When Loucretia Morrison worked at the Cheaha Regional Humane Society, she says, she took three dogs home to live with her.
Last week, Anniston police arrested her on misdemeanor theft charges related to those dogs.
Those charges are the latest round in a heated battle over the Humane Society, which runs an animal shelter on Morrisville Road. Former workers claim the shelter, a nonprofit that works on contract with Calhoun County’s government, is riddled with management issues.
“I quit because of the hostile work environment,” Morrison said.
The Cheaha Regional Humane Society has run the shelter on behalf of the county since 2013, when local officials decided to turn over animal control to the nonprofit. It’s run by a director and a handful of volunteers and minimum-wage workers, former employees of the shelter say.
Morrison was one of those workers before she resigned in February, citing disagreements with Jane Cunningham, chairwoman of the shelter’s board of directors. Among those disagreements was a dispute about the status of some of the dogs at the shelter.
Morrison acknowledges that she took one dog, a border collie named Georgina, home from the shelter without adopting. She said Georgina was a stray who was found wearing a collar that was likely put on her when she was much smaller, a collar that had begun to dig into her neck. Morrison said she tried to remove the collar from the dog and was told to stop.
“I was told, put her back in her kennel, she’s on the euthanasia list anyway,” Morrison said. “So I took her home.”
Morrison said she later took another dog, Grace, home with a plan to adopt her. She said that after she resigned, shelter officials refused to let her pay the $100 adoption fee and demanded the dog back. Morrison said she took a third dog, Trent, home after an owner brought him in — though she says the dog was not in the custody of the shelter.
In mid-May, Morrison found herself under arrest on on warrants for charges of theft of property under $500 — the result of taking Georgina and another dog home with her. Morrison told The Star she was charged with three counts of theft; a county prosecutor said she faces only two charges.
Another former employee, Jamie Pate, said she left the shelter because of its treatment of employees, including back pay for overtime that was never paid. Pate, who lives in Oxford, said Oxford police later came to claim Blue, a dog she’d taken home from the shelter. Pate said she paid an adoption fee for the dog. She said Blue is now at the shelter, though she plans to go to court to get the dog back.
Cunningham said she wasn’t able to comment on most of those claims, though she said Morrison had taken multiple animals away from the shelter, and brought only one back.
“We are required by the state vet to make sure that no animals leave the shelter without being properly vetted so they cannot go out and breed and create an animal control problem,” she said.
Cunningham in late March filed a libel lawsuit against a Jacksonville resident, Gail DaParma, for comments DaParma made on Facebook about the shelter. According to Cunningham’s suit, DaParma last year made posts accusing her of “funny business” with a shelter tax return and failure to observe “sound accounting practices” at the shelter.
Cunningham declined to discuss the suit, though in court documents she says DaParma’s statements harmed Cunningham’s reputation “because they touch on her operation of trade or profession and impeach her skill.” Cunningham also alleges DaParma knew the statements to be false when she made the statements.
The Star couldn’t find DaParma’s statements on her Facebook profile, though DaParma in a telephone interview said she didn’t remove them and still stands by them.
“It’s all the truth,” DaParma said.
In her own filing in the libel case, DaParma says that her claims were “fair comments made as a private citizen exercising her right of free speech, discussing matters of public importance and as a concerned citizen of the community.”
County officials have so far had little public comment on the conflict. County Commissioner Lee Patterson said he’d heard about the debate over the shelter’s administration, but had little information on hand about its finances. The county, he noted, gives the shelter money but the shelter is responsible for its own finances.
“I don’t want to put stuff on the table if I don’t have all the facts,” he said.
Asked for information on the shelter’s finances, County Administrator Mark Tyner sent The Star a copy of the most recent audit the shelter sent to the county, covering the 2015 fiscal year. The audit shows the agency bringing in about $213,000 that year, $204,000 of it from the county contract and the rest from other sources.
Tyner said the county doesn’t have a role in the shelter’s personnel decisions.
“Any personnel matters are solely the responsibility of the contractor directly,” Tyner said.