You might think that, if one of the largest and oldest churches in High Point had collected a great deal of pet food, animal toys, electric fans and other needed items for the Guilford County Animal Shelter, the shelter would take those items.
But when First Baptist Church of High Point told the Animal Shelter the good news, the shelter rudely told the church that it did not want the items and it would not participate in a connected church-sponsored bless the animals celebration and adoption event meant to help shelter animals find homes.
Church member Art Cole, who was handling the effort for First Baptist Church, said the church had collected donations and was planning to do more to help the shelter in a big way. And he said he was absolutely stunned at the reception he got when he called the Animal Shelter on Friday, Sept. 8 to let them know the church had gone to major retail outlets and gotten donations of pet food, toys and other items to give to the shelter as part of a Sunday, Oct. 1 Blessing of the Animals celebration to honor St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals.
In addition to rejecting the donations, the shelter told the church that it would not send any shelter animals to the event for adoption by church members.
Cole said that, in preparation for the Oct. 1 Blessing of the Animals event, he had gone to PetSmart, Home Depot, Lowe’s and Wal-Mart, in Greensboro and High Point, and collected a large number of items for the shelter. He said he and others at the church thought the shelter would be thrilled by the news of the donations and the event that was to help get the animals adopted.
“We had 60 to 65 large bags of dog food, chew toys and other toys, a Wal-Mart gift certificate and about a dozen 12-by-20 box fans for the breezeways, since it can get up to 110 to 115 degrees in the shelter,” Cole said.
He said the church also had members interested in adopting animals and making other donations at the Oct. 1 Blessing of the Animals celebration, and event organizers wanted to bring nine or 10 shelter animals to it.
Cole said he spoke with Volunteer Outreach Coordinator Nancy Fauser, who handles events coordination for the shelter. He said that, when he told Fauser of the church’s donations and of the event, she was insolent.
“She said, ‘We don’t know you – we don’t know anything about you and we don’t want it,’” Cole said.
He also said she stated that the shelter would not provide animals for the event.
Cole said Fauser told him, “We don’t do that; Sunday is a family day.”
He said he told her that this was “a family event” and that he pointed out that the Animal Shelter had two other recent events scheduled on Sundays.
“I said, ‘So, you don’t want the donations?’” Cole said.
Cole said he was told in no uncertain terms that the shelter did not.
He said that, after the conversation, he consulted with a minister and pastor at the church.
“They said, ‘Art, you have to inform them that we were founded in 1850 and that we are the oldest church in High Point,’” he said.
Cole said a church pastor then phoned the shelter and was also treated very rudely.
Cole said the minister told him that the response was, “I don’t know you – you could be anyone.” He said the shelter worker asked the pastor if she was ordained and she said, “Yes, I am.”
“Well, anyone could get ordained online for $5,” the shelter representative said, according to Cole.
When asked about her conversation with Cole and the shelter’s rejection of the donations, Fauser, said, “I am going to refer you to Clarence Grier.”
Cole, a dog owner who has adopted dogs from the shelter before, is retired from sales and marketing for Rice Toyota and now works as a marketing consultant in the automobile industry. He said he and others at the church were absolutely flabbergasted by the response they got.
“I was broadsided by this,” he said.
He said his only experience with the shelter in the past is that he has adopted dogs from there and said he didn’t have any axe to grind with the shelter.
Cole said that, after the shelter informed the church official that the shelter wanted nothing to do with the event, he, Cole, called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of the Triad (SPCA).
He said the people at that organization were very nice and were thrilled with the donations and the chance to find homes for animals in their care.
Cole said an SPCA representative he spoke with told him that the organization had another event scheduled the day before the church’s celebration, so the SPCA staff would be tired, but they would still be delighted to participate.
Cole said he notified the corporate donors that the donations were going to the SPCA rather than to the Animal Shelter as they had originally been told, to make sure that they didn’t mind.
Grier is the deputy county manager and the county administrator who oversees the shelter and who runs it when, as now, the position of Animal Services director is unoccupied. The last director, Drew Brinkley, resigned in August after the shelter was fined for violations in animal care. (Grier told the Rhino Times this week that Brinkley’s resignation was in no way related to the fines or to the violations.)
