reading the Declaration of Independence in protest.

“You think that a no clapping rule is really going to make these issues go away?” asked community activist Darrel Davis.

The City Council voted unanimously to ban clapping on Sept. 12. In January, the council also eliminated a public comment session at the beginning of meetings.