An animal shelter employee fired for giving a refund to her sister without permission will receive a final ruling from the Pine Bluff City Council. Devon Savage-Bolden, an employee at the Pine Bluff Animal Control and Care Center, was fired June 13 by Police Chief Ivan Whitfield for issuing a refund against procedure and without permission after two puppies the sister adopted had died.

Savage-Bolden appealed the termination to the City Council’s Administration Committee Wednesday. It was the fourth time Savage-Bolden has filed an appeal to the committee since she began working for the city in 2009, according to Pine Bluff Human Resources Director Vickie Conaway. Savage-Bolden was suspended three times since December 2014 for insubordination, appealing each one. Following her last suspension, on Jan. 18, 2017, Whitfield wrote that her next incident would result in termination.

Savage-Bolden’s sister, Kyra Arnold, paid $40 on June 5 to adopt two brown Labrador retriever puppies from the shelter. Arnold called Savage-Bolden that evening to say one of the puppies was sick, Savage-Bolden said, and the next day it died.

On June 7, Arnold took the second puppy to a veterinarian, who diagnosed it with a contagious virus called canine parvovirus, known as parvo. The veterinarian added that the puppy was “severely malnourished and dehydrated,” Arnold allegedly told Savage-Bolden.

Arnold took the puppy back to the shelter, and Savage-Bolden refunded her $40. The puppy was euthanized. Savage-Bolden’s supervisor, Lt. Michael Jenkins, said he later found out about the refund and forwarded the matter to Whitfield, who as police chief oversees the animal shelter. The shelter’s adoption agreement, signed by both Savage-Bolden and Arnold, states “there are no refunds on pet adoptions.” Shelter worker Monica Wilhite said she asked Savage-Bolden whether Jenkins knew about the refund, and that Savage-Bolden replied she would give the refund “regardless.”

“I thought that to be pretty bold to say that, because I thought she would respect my position,” Jenkins told the committee. “I thought about the chain of command, and informed Chief Whitfield what happened. He met Miss Bolden, [and it] ended up in her termination.”

Savage-Bolden disputed Wilhite’s account, and added that she had only been at the shelter for two months, and that she was trying to give good customer service. After her last appearance before the Administration Committee, in January, Savage-Bolden had been moved to a night shift at the police department, which she said she viewed as retaliation. Whitfield disputed that the move was retaliation, stating that she was moved to animal control in an effort to give her a daytime position.

Asked by Alderman Steven Mays whether she felt she had been properly trained, Savage-Bolden said she did not think so. Whitfield disputed that point, referring to the sheet both Savage-Bolden and Arnold signed that stated the no-refund policy for pet adoptions.

Whitfield said that the Police Department was being especially careful about keeping track of funds after a recent scandal. The former Animal Control director, Hodges Stewart, was fired and charged with two felony counts of fraud for allegedly removing drugs to euthanize animals.

No disease problem, Jenkins says

On Thursday, Jenkins said the death of the two puppies was an isolated incident. He told the Commercial that most dogs that come into the shelter are given their first shots, with “5-in-1” shots that include canine distemper, Adenovirus, Parainfluenza and Parvovirus, also known as parvo. Many of the shots are provided by volunteer organizations such as the Humane Society and individuals.

Ideally the shelter waits 14 to 17 days to give a second round of shots, Jenkins said, but the puppies are sometimes adopted before that. By code, Jenkins said the shelter holds each animal five days and a weekend day before releasing it for adoption. The shelter does not release unhealthy animals for adoption, he said.

Jenkins said the animals are removed from their pens before the pens are cleaned. The pens are cleaned with disinfectant and sanitizer, he said. The shelter holds roughly 100 animals at any given time, he said. They receive more puppies in the spring and early summer when dogs are in heat, he said. The puppies are susceptible to disease and more difficult to care for, he said, requiring bedding in their cages and twice-daily feedings. Grown dogs are fed once daily and do not have bedding.

Cathy Turner, a frequent volunteer at the shelter who works with cats, said she had not seen unhealthy animals released for adoption before. A Friday visit by the Commercial to the shelter found no issues there.