Cole said he had tried to call Grier to express his disbelief and ask how church members and church staff could be treated so rudely when trying to help the shelter.
“I left a message for Grier, told him it was urgent and told him who I was,” Cole said.
He said Grier returned his phone call while he was at an honors dinner and couldn’t answer the call, but Cole says he called Grier as soon as the dinner ended and asked Grier to call him back and said he included in the message that he was free the rest of the night and the following day.
“I’ve not heard from him,” Cole said on Friday, Sept. 15.
When the Rhino Times spoke with Grier, he said he was going to call Cole back and discuss the matter.
When asked about why the donations had been rejected and the church leaders insulted, Grier said, “This was a misunderstanding.”
Grier said there were several factors at play in the incident. According to the deputy county manager, one reason the shelter had expressed no interest in the event or involvement with it is that a former shelter volunteer who had been banned from the Guilford County Animal Shelter was involved with those donations and with the event.
He said the former volunteer had “pre-committed” the shelter to the event before anyone checked with the shelter. He said one way he knew that was because a flier for the event had already been printed up before the shelter had agreed to participate.
Grier also said that he had mistakenly gotten the impression that the church’s animal event was the same weekend as the Friday call from Cole – which would have been too sudden to arrange.
He also said shelter workers had gotten the impression that the event was planned for a Saturday rather than a Sunday. He said a Saturday is a more difficult day for the shelter to participate on than a Sunday.
Grier added that of course the shelter needs and welcomes donations and he said it is a shame that this misunderstanding occurred.
He also said Cole should have contacted him initially since he’s the one in charge at the shelter. Cole said that since this was an event that it made sense to him to contact the shelter’s event coordinator. Cole reiterated that he did call Grier but Grier never called back.
Grier said he was going to attempt to call Cole and let him know that the shelter would accept the donations. The Rhino Times informed Grier that Cole had stated the donations were now pledged to the SPCA, which would also now be providing animals for the celebration and adoption event.
Grier didn’t name the banned volunteer that he and shelter workers believed was connected to the event, but Grier was referring to former shelter volunteer Gretel McCall.
County officials say McCall was told to never go into certain restricted areas at the shelter and that those officials said she agreed to those terms, yet, they say, she later went into one of the restricted areas despite having agreed not to.
McCall was then banned from the shelter and has now been told that if she is found on shelter property for any reason she will be asked to leave and, if she refuses, she will be arrested.
Cole said he knows the county’s rejection of the donations is due to county officials’ belief that McCall was somehow involved with the donations and the event.
At one point in his conversation with Fauser, Cole said that Fauser said, “If Gretel is involved, then we don’t want it.”
Cole said that struck him as strange because McCall was in no way connected to the event or the church. He said he did know McCall because she had been very helpful to him as a volunteer when he had adopted pets.
He said that when the church began planning the event and collecting donations for the shelter in honor of St. Francis, he knew McCall had been a volunteer at the shelter so he asked her what items the shelter needed so the church would know what to focus on in its donation drive.
Cole said he told Fauser that the event has “absolutely nothing to do with Gretel” but Fauser persisted that the shelter did not want to anything to do with her or an event she was involved with.
He said the church did make a sample flier for the event, which the church planned on getting approval for. Cole said those fliers were never meant to “pre-commit” the shelter – it was simply a “rough draft” given to the shelter for approval.
Cole said church members made the flyer because, if they already had a “rough draft” done, then, once the shelter gave approval, the church would be able to put the finishing touches on the flier and begin distributing them right away to publicize the celebration.
“None of those were passed out,” Cole said. “Those were for the shelter to approve. There were only 12 copies printed and they are all sitting in the back seat of my car.”
McCall and Cole both said Cole gave McCall a flier because she knew shelter volunteers and could pass it on to one of them to give to the shelter. They said she informed Cole that she had been banned from the shelter but could pass it along to someone who could get it to shelter staff for their approval. Both said that was the entire extent of McCall’s involvement other than the fact that McCall had advised Cole on some items the shelter might need donated.
