PETA, You’ve Been Lied To—Animal Shelter Manager Fired For Exposing Harmful Shelter Conditions

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!

Meet my daughter, Courtney Austin, a little “girl” with a big heart, and a true animal lover if there ever was one!

My daughter was fired from her job as manager of the Preston County Animal Shelter tonight, after commissioners got into a tizzy over her use of social media to find homes for abused and abandoned animals. And even with 20 years of journalism experience behind me, I could only sit there and watch it happen. I was powerless to stop it.

I began covering Preston County Commission meetings in 1988, when I was a cub reporter. In all those years, I’ve never seen someone so blatantly lie to the public as happened tonight. Of course, it was never personal for me before tonight. And rarely have I been in possession of so many of the facts I have now, that back up a county employee’s accusations against a corrupt county commission.

There is simply no way around it, so I’m going to be blunt. Commission President Craig Jennings—speaking for all three commissioners and, no doubt, the commission administrator—lied to PETA and Preston County residents tonight. He did this when he said the commission never asked Courtney Austin to turn over her Facebook passwords to the commission.

 

Courtney is a county employee who also happens to be my daughter. Jennings accused Courtney of lying. So I’m sure you can understand why, as a mother, I’m incensed.

 

Jennings also lied to a representative from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who called to inquire about Courtney’s claims. He told us so tonight, while saying he told the PETA person it wasn’t true the shelter had no heat or water.

 

Because I’m angry and saddened at the incredible corruption I observed firsthand, I’m hoping you’ll help me help the video about Courtney’s amazing work to go viral. (Since there’s no better revenge than the truth!) It’s a homemade video, but my hat’s off to whoever made it. Not only does it pack a big punch, it will truly inspire you.

 

I know Jennings lied tonight, because I’ve seen the evidence, proving the commission did demand she turn over her passwords. It’s the same evidence Courtney’s sister, Cassandra Harvey, has seen and which she referred to in a WBOY piece earlier yesterday.

The commission did just that after Courtney—seeking public support for more than 100 animals housed at the shelter—took to social media to find the help “her” animals needed. (Courtney, true animal lover that she is, thinks all the animals there are hers.)

 

“We feel that we . . . have had a fraud perpetrated on us, that knowingly and willingly Ms. Austin has allowed false accusations against other county employees, that friends and family have been misled to believe that there were no water or heat at the shelter, and that we were trying to get personal information at no time we ever wanted that . . .” thus began the long statement Jennings issued to a room packed full of people who showed up to support Courtney. (Yes, those are his words, verbatim.)

 

People who braved bad roads and waited outside in heavy snowfall or inside, squeezed together tighter than a pair of Spanx, heard Jennings’ lies for themselves. Many of them spoke up as he spoke, voicing comments that indicated they were animal volunteers who had seen the shelter conditions firsthand.

 

Others, like Carol Krusey, who traveled more than two hours from Pittsburgh to support Courtney, directly disputed Jennings’ comments. Krusey said she had transported animals just recently for the PCAS and “there was no heat. It was so cold in there I could see my breath.” Krusey’s calm yet determined comments caused Jennings to interrupt her. Yet Krusey stood her ground, maintaining that Courtney has not lied about the heat and water problems.

 

If you have any doubt of that, all you need to do is watch Krista Baker’s great piece on the shelter. WBOY aired it on Jan. 27, and in that segment, Baker herself lends fuel to Courtney’s claim when Baker says it’s quite cold outside, and barely any warmer inside—where “the temperature doesn’t go up by much.”

 

I’m not going to go into much more about the commission meeting here—but since it was a public meeting, that means that every word spoken there tonight is on record and anyone can hear it for themselves, simply by getting a copy of the recording or the minutes. (Many of Courtney’s supporters, like me, also taped it.)

What I will say is that I’m very disappointed in the commission. I’ve known Commissioner Dave Price and County Administrator Kathy Mace since 1988, when we all worked together in the media. I’ve known Commissioner Vicki Cole almost as long. Jennings, I’ve only met recently. But I’ve heard enough to make me wary. Very wary!

 

So after commenting myself, and listening to all the comments of other people at the meeting, I can only say that it felt like they had their minds made up before the sun rose today. Because after hearing what every single person said about Courtney’s miraculous efforts at the shelter, turning it in one year from a kill shelter to one that hasn’t killed any adoptable animals, the only logical thing the commission could have done was apologized and immediately rescinded their action. The public in attendance tonight gave them every opportunity to do so. But apparently, the commissioners don’t care one whit what the taxpaying public wants.

