ST. PETERSBURG - A well-known local pet shelter is facing questions after several employees voiced concerns about the safety of animals. Friends of Strays, Inc. operates a non-profit shelter in St. Petersburg that has been working to help care for and find homes for cats and dogs for nearly 35 years.
Five kennel techs spoke out to the I-Team, saying they are being asked to administer medications to animals without the proper training or supervision by a veterinarian. Shortly after the I-Team began looking into the allegations, the five employees say they were all fired for voicing their concerns.
The allegation is that after a vet tech was recently fired, there is currently no one present at the shelter on a regular basis with any veterinary or medical training. The kennel techs say they have no training and their duties primarily consist of cleaning kennels and socializing animals, but a manager has ordered them to administer medications to animals daily.
“A couple of us did ask, “Well, we can’t medicate new animals, animals that get sick because we have no tech or veterinarian here. ”
She told us that we knew what we were doing,” claims fired employee Nicole Corcella.
The fired employees believe it’s only a matter of time before a mistake is made that could harm one of the hundreds of animals at the shelter.
“The animals are suffering for it,” said Ryan Wiggins.
“We have no qualifications,” said Heather Filmon.
“They’re not getting the medical attention they need,” Kiernan said.
“It’s been awful,” said Hagen Johnson.
Corcella, Wiggins, Filmon, Kiernan, and Johnson say they were all fired for talking with the I-Team about their concerns.
“I’m afraid something’s going to get missed, like a cat’s going to be injured or sick for longer than it needs to be,” Filmon said.
Florida law says a licensed vet is required to supervise the treatment of animals. The shelter’s director, Beverly Passe, says the employees are being supervised and they are properly trained to administer medications. She says a vet comes in once a week and oversees all medical decisions by phone and e-mail.
But employees we spoke with claim in some cases, medications for cats were changed without consulting with a vet. We spoke with Dr. Maria Oliveira, president of the South Florida Veterinary Medical Association. She told us she couldn’t speak to the specifics of the allegations, but she said a licensed professional would be required to make any medical decision regarding an animal’s care.
"Any change in medication needs to be approved by a veterinarian," Dr. Maria Oliveira said.
Friends of Strays, Inc. would not answer questions about the alleged employee terminations or agree to an on-camera interview. Executive director Beverly Passe provided an e-mailed statement to the I-Team, which reads:
“Friends of Strays is a non-profit, no-kill animal organization dedicated to the care and adoption of homeless pets.
Like any workplace, we have experienced recent staff changes. Right now, we are working diligently to find qualified, dedicated individuals to help us care for these homeless animals, and be a part of a great team serving a great cause.
We will continue to provide appropriate care to our animals under the direction of the shelter veterinarian in accordance with state law. The well-being of these stray animals is our highest concern and has been since our organization was founded 35 years ago.
We welcome loving families and individuals seeking to adopt a homeless animal, those interested in fostering an animal, or volunteers to help at our shelter. Visit our website to learn more: www.friendsofstrays.com .” –Beverly Passe, executive director, Friends of Strays shelter
The employees we spoke with say they plan to file a complaint with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
“If we don’t take a stand, no one else is going to,” Filmon said.
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