My Response to Preston Commission Allegations

Published by Daleen Berry on

Note: Please watch this accurate and moving Youtube video a volunteer created about Courtney’s work at the PCAS and her love for the animals there. It will inspire you! If you’re so inclined, check out the other articles here about Courtney and the PCAS.

Courtney Austin continues to be chained by false allegations made by the Preston County Commission, after taking an animal shelter with a 75-percent kill rate and turning it into a no-kill shelter.

I’m finding it hard to maintain my recent silence, after hearing about the most recent allegations of missing money at the Preston County Animal Shelter. This is difficult because of the direct implication of my daughter, as reported by West Virginia MetroNews.

I attended the public meeting held at WV Wesleyan College in Febrary, where The Federation of Humane Organizations (FOHO) and United States Humane Society (USHS) folks spoke about the statewide spay-neuter problem. (About 77,000 animals are known to be killed each year in WV; FOHO officials say this is a low estimate and the actual number is probably much higher.)

After seeing the numbers for Preston County, and the corresponding costs that night, and hearing some shelter financial figures tossed around, I requested documents that would help me understand what has been going on with the shelter budget.

According to a document FOHO provided me, which came directly from the PCC, the shelter receives $72,000 each year from the county. Another $40,000 comes from outside donations, and other revenue streams. That is a total shelter budget of $112,000.

Yet the shelter has been without one of its furnaces since September–a fact the PCC only acknowledged recently, after being forced to. Why, with a budget this size, were the funds not appropriated to replace the furnace? Where have those funds been spent? I’d like to see an investigative journalist who is receiving a paycheck from a news agency investigate this.

In 2008, Kathy Plum, with the Dominion Post, wrote two articles about the shelter that have caused me to believe the PCC has been taking this money and using it for other unrelated items. The first article, in January, said the shelter director at the time appeared before the PCC announcing she had reduced the euthanasia rate. Then she asked for money for needed shelter items. Plum’s article said Commissioner Vicki Cole said the shelter did not need one of those items–a trailer to transport animals which are seized from abusive and neglectful owers. In response, a county official, Terri Funk, offered the use of her family’s horse trailer.

One month later, Plum’s second article reported the shelter director had quit and the PCC had opted to close the shelter. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to realize that in closing the shelter, the PCC then has excess money to spend somewhere. Perhaps this is why the PCC decides to close the shelter every so often–so they can spend even more of the shelter money for whatever “pet” projects they have a personal interest in seeing funded.

I have tried to remove myself from this story, because I used to cover the commission and, as a result, have had a personal relationship with some of the current sitting members and the county administrator. But as Courtney’s mother, it’s hard to do that when I see such blatant disregard for the truth and an obvious attempt to turn the spotlight away from the PCC’s own suspicious actions. Especially is this difficult for me when, as a trained journalist, I see year and years of shelter problems that seem only to be made worse by the PCC’s actions, rather than better.

The facts indicate the shelter’s past and present problems do not rest with my daughter’s managerial abilities. And I find it hard to fathom why she would be accused of stealing when she offered to and then left several pieces of equipment from her own family farm behind at the shelter for its continued use, when the PCC fired her. It sounds to me like it’s time for the PC prosecutor to step in and see what’s obviously been an ongoing money problem for several years. Because if mismanagement of funds has occurred, it hasn’t happened on Courtney’s watch. That is something I’d stake my reputation–and my life–on.

Editor’s note: Berry is the executive director of Samantha’s Sanctuary, Inc., a new 501(c)3 nonprofit dedicated to helping empower abused women and their children. She invites you to join her when she gives her first TEDx talk in April 2013.

Berry is the first recipient of the Pearl Buck Award in Writing for Social Change. Berry speaks about overcoming abuse through awareness, empowerment and goal attainment at conferences around the country.Her memoir (paperback and as an e-book) can be found at bookstores everywhere, or ordered online. To read an excerpt, please go to the Sister of Silence site. Check out the five-star review from ForeWord Reviews. Or find out why Kirkus Reviews called Berry “an engaging writer, her style fluid and easy to read, with welcome touches of humor and sustained tension throughout”.

Daleen Berry

Daleen Berry

Daleen Berry (1963- ) is a New York Times best-selling author and TEDx speaker who was born in sunny San Jose, California, but who grew up climbing trees and mountains in rural West Virginia. When she isn't writing, she's reading. Daleen is also an award-winning journalist and columnist, and has written for such publications as The Daily Beast, Huffington Post, and XOJane. Daleen has written or co-written eight nonfiction books, including her memoir, "Sister of Silence," "The Savage Murder of Skylar Neese," "Pretty Little Killers," "Cheatin' Ain't Easy," "Tales of the Vintage Berry Wine Gang," "Shatter the Silence," and "Appalachian Murders & Mysteries," an anthology. In 2015, West Virginia University placed "Sister of Silence" and "Guilt by Matrimony" on its Appalachian Literature list. You can follow her blog here: Or find her on Facebook and Twitter, as well as email her at daleen(dot)berry(at)gmail(dot)com. She loves to hear from readers.