 

And I’m not sure, but it’s also certainly possible the commissioners’ decision to fire Courtney tonight was illegal. I objected twice, asking why the commission wasn’t listening to the public’s comments before they took a vote. (Nor did they advertise the fact they were meeting with Courtney prior to the meeting. Jennings noted at one point that it was “an emergency meeting.” However, in my reporting experience, emergency meetings aren’t those planned three days in advance—like this one was.) Regardless, Jennings told me they didn’t have to listen to the comments before they voted.

 

Personally, I think the commission just did my daughter a big favor. Now she has time to come and join me for that matinee we’ve been trying to take in for the last year. And she can spend time with her husband and his son, and catch up on the newest John Grisham books she’s sure to have missed while working 65-75 hours a week since she began in Sept. 2010.

 

But this is wrong on so many levels. And not just in the sense that Courtney was wrongfully terminated. Many people have posted publicly on the “Help Support Courtney Austin” Facebook page, saying this sounds like a whistleblower case, if they’ve ever heard one. They’ve also shared links to articles from the New York Times, citing laws and recent legal cases involving an employee’s use of social media in the workplace. Those cases sound identical to this one.

 

And since Courtney now has an attorney by her side, along with a growing list of supporters from around the world, we should know whether they are soon enough.

 

In the meantime, you might learn a little more from Baker’s interview with me tonight. Here’s hoping WBOY-TV posts that video soon. Because there’s nothing to boost ratings like hearing from a mother whose child has been wronged.

 

Editor’s note: Berry would love it if you would please support Courtney and her efforts to save more than 100 animals still housed at the shelter during what’s turning into a very bad winter here. You can sign the petition asking for her reinstatement, send her a friend request or give her a high five, or like the “Help Support Courtney Austin” page, along with a growing number of people around the world.

 

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 takes to the stage in “Knowing Who We Are,” part of Penn State’s University’s Cultural Conversations 2013. Berry will present a soliloquy of her memoir about rape, Sister of Silence, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2013, at The Penn State Downtown Theater Center on Allen Street.
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 the first chapter free, please go to Goodreads. 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.” To read her award-winning memoir, Sister of Silence, in e-book format (or any other e-book), download a free app from Amazon for your phone, tablet or computer.

If you want to read more than 100 reviews, go to Amazon. To view the Sister of Silence book trailer, go to her VintageBerryWine Youtube channel.


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: https://www.daleenberry.com. 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.

12 Comments

Terri Smith · February 5, 2013 at 9:23 AM

OMG I can’t believe they would fire her when you can clearly see how much she cares about getting help in finding homes to save lives instead of them being killed. Here in Kanawha County we have several websites to find as many homes as possible. How dare you do this do someone that cares so much and gave all her time without getting paid just because she has a heart. This is a total disgrace!!!!!!

    Daleen Berry · February 6, 2013 at 3:14 PM

    Sadly, the reason West Virginia is struck with such stereotypes as you see on TV shows and even in the news, is just because of such attitudes as these. It is a disgrace, and not a great business move, either. Thank you, Terri!

Lisa · February 5, 2013 at 2:13 PM

Daleen, First of all, I should sayPreston County may not have the money to run the animal shelter, but I don’t know why they can’t just say that. What EVIDENCE can ‘they’ provide that says Courtney must give them the password? WHY didn’t they want her using public soc. media to distribute animals to good homes?
You know I’ve known some of these people from different environments years ago. Altho it bothers me and I wouldn’t like to see lives destroyed, some of them are decent, good-doing people in other areas. The powers that consider themselves ‘to be’ in Pr. County, do not see themselves as constrained by the law. I guess it’s public record, but look how they tried to bully Aurora into their consolidation plan! If SOME PEOP. hadn’t gone to Charleston and to the state Board of Ed., those 30-plus kids wldstill spend over an hour on the bus (illegal) instead of the 20 min.s or so to Tucker Co. high! Has corrupt-ness become a way of life in Kingwood, so much so they don’t even realize it. Pick some other towns/counties across nation and see how they handle. Prest. a big county,lots of issues.
Two: Was C bent on doing an excellent job or did she love the animals? My bet is both, but the animals came first. Doesn’t she still? Don’t they need her? Can a volunteer organ. be put together? Wouldn’t that shame the CoCom? Do they want that space for something else, just trying to make that go out of there? Because with all the supportrs that came to meeting, etc, shld be able. Unless they just enjoyed the hoopla n making a splash. Bec. whether Courtney is getting paid or not, maybe only in her little area of the county, take care of animals. Won’t have to pay attention to Com. nor be subject to their whims. Aren’t I great at handing out assign. when I don’t have to do anything? N bc we hv no $, I guess I think everybody else must be rich! Well, tell Courtney I’m pulling for her, as are all they fuzzy, squealy, skinny, homeless creatures. James Herriot would be proud of her! ooh-oooh–u cld Zerox a bunch of excerpts from his books n drop them, like ‘propoganda’ from a plane! no, littering. Commission’d getcha! big fine! Lisa

