*Editor's note: Above are images of resignation letters submitted by Valerie Weilert, Logan Rink, Catherine Geiger and Kelci Cooper, as well as the inspection report from Wednesday's inspection at the shelter.
PITTSBURG — Letters of resignation obtained by The Morning Sun echo claims made by former SEK Humane Society Shelter Director Kelci Cooper, as well as leveling more serious accusations.
The letters of resignation of five former SEK Humane Society shelter employees, who left their jobs in July 2017 — like Cooper’s — cite unsafe working conditions, unpaid work time, lack of training, lack of communication and a hostile work environment. Cooper submitted her resignation to the SEK Humane Society Board of Directors on Dec. 14. Some, however, make more serious accusations, specifically against Board President Mary Kay Caldwell.
“I can attest to the fact that since I began this job, Mary Kay has frequently taken prescription medication (namely Depo Medrol, which is incredibly expensive and requires approval from a veterinarian) and Science Diet cat food, calling it ‘her paycheck,’” former shelter employee Valerie Weilert wrote in her letter of resignation. “She became agitated when staff realized her actions were illegal and refused to provide her with medication, which the shelter animals direly need.”
Weilert also claims that Caldwell encouraged her not to file a worker’s compensation claim following an incident at the shelter, and degraded her for a year when she did. Other letters from former employees Logan Rink and Catherine Geiger claim lack of training has led to unreported incidents at the shelter, and that concerns brought to the board and to management fell on deaf ears.
Caldwell and Board Vice President Dr. Jennifer Girth said these are untrue claims made by disgruntled employees.
The shelter passed a snap inspection by the Kansas Department of Agriculture Wednesday, which was instigated by a complaint, according to Caldwell. The inspection sheet showed that all areas inspected met state standards.
“We had a state inspection — we didn’t even know it was happening,” Girth said. “So that shows you that there’s no unsafe work practices. It proves that those allegations are false.”
The inspection covers areas such as sanitation, animal spacing, animal appearance, food storage, feeding practices and more. However, the inspections do not look at employee training, working hours, communication and other areas of concern listed in the letters of resignation.
Girth said following the resignation of the five employees in July, the shelter began closing on Tuesdays to allow Cooper to host employee training — an initiative Caldwell said was instigated by the board in response to any concerns.
Girth and Caldwell said trainings were also conducted by the shelter veterinarian, Dr. Laura Moreland from Girard Animal Hospital.
As far as unpaid work hours, Girth said employees have been, and are, paid for all hours they turn into payroll.
The SEK Humane Society is a 501(c)3 and operates on donations. Girth and Caldwell said these untrue allegations color peoples’ perception, and ultimately hurt the animals.
“All they’re doing is hurting the animals, and that’s what the media is doing, too,” Girth said. “It’s negatively affecting the animals, because ultimately that’s who suffers.”
Caldwell said the shelter simply wants to get passed this and on with its work.
“We just want to get on and do our jobs and take care of the animals,” Caldwell said. “We don’t have time for this back and forth.”
Caldwell encouraged anyone with concerns to visit the shelter. She also said the next board of directors meeting will be January 16. The entire shelter staff is invited to the meeting to meet the new board members.
— Chance Hoener is a staff writer for the Morning Sun. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @ReporterChance.