Port Lavaca Animal Control workers suspended

Elena Watts By Elena Watts

Dec. 19, 2013 at 6:19 a.m.
Updated Dec. 20, 2013 at 6:20 a.m.

Two Port Lavaca Animal Control employees are under suspension in the wake of citizen complaints about how animals were treated at the facility, said Port Lavaca Police Chief James Martinez.

"We acknowledged we were wrong when the problems were pointed out, and we have taken action," Martinez said. "Personal attacks do not accomplish anything. We need to allow the healing to begin, correct the problems and move on."

Animal Control Officers Donnie McGrew and Joe Mungia are not in jeopardy of losing their jobs, and the lengths of their suspensions are an internal matter, Martinez said. The reprimands are a result of an investigation into the unit's operations, which was prompted by protestors earlier this month.

Other employees will help during the officers' absences, so the suspensions will not affect the unit's operation.

Carley Stringo, 22, of Port Lavaca, and her friends demanded that the dogs receive blankets on a cold night and later questioned the certification of the unit's officers.

The state requires that animal control officers earn certification and complete 30 hours of continuing education every three years, said Jamey Cantrell, president of the Texas Animal Control Association.

McGrew returned Thursday from continuing education classes along with Mungia, who received his initial certification. Mungia worked at least two years as an animal control officer without the required certification, Martinez said.

"McGrew is ready to be a better employee - he thought he was doing it right," Martinez said. "We want to allow him that opportunity, and he'll be a better employee because of it."

The animal control unit was managed by Fire Chief Cleve Calagna for one year after longtime Police Chief John Stewart retired. Martinez has managed the operation for five months.

"It's 100 percent wonderful that they are following up with training," Stringo said. "It's about time, and people have a right to get angry."

The animal control unit passed the state's test, but Port Lavaca wants to do better, Calagna said.

The state requires very little, Cantrell said. The standard operating procedure at most units is to identify the animals with a description and any obvious injury or illness.

All of the animals picked up in Port Lavaca were accounted for, but information about their condition was missing, Martinez said.

Martinez plans to initiate the same record management system used by the police department.

"Euthanasia is unfortunate, but it happens, and it's a thankless job," Martinez said. "It's important that we are above-board, and everything is well-documented."

The process will be as paperless as possible, which will make the retrieval of data easier, he said.

Martinez said he also plans to construct a wind block to keep the animals warmer in the winter and to install fans to keep them cooler in the summer.

McGrew has worked as an animal control officer in Port Lavaca for 13 years without a single complaint, Martinez said.

Stringo said she noticed problems with the operation when she began fostering animals two months ago. She learned that other volunteers shared her concerns, and the group joined forces to make changes.

"We are fortunate to have concerned citizens who bring our attention to matters as quickly as possible," Martinez said, "so we can identify and correct problems that need correcting."



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