    michelle · February 6, 2013 at 4:42 PM

    They tried to do that to our two girls here the start of the school year here. We live 10 min from Valley Elementary and they wanted to send our 7 & 5 yr olds to Kingwood here. Just because of too many kids but they were bussing in kids from Kingwood to go to Valley and sending Kids from Valley to Kingwood here. Its crazy how the whole County is messed up with everything and only getting worse here

Donna Young · February 5, 2013 at 2:50 PM

God will truly bless Courtney ahead for her work and compassion. As for the Commissioners, their day will come ahead. This door closing will open a window Courtney has yet to imagine. Remember Gen. 50 – They meant it for evil toward her, but God means it for good – beyond her wildest beliefs! Rooting for Courtney and her family.

    Daleen Berry · February 6, 2013 at 3:12 PM

    As He always does, Donna. Thank you so much for the support!

michelle · February 6, 2013 at 5:26 AM

As a Preston County native we are all behind your daughter and we all know how back handed and how underhanded the commisioners are here. I couldn’t make it to the meeting due to my 3 kids catching the “bug” that hit the schools here but I know how bad the animal shelter was before Courtney started working there and I seen how much of a outstanding and remarkable job she did in the little time she was there. I’m praying that this will get out and all will see how bad it is here in Preston County with these Commisioners here in this county

    Daleen Berry · February 6, 2013 at 3:10 PM

    Well sick kids take priority over most all else. Thank you for the support, Michelle. I know how bad it was before Courtney, because I watched my mom repeatedly try to get the shelter people to come and pick up a neglected and abused Cocker Spaniel across the street. She finally kidnapped the dog, to save its life. But not its eyesight, as it had already gone blind.

Lenora Shaver · February 6, 2013 at 6:15 PM

I believe every word because we have dealt with the Jennings family. He uses his position in the county to keep his family out of trouble (nephew). So sad that our county would let this go one. He needs to be fired from his position.

Sharon SW · February 7, 2013 at 7:09 PM

I read the story and irately emailed the commissioners. Craig Jennings replied and gave me the Dominion Post article wherein it alleges Courtney lied and was fired for “insubordination” – and that there is heat, etc. I requested photos of the conditions with non-biased, unannounced visitors but that request was ignored. I hope Courtney fights this for principle and to clear their unsubstantiated mendacity — these people assume the slightest bit of “power” over their little fiefdom and those who are not sycophants are dealt with severely. Fight, Courtney – you have many behind you and the truth!!! Go above their heads – find TV News willing to expose them.

Mary Wells · March 19, 2013 at 8:35 PM

I just finished your book Sister of Silence. For the life of me I could not understand why I could not put it down. It dawn on me I have burried a lot of sexual abuse I did not realize or remember until now. I have been experiences headaches, depression , and low self esteem for years. And since 2000 have come down with fibromyalgia . I am thinking this may have contributed to my past history. Also, my marriage has not been easy one. Like your ex husband Eddie,my husband works 80hr wks from may till sept. and never has or had weekends or most holidays off. He’s a golf club professional. I raised our two children because he was working all the time. Life was very hard in the beginning for us because he did not have a head job and was just an assistant. So like you, we were on food stamps and unemployment at times. I am fortunate he is a good man. We have had our problems. A lot more to my story and would love to join your group. And do think getting some professional help would be beneficial . But don’t know if my case is serve enough. Would love to chat with you privately. Thank you for your time. Mary wells

    Daleen Berry · March 20, 2013 at 2:56 AM

    Mary, thanks for the candid comment. You seem very self-aware and I would love to talk to you more. Please write me at my email address, which you can find on this site. Or at http://www.sisterofsilence.com.

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