Earlier this month, “multiple Phoenix TV stations reported that the temperatures inside the county’s west shelter topped 100 degrees, citing photos [taken by volunteers] sent to the stations showing hand thermometers with temperatures reading as high as 108 degrees.”
According to volunteers, Maricopa County,
Management knew that it had been a problem last year and new swamp coolers had been ordered. A few were replaced, however the remaining weren’t due to be replaced until September and are still sitting in a warehouse at County. No pleas were sent out by management for help during the dreaded hot spells of summer. Several volunteers started taking temperatures to see how hot it really was. Dogs were lethargic, panting excessively, and volunteers and staff were extremely concerned. One older dog had to be euthanized after laying in a kennel for over 24 hours. He was eventually moved inside, but it was too late. Another dog had a seizure and a third dog was turning blue when he was brought inside. We do not know if the heat had anything to do with these situations, however we felt that it could have exacerbated existing problems. Volunteers talked to supervisors and management daily to let them know that the heat in some of the kennels was excessive. Little was being done…”
That’s when someone tipped off the press, which they had every right to do, especially since their pleas to Maricopa County officials were ignored. Instead of responding with genuine contrition and a promise that they will right the wrongs by protecting the animals, Maricopa’s P.R. man told employees to circle the wagons. Writing to staff that, “We are being watched,” he told them to say little to members of the public and instead alert management to anyone seen taking the temperature of conditions in the pound so managers can “address it” with those individuals, presumably by trying to shut them down.
When the media began posting stories, the community responded with both justifiable outrage and also support, “donating ice blocks, coolers and other supplies for the animals.” And that forced the County to begin protecting the animals. But it also cost volunteers their ability to help other dogs. Why? Within two days, the volunteers were fired. That is not only retaliatory, it is illegal.
The taking of a photograph or video is included with the First Amendment’s guarantee of speech. Videotaping and capturing images of poor shelter conditions or neglected animals are indistinguishable from ‘commenting’ or ‘speaking out’ on such conditions. Volunteers, rescuers, and members of the public have a right to document things they believe are improper.
Although Maricopa admits the volunteers were fired and they were fired just two days after the news of extreme heat broke, the County denied it fired them as retaliation. However, volunteers report that comments in support of those volunteers on the pound’s Facebook page were deleted. And that is also illegal. As the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled, “speech on public issues occupies the ‘highest rung of the hierarchy of First Amendment values,’ and is entitled to special protection.” Connick v. Myers, 461 U.S. 138, 145 (1983). Indeed, such speech lies “at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection.” First Nat’l Bank of Bos. v. Bellotti, 435 U.S. 765, 776 (1978).
When animal lives are at stake — as they are when animals enter a pound like Maricopa’s that has not fully embraced a culture of lifesaving — removing comments critical of policies by government shelters is even more egregious given the life and death consequences. Animals have no voice of their own and need others to speak for them. Deleting critical comments effectively silences them.
This is YOUR animal shelter; the one that blames YOU for the killing.
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