A room full of pet lovers at Wentzville City Hall gave a collective gasp when Alderman Linda Wright moved to cancel the city’s contract for services with Animal Talk Medical Center Wednesday night. For nearly two hours, they had been taking turns at the microphone to share their experiences with the board–and demand change. For many of them, an end to the contract was the change they’d hoped for.
The emotional discussion came about after allegations against Animal Talk Medical Center and owner Dr. Mark Lucas began piling up on social media. Mayor Nick Guccione and Alderman Cheryl Kross met with several animal rescue representatives and then brought the discussion to the entire board and city staff at Wednesday’s regular board meeting.
Guccione opened the discussion with a proposal for changes to the city’s contract with Animal Talk that would include rescue groups in random inspections of the Animal Talk facility and in placement of strays and animals whose owners could not be identified. Fees would be posted, and random surveys would determine if people were being treated courteously. No animal would be euthanized without advance notice so that rescue groups could redouble their efforts.
Dr. Lucas was willing to make “some substantial changes,” Guccione said.
At that point, citizens began sharing their stories – owners with impounded pets who found out that Animal Talk fees had to be paid in cash, sometimes resulting in the pet getting held over additional days and adding to impound fees; owners who said they had been subject to surly and uncaring treatment; an adopter with a dog that was spayed at five weeks of age, resulting in permanent damage; rescuers unhappy with the high rate of euthanasia at a clinic that, they said, refused their help with placement.
Dr. Lucas was not present to address any of the allegations.
The motion to terminate the contract came rather unexpectedly after City Administrator tried to wrap up the discussion. “I think we have the consensus of the board to work with him (Lucas),” City Administrator Robert Bartolotta said.
“This is never going to work out for the citizens that have had to deal with him,” Wright said. She moved to terminate the contract and Alderman Michael Rhoades seconded.
Bartolotta told the board that if the motion passed, the city would have to immediately suspend non-critical services. Bite cases and vicious dogs could be taken to the county shelter, but that was all.
“We’ll have animals running at large tomorrow,” Alderman Robert Hussey said. “We need to time it better.”
Wright called the question, and only she and Rhoades voted for termination.
Alderman Kross then moved that city staff continue to work on alternatives–both in the scope of animal services required by the city and in possible new providers for those services–and return a plan to the board at the April 8 regular meeting.
Despite the defeat of the original motion to terminate the contract, animal rescue representatives were optimistic. “Two votes! It’s more than we had hoped for,” one rescuer said.