No Kill Movement
Florida Sheriff: Animal Control Officer Who Needlessly Killed Animals, Lied, Framed Her Boss, Keepin
Updated: Jun 7, 2019
147 shelter animals are dead. The person responsible framed her boss for the deeds, resulting in the boss's wrongful termination. Yet, the perpetrator is keeping her job at the Lake County Sheriff's Office and remains in charge of the County's animal control officers.
Photo: Jennifer Ferguson holds a litter of kittens at the Lake County Animal Shelter. Ferguson served as the shelter supervisor prior to the County's transition to No Kill. She now serves as the lead Animal Control Officer for the Lake County Sheriff's Office. Photo courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel.
When most people in the No Kill Movement think of Lake County, Florida, they think of the stunning turn-around of their open admission animal control shelter, which became a No Kill shelter on January 15, 2017, when control of the animal shelter was transferred from the Lake County Sheriff's Office (LCSO) to the Lake County Board of Commissioners (LCBC). The remarkable and rapid turnaround of the shelter was one of the most talked about and celebrated shelter success stories in 2017. Recently, however, a judgment in a civil lawsuit against the LCSO and the former shelter supervisor is shedding light on the scope of the challenge advocates faced as they pushed for reform of the County shelter. The lawsuit dates back to events that occurred in 2014, when the LCSO was running the animal shelter and involves the reported killing of nearly 150 animals at the shelter.
A more detailed explanation of the lawsuit was recently published in the Orlando Sentinel. The short and simple version goes something like this... Jennifer Ferguson worked at the Lake County Animal Shelter as the shelter supervisor in 2014 at a time when the shelter was operated by the LCSO.. They had recently hired a new director, with the stated goal of achieving No Kill status. Only days after the new director was hired, and at a time when she was reportedly out of town, and when Ferguson was in charge of the shelter, nearly 150 animals were killed - 20 of them on one day alone. Ferguson blamed the killing on the new director, who was promptly fired, with the LCSO releasing a series of statements pinning the killings on the new director, even though a LCSO internal investigation pinned the killings on Ferguson, not the new director. As a result, a wrongful termination, defamation and slander lawsuit was brought against Ferguson and LCSO. The suit was only recently adjudicated, after being locked up in the court system, as issues of court jurisdiction were worked out.
In the end, a federal jury decided in favor of the fired and then smeared former director and against LCSO and Ferguson. Specifically, they concluded that Ferguson had lied about the killings, which she, herself, had ordered and helped conduct. They also concluded that she doctored records and other things. She did all this, according to court records, because she wanted the director's job. In spite of the internal investigation which concluded Ferguson was responsible for the killings, she remained in her job.
Fast forward to January of 2017, when the Lake County Board of Commissioners was taking over shelter operations. Ferguson was still working as the shelter manager up to the transition. However, she was not hired to remain at the shelter after the transition. Instead, LCSO hired her as the lead animal control officer and ever since, according to multiple sources with inside information about Lake County's transition to No Kill, Ferguson has continued to cause problems in that job. "When I was there, staff at animal control referred to Ferguson as 'you-know-who' as in 'you-know-who is stirring up trouble again," said one person who worked at the shelter during the transition. Another former staffer said, "Many animals arrived via her transport and the owner would arrive and say the dog was in their yard and disappeared, or she [Ferguson] bullied them into surrendering [their pets] because of some obscure reason."
In short, these sources say they believe Ferguson has been working to undermine No Kill efforts since before the transition occurred.
After the recent court decision, the jury awarded the former director $100,000, $65,000 from LCSO and $35,000 from Ferguson, because of the killing Ferguson did or ordered and which she used to frame the former director.
In spite of these shocking revelations, the LCSO has said they plan to keep Ferguson, a fact that caused the Editorial Board of the Daily Commercial to describe the situation as "a foul odor" at animal control. And, local animal advocates at Shelter Reform of Lake County have pointed out the absurdity of the fact that a person NOT responsible for killing these animals was wrongly fired because of the killings. Yet, LCSO won't fire the person who was actually responsible, and who lied about it and doctored records in order to frame her boss.
Taking a few steps back from all of that can provide a fascinating perspective on the overnight transition to No Kill in Lake County. Not only did Lake County achieve No Kill practically overnight, they did it with a lead animal control officer working to sabotage the effort. These new revelations make the stunning success that much more remarkable.
Our prediction is that this story is not yet done unfolding. The Sheriff's decision to keep Ferguson does not seem sustainable, particularly with more people beginning to come forward with more information about Ferguson. We will do our best to continue to follow the story as more information comes out.