May 23, 2024

Bowlingual Dog

Animal Planet Directory

Multnomah County faces lawsuit from second former animal shelter volunteer

A former Multnomah County Animal Services volunteer is suing the county, alleging she was punished for raising concerns to employees about the shelter’s conditions and its policies around euthanasia and adoption.

It’s the second lawsuit filed this year by a former volunteer. Both allege the county retaliated against them for speaking out and questioning the decisions of shelter staff.

“The volunteers at the animal shelter are scared,” Alan Kessler, the attorney representing the volunteers, told OPB Thursday. “They know that if they speak out that the county intends to punish them.”

Annie Bedrosian, who was terminated in February, filed the most recent lawsuit in the Multnomah County Circuit Court on April 15. She seeks to force the county to reinstate her as a volunteer, according to court records.

“I feel like I got fired for trying to save a dog,” said Bedrosian, 57.

Bedrosian handled the shelter’s laundry, cleaning and washing linens for animals’ beds. During her 14 months working there, “she frequently picked up extra shifts and worked extended hours,” according to court records filed Monday.

But the shelter was “desperately understaffed, and conditions have been bleak,” according to court records. Bedrosian cleaned bedding that “had often been left soaked and soiled in the animals’ kennels for days or weeks before being replaced.”

After speaking with county staffers about her concerns over the shelter’s conditions and policies, Bedrosian was warned twice by volunteer coordinator Colleen O’Toole to stop asking questions, the lawsuit states. She was told that conversations about adoption and euthanisa are “staff topics” she can’t participate in.

Among her concerns was a decision by the shelter to approve a dog named Jasmin for adoption to a family that had another dog, the lawsuit states. This came despite the fact that Jasmin had a history of aggression because she was previously attacked by another dog.

“The dog’s records warned that Jasmin should be adopted only to a family without other dogs,” the lawsuit states.

Bedrosian brought her concerns privately to the shelter’s manager, Andrew Mathias, who “scolded her for questioning the decision of his staff,” the lawsuit states. She was terminated the next day, Feb. 2.

Then, in an email less than two weeks later, a county employee told Bedrosian’s sister that because she shares a household with a “relative of a recently dismissed volunteer,” the county would be temporarily pausing her ability to foster a pet.

“Rather than reform the facility, [Multnomah County] seeks to silence its critics,” Kessler said in court records filed Monday.

The dog Jasmin was sent to her new home, where she attacked and “critically injured” that family’s dog, the lawsuit states. Since the incident, Jasmin has been put down, Bedrosian said.

“It was basically like sending her to be killed,” Bedrosian said.

Alicia Mendez, a spokesperson for the county, said in an email that the county does not comment on active litigation.

Mendez noted that the county has added 10 animal care staff positions and filled a vacancy for a second veterinarian at the shelter. The county has also “made significant improvements in our organizational structure and processes to provide consistent daily care, cleaning, and enrichment for animals.”

Mendez added: “We have worked steadily to address recommendations from the Multnomah County Auditor and other outside evaluators.”

The lawsuits mark the latest challenge for the beleaguered shelter. News articles and audits published over the past year have highlighted a variety of problems, including poor record-keeping around euthanasia, high staff turnover, overcrowding and poor living conditions for animals.

Bedrosian’s case comes more than four months after another former volunteer, Monica Klein, filed a lawsuit alleging the county terminated her after posting on social media about her concerns over the shelter’s decision to euthanize a dog. That case is ongoing, Kessler said.

“The government isn’t allowed to tell us not to talk,” Kessler said, adding: “It’s really cruel and it undermines the democratic process. It undermines the public’s ability to know what’s going on in this facility that they’re paying for.”

Through the lawsuit, Bedrosian is also seeking to prohibit the county from taking similar action against other volunteers who raise concerns about the shelter.

“I just don’t want anybody to be afraid,” Bedrosian said.