John Dinon terminated as director of Ingham Co. Animal Control

Posted at 9:09 AM, Aug 01, 2018
and last updated 2018-08-01 11:26:14-04

Tuesday, the director of Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter (ICACS) is out of a job.

The Ingham County Board of Commissioners voted 9-4, at a special meeting, to end John Dinon's employment immediately over allegations of dogs neglected and abused under his watch.

Also leaving is ICACS Deputy Director Anne Burns, commissioners announced she will retire by the end of the week.

Dinon and Burns were both suspended with pay on July 24, 2018, at a Board of Commissioners meeting.

FOX 47's Alani Letang has been following this story since we first broke it last month. Letang was at the meeting.

The decision didn't come as fast as the vote. The commissioners reviewed the 21-page report from the county controller's investigation detailing their findings into claims of neglect and overall operations at the shelter.

The report found that "nearly all persons interviewed for this report acknowledged deep organizational dysfunction at ICAC." The report goes on to include that one animal care employee described all divisions as separate and do not function as a team.

"Burns cited 'territorial infighting' between Animal Care employees and Animal Control Officers as mostly personality clashes," according to the controller's report.

The report stated that many employees relayed an opinion that Dinon and Burns are not responsive to their suggestions and issues they reported. In the report, it said that employees believe there needs to be training. However, according to the report, the job description indicated Dinon would do the training but Burns relied on shelter vet Dr. Karen Worthington to train, and there was no follow-up. Animal Care employees also vented frustration with Dinon and Burns when requested help "did not materialize when the fighting dogs were seized."

Burns denied a request for bite sticks, according to the report, even after Animal Control Officer Caitlin Budzinski offered to train Animal Care employees.

The report said that a private veterinarian wrote that he/she felt there was a disconnect between Burns and Dinon, "at least as far as working with veterinarians on neglect and abuse cases."

Dr. Worthington stated in the reported that in her belief, "ICAC was too short-staffed to handle all the dogs seized in 2017." Dinon stated he believes that "the staffing levels were adequate for the number of dogs seized", according to the report.

After more than two hours in closed session discussing what's next for ICACS, the meeting was back open to the public.

Commissioner Mark Grebner spoke first about how he feels about John Dinon's leadership at ICACS. He says the organizational chart of the shelter is not the real problem, he said the issue is the head of the animal control department. He said the director of ICACS has to be a figure like "Joan of Arc" it has to attract people because that department requires a love of animals, and runs on volunteers and donations.

Commissioner Mark Grebner said, "Mr. Dinon has failed in a PR sense, and it makes it seem like it's a minor thing and it's not. He has failed because he is beset by a sea of troubles...and he is surrounded by difficulties."

At the meeting, Dinon looked attentively at the commissioners as Grebner goes on to say, "I think that he has failed in his role as being: an aspiring, lovable, cuddly figure who moves people to do things; and donate money; and clean out dog poop; and take care of dogs."

Grebner said previous directors have had flaws, but he said Dinon's flaw is large enough that he would regard it as a failure. "He has largely lost the confidence not just of the board of commissioners, but of a whole bunch on constituency groups. Sure he has supporters but that's not the role he should be in. There should almost be a unanimous feel of support and cuddliness of him."

Grebner said he does not feel that Dinon is a "Joan of Arc" figure. He wrapped up saying that he feels this issue is "a smoldering crisis which has finally gotten to the point where we have to act."

Commissioner Ryan Sebolt chimed in and referred to the previous public comments made about staff too afraid to speak up about issues they see at the shelter. He said there are too many problems, too much distrust, not enough confidence.

"That's just not a good work environment for our staff and ultimately the person who is responsible for setting that work environment at the shelter is director Dinon. And it's clear the work environment there is not suitable, and I think the only way we are going to change that is with the new director. So I'll be supporting this resolution tonight."

Not every commissioner was on the side of a termination. Out of the four "no's" Commissioner Randy Schafer said that he would rather prefer a probation period of six months and if things don't work out then a termination could follow.

"For the most part I think there have been a lot of good things that have come in the past few years at the shelter, there were some bad things certainly but there were some good things for sure," said Schafer.

FOX 47 caught up with a 5-year ICACS volunteer who told us she is "very" excited to see a change at the shelter.

Maggie Emersen-Rich "Since the news broke, since you (Alani) broke the news to us, I have sort of had my heart broken and I haven't really been volunteering. I do things at mobile events but I haven't been done down to the shelter just because it was so upsetting to be there. So after this I got out of my chair, my head went up I'm very excited, I'm super excited for the future."

In addition, commissioners voted 7-6 to direct the controller to turn over his investigation as well as the Michigan Humane Society's report.

Commissioners also voted to turn their internal investigation over to the Michigan Board of Veterinary Medicine to investigate shelter vet, Dr. Karen Worthington. Many people say she they feel she is equally responsible for the dogs deteriorated condition.

The shelter's customer service and community outreach manager Kate Turner has stepped up to fulfill the role as interim director.

Before the August 28th commissioners meeting, it was announced that the Director of the Board of Commissioners will be asking board members who are available to be a part of the search committee for the new ICACS director and deputy director.

The Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is also investigating, and they have not set an end date.