Cole added that church members wanted to “surprise” the shelter with the great news of the donations and the event. He said it never occurred to anyone at the church that the shelter would be hostile to a church trying to give it donations and help find homes for the animals, so they didn’t think twice about making a rough draft of a flier.
He said he thought that shelter workers and administrators would be delighted at the fact that the church had a great deal of food, toys, fans and other items to give with more donations expected.
“We thought it would be a surprise,” he said.
Cole also said it was strange when a church leader was told, “We don’t know you.”
“It’s not like we’re some fly by night organization,” he said of the oldest church in High Point. “We just wanted to help the animals.”
The Rhino Times inquired into McCall being banned from the shelter earlier this year while investigating another shelter related matter.
On Thursday, May 25, Guilford County Attorney Mark Payne wrote in an email to the Rhino Times, “Ms. McCall was a volunteer at the Animal Shelter. As a volunteer, she had permission to interact with the animals in ways not permitted by the public and permission to enter into areas of the shelter not open to the public. There is no issue as to the right of the county to restrict public access to certain areas and restrict it to other areas, not only in its animal shelter but in all its operations. Restricting the public from certain portions of the shelter is necessary for the proper functioning of shelter operations.”
He added, “The County determined that it no longer needed her services as a volunteer. During the discussion in which she was informed that she was no longer a volunteer, she was asked to not go into the restricted areas in the future. She stated she understood and agreed to do so. Further correspondence with the shelter director by email clarifies the understanding. In those emails she is specifically told – again – that she cannot interact with the animals as a volunteer; that she should not go into the enclosure; that she should not take animals out of the enclosure; that she should inform a staff if she needs anything …”
McCall, who wanted to continue volunteering at the shelter, and continues to want to do so, explained her account of events in an email to Payne sent in May: “On May 10, 2017 at around 12:30 pm, I arrived at the shelter taking pictures and videos of dogs that I thought needed more publicity. As I am approaching Daphne’s kennel I noticed that she didn’t look up at me as she usually did, as a matter of fact at first I thought I was looking at a dead animal. I approach her kennel and she is lying on her left side and was in medical distress. I then opened her kennel and touched her head, which was ice cold. I looked around and told a worker who was walking around to ‘go get a vet tech now, that Daphne was very sick.’ After waiting what seems like hours but was probably no more than a couple of minutes, I looked around and did not see anyone coming to help. By this time, Daphne’s [condition] was deteriorating badly, so I pick[ed] her up and took her to the medical room. An employee named Garit saw me holding Daphne and opened the door to the medical room. At this time two women approached and immediately took Daphne.”
McCall said she was extremely concerned about the animal and she only entered the medical room after a staff employee had held the door open for her.
Daphne later died, and that and other incidents drew the attention of state animal welfare oversight officers to the shelter.
There are other tensions between Grier and McCall, who took exception to comments Grier made last week in the Rhino Times when he said that a former volunteer had recorded him without his knowledge. It happened during a meeting meant to air the shelter’s initial issues with McCall before the incident with Daphne. McCall said Grier knew she was recording the meeting.
In a copy of an email provided to the Rhino Times, McCall sent Grier – and copied to Brinkley – prior to that meeting, McCall stated. “Mr. Grier, in your response to your request to meet [and] discuss my time as a volunteer at the Guilford County Animal Shelter, I am available Wednesday, May 3 or Friday, May 5, after 3:15pm. As I have been given no notice as to what topic or personal concerns you wish to question me on, I will be bringing representation as well as the means to document our meeting entirely.”
McCall also said that, at that meeting, she took her phone out, placed it obviously on the table in front of her and hit record. She said all the other people in the room – Brinkley, Grier and a man she didn’t know but guesses was a county attorney, and two others with a case to be decided – saw her do it.
“I placed my phone in front of me and said, ‘I’m ready to record,” McCall said, adding that one person at the meeting later requested a copy of the recording because his case was also discussed just as McCall’s case was.
McCall said that she does not believe she did anything wrong then or now and that, even if she had, the shelter shouldn’t be penalizing the animals because of it.
“What do I have to do with a church?” McCall said. “Why would anyone turn down donations whether from church or a college sorority or anyone? Why would a county shelter turn down an adoption promotion and tons of donations?”