In an annual performance review filed in 2014, Susan G. Pierce, director of Broward County’s Animal Care and Adoption Section, received rave reviews. Her bosses said that Pierce “consistently contributes more than expected” in nearly every category. That same year, however, the Broward Office of Inspector General released a scathing, 114-page report accusing Pierce’s agency of recurring “misconduct and gross mismanagement.”
Among the report’s findings: The shelter, under Pierce’s leadership, mishandled ketamine, a drug for euthanizing animals that’s known on the streets as “Special K” and is used as a date-rape drug. The shelter also failed to secure other drugs such as sodium pentobarbital, a barbiturate, and xylazine, a sedative. The report also revealed that the shelter often released dogs to owners without vaccinating them for rabies.
Broward Animal Care and Adoption’s “failure to operate responsibly has recklessly created a public health and safety risk for all Broward residents and visitors, as well as causing an incalculable financial loss to animal care funding,” Inspector General John Scott wrote in the report.
Some animal-rights advocates say Pierce was hired without proper scrutiny and should be replaced.
The main issue, they say, is the county’s lack of implementing a “No Kill” resolution that county commissioners passed in 2012. In fact, killings at the Broward animal shelter have only increased since the resolution.
The resolution was merely just a declaration of intent for Broward to become a no-kill county. Implementing it has proved challenging. In the month immediately following its passing, the number of animals abandoned at the shelter doubled, from 731 to 1,462.
The magnitude of the challenge is precisely why the shelter needs an experienced and committed leader, critics say.
According to her personnel file, Pierce has had 27 years’ experience working in county government, and earns $146,318.22 annually — the same salary she made working as the assistant director of the permitting, licensing, and consumer protection division of the county’s Environmental Protection and Growth Management Department from 2004 until she got the shelter director position in 2013. In that first position, she provided “on-site management” of the Animal Care and Adoption Section “through the administration of applicable ordinances, policies, and procedures,” her résumé says.
But that’s not good enough, Pets Broward President Meredeth Bruder says.
“Managing a shelter and managing a shelter well, while also creating and implementing a no-kill initiative, are not the same thing,” Bruder says.
Bruder says Cynthia Chambers, director of Environmental Protection & Growth Management in Broward and Pierce’s former boss at that department, handed Pierce her current job. Says Bruder: "They just gave it over to a lifelong county employee. Didn’t bother to hire someone who knows what they’re doing.”
Pierce herself has been on what the county is calling an “extended leave,” though no one from the county New Times spoke with would reveal why.
Thomas Adair, operations director and assistant director to Pierce, would only say that the leave was “personal” but insisted Pierce is qualified for the job.
“According to the criteria for the position, Susan meets the qualifications for this job,” he tells New Times.
Advocates and protesters say they’d like to see Pierce reassigned within the county and for her current position to be filled by someone with experience running a no-kill program.
“We are not questioning her as an employee of the county,” Bruder tells New Times. “She seems to have a very solid record with the county. We are merely questioning her as the choice as the director of animal services with the knowledge that she has no previous experience in programs related to running a successful no-kill initiative.”
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When asked about the criticism, Adair insists that the county is working hard to save lives.
“We are doing everything within our resources to get homes for these animals and doing everything we can to save lives,” he says. “We’re in the business of saving lives. Our goal is to get ourselves out of business.”
Bruder scoffed at this and reiterated that while Pierce is a good county employee, she’s been miscast in her role.
“She has glowing recommendations for everything else, just not this,” Bruder says. “Let’s give the shelter a fresh start. We’re not calling for blood; we just want to save animals. I’m not saying anything that’s not true. Make us not have to put up billboards or have protests. Stop killing animals and we’ll stop talking.”