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Missing painkillers among concerns at Nassau Humane Society

Former executive director speaks out after resignation

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FERNANDINA BEACH, Fla. – After more than 80 painkillers were reported missing last week from the Nassau Humane Society, the director resigned Thursday because she said she does not agree with how the board is running the shelter.

Former director Jacki McDonald is not a suspect in the pill theft, but said the missing drugs are part of the overall problem. 

Christina Sutherin, the new operations manager, has been at the humane society for a little less than two months. She told News4Jax on Friday she admits the way business has been conducted in the past has not been as buttoned up as it should have been, and moving forward, the humane society is making changes.

On March 5, Sutherin filed a police report with the Fernandina Beach Police Department, which states 82.5 tablets of Tramadol, plus a very small amount of sedative and euthanasia solution, were missing from the humane society.

Tramadol is a pain medication, considered an opioid, with a high risk for addiction and dependence.

Sutherin told police she discovered the drugs were missing during an inventory check March 4, and said the last time inventory was taken was in November. 

"I believe it was poor recordkeeping from the past," Sutherin said. "Going forward, it will be done monthly, but I can’t speak to what was done prior."

Sutherin told police 40 to 50 employees and or volunteers would have had access to the drugs.

Following the report of the missing drugs, McDonald resigned. She said that, among other issues, drove her to want to leave the shelter. McDonald, who had worked as executive director since June 2018, sent News4Jax the following statement: 

I have dedicated my life to saving animals & was thrilled to join the Nassau Humane Society as Executive Director in June 2018.

'Since then, proper animal care & funds have been handled extremely poorly. The Board of Directors continued to sweep alerts under the rug vs allow staff the resources to fix things.  Now, NHS has offered me $17,500 to not speak out, which I have not accepted.

"Those funds would take much needed money away from the many dogs & cats care.

"We filed a police report last week acknowledging missing controlled substance medication from before I was hired.  But I have alerted the Board about neglectful animal care since September when two licensed vets expressed concern of us withholding medication needed for a dog in pain.

"Please note, my goal is not to disparage this beautiful shelter.  Please don’t spite the animals as they still need homes, regardless of poor leadership.  My only hope is that laws will be followed & the homeless pets receive proper care."

Sutherin insists the animals at the shelter are cared for and not in danger.

"I can say that the animals here I go to bed with a clear conscience every night knowing that they are well taken care of," she said.

McDonald also told News4Jax the shelter is way understaffed, and Sutherin responded to that, as well.

"We are looking at our staff levels," Sutherin said. "Of course, when we end up being involved in hoarding cases, we can bring in 30 dogs that we were not planning to care for. It’s very hard to plan for those things."

The missing drugs were reported for informational use only. The police report states the shelter is not calling for a criminal investigation.

About the Author:

Lifetime Floridian anchors weekends and reports weekdays on issues in Nassau and Baker counties and beyond.