FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – With Broward County investigating Local 10 News findings that the top official at Broward County Animal Care altered pet euthanasia documents, evidence has surfaced that one shelter supervisor resisted orders to change computer records after a public records request was submitted aimed at exposing irregularities in the agency’s books.
Animal Care supervisor Irene Feser wrote in an email to her boss, Director Thomas Adair, that she was "uncomfortable" changing a record, especially regarding information pertaining to a public information request.
"I don’t feel comfortable changing anything such a length after the fact," Feser wrote in the email. "My experience working for the county has taught me that is not a good idea especially if a records request is involved to change information on a record."
She goes on to write of Animal Care forms filled out by pet owners that "almost all are never truthful when filled out nor are they reviewed properly when handed back."
Adair wrote her back.
"I think you are reading more into this than you should," he wrote, adding that he wanted to see her when she arrived at the office.
It’s the latest bombshell in a Local 10 investigation that began when the station obtained several screen shots from the county computer system showing that Adair had changed the reason for euthanizing a dog or cat from the original reason -- often aggressiveness or health concerns -- to "owner requested," meaning the pet owner asked that the animal be killed.
While it's not known Adair's motivation for making the changes, owner requested kills are not included in the county's official euthanasia numbers and would help the county meet its statistical "no kill" goal. When questioned about changes, Adair claimed it was simply quality control -- though pet owners he claimed had requested euthanasia for the animals they brought in told Local 10 they never made such a request.
It was Hallandale Beach Commissioner Michele Lazarow who, after learning that employees were changing records, made a public records request of all owner request forms for the first three months of the year as well as the corresponding statistics. It was after that request was made in May that computer records show Adiar went back into the system and changed several of the records he'd previously altered back from owner request to the original reason given. Lazarow said she believes those changes are evidence of a cover-up.
"I believe that the state attorney should also look at it," she said.
Feser’s email also seems to include a clue as to the type of record manipulation leading to what appear to the false changes. In it she says that she and another supervisor were told in the past to make "owner surrenders" a subtype of "owner request period."
"Now that we have done that, we are being asked why we have done it and being questioned on the decision," she wrote. "… I did what I was told to do at the time."
She also indicated that intake forms from owners were in disarray at the shelter.
"There are valid questions on the situation of these forms," she wrote. "[A]lmost all are never truthful when filled out nor are they reviewed properly when handed back."
The county investigation, meanwhile, continues and includes the help of the county auditor for good reason --according to the county, the computer database holds information on 14,000 animals.