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Preston animal shelter to close over missing money

The Preston County Animal Shelter will temporarily close as officials attempt to account for missing money and re-organize the operation, commissioners announced Monday.

The commission held an emergency meeting Monday morning to announce the closure of the shelter.  Controversy has been brewing at the shelter for the last several weeks as the former director, Courtney Austin, has been at odds with commissioners over postings on social media.

Earlier this year, commissioners dismissed Austin for insubordination.  Commissioners said Austin made several comments about the shelter that were untrue, including that the shelter was without water and that there were problems with the shelter’s heat.  Austin has denied those claims.

On Monday, commissioners claimed bad organization and record keeping have put the shelter’s finances in shambles.

Commission President Craig Jennings said there is a large difference between the amount of money the shelter should have taken in based on the number of reported adoptions and the amount of money in the bank.  Each adoption cost $75, but citizens are given a $50 voucher redeemable if they prove their animal was spayed or neutered.

However, the money that should be available to pay for those vouchers is missing, Commission President Craig Jennings said.

“We have a significant discrepancy between the amount of adoptions we were told took place and the amount of money that has come into the county,” Jennings said.  “We’re looking at — and I hate to put an amount to it without having the exact numbers — but we’re looking at the tens of thousands of dollars.”

Jennings said the commission had requested Austin help locate the paperwork.  However, Austin has not replied, he said.

“It’s not like we’ve lost something up there and we’re going to come up with a $100 tool we lost.  This is money the taxpayers are on the hook for,” Jennings said.

The shelter will not take in any more animals for the next month.  However, two employees at the shelter will continue to take care of the animals currently there, Jennings said.

“We need to totally reevaluate our procedures,” Jennings said.  “We have no choice but to close down for a time to give the staff an opportunity to get things organized and back on track.”

During that time, commissioners hope to find the money to pay for the spay and neuter voucher program.  At this point, the county does not have enough money to pay every citizen who turns in vouchers, Jennings said.

“The money that was deposited in the county doesn’t add up to even be close to the amount of vouchers we have out there,” Jennings said.

Commissioners hope to re-open the shelter by April 1.


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