Almost 1,000 animals that entered the Richmond County pound last year cannot be accounted for, according to an audit of the facility's records.
But the records are so sloppy, the missing animals may not have existed.
"We do not know if those are real animals or paper animals," Mayor Bob Young said. "We don't know. But we do know there is a tremendous problem with record-keeping in that department."
Audit findings at the Mack Lane facility confirm many of the accusations about mismanagement the animal control advisory board reported to the mayor and city commissioners, Mr. Young said.
"And it probably gives some validation to a number of rumors and some of the speculation we've heard that there were animals that have gone through there that were not accounted for," Mr. Young said. "But we still don't know that."
Animal Control Director Jim Larmer disputes some of the audit findings and says they will be addressed by Baird & Company auditors at Wednesday's advisory board meeting.
The auditors reported 1,374 unaccounted-for animals last year, but Mr. Larmer said that number erroneously includes 536 animals from December.
Under fire from the advisory board, Mr. Larmer resigned in March but asked to be allowed to stay on for six months until his 65th birthday.
Taxpayers pay Baird & Company about $140,000 a year for internal auditing services, according to City Administrator Randy Oliver.
Audit findings include:
Incomplete information on the daily animal pickup reports.
Some dogs sheltered for several days were not recorded on pen log-in listings.
Capture of more than one dog often resulted in only one entry being made on the daily pickup reports.
Contradictory information on the daily pickup report and pen log-in listing.
Incomplete entries on the adoption log.
The audit recommended a computerized system for tracking animals received and their ultimate disposition, a written set of policies and procedures, basic standardized reports and employee training.
Advisory board Chairwoman Sallie Manning said the audit report raises more questions than it answers, although it validates the board's accusations of mismanagement at the facility.
"I'm not surprised by the findings, because we knew about the errors and poor record-keeping and have tried to point that out for 16 months," Ms. Manning said.
She said she is disappointed the audit is not more specific.
"The auditors say `numerous discrepancies, numerous instances when things were not recorded."' she said. "Well, how many? How many is the percentage? Do they have an 80 percent error rate or a 40 percent error rate?
"The other thing I would like to know more about is the finances, the dollars that are associated with all of these mistakes.
"We knew they made mistakes, but I still want to know the number of animals going to medical research that aren't anywhere in the report and the associated dollars we're losing or missing. Or did all the dollars match up?"
Ms. Manning also questions why the audit does not address and reconcile the amount of sodium pentobarbital that is used to euthanize animals with the numbers killed.
"I think the audit lacks to the extent that it doesn't talk about the dollars, the money and the revenue that's missing that corresponds to these unaccounted-for animals," she said.
However, she appreciates Mr. Oliver's ordering the audit because "it's a start," she said.
Mr. Young and Mr. Oliver both acknowledged the report is almost meaningless because the records are so poor.
"When it comes time to run for cover, you always want to have an audit," Mr. Young said. "And it's good in another respect because we know where the deficiencies are, so we can address those deficiencies.
"It doesn't help anything that's happened prior to the audit, but it can certainly improve the situation out there from now forward."
Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228.