We’ve been watching the case of the Atlantic County Animal Shelter and the allegations against it by animal-rights activists and some former volunteers. We like all animals, including pets, and like to see government running well.

People should be able to complain about any aspect of government they wish, and government officials should give their complaints the consideration they deserve. The record shows that was done. Turning the complaints into a campaign to discredit an agency doing important work is counter to the public interest. The activists and former volunteers should stop, and if not, government officials surely shouldn’t waste any public time or resources helping them advance that campaign.

In mid-February at a county freeholders meeting, the former volunteers accused animal shelter workers of abusing the animals. On their own, several freeholders made unannounced visits to the shelter, and each found no signs of abuse.

The SPCA’s chief humane-law-enforcement officer for the area investigated the allegations and determined they were unfounded. In her report, the officer added, “It is my personal opinion that most of the staff at the Atlantic County Animal Shelter are truly caring professionals, who have a very difficult job caring for the abused and neglected animals of our county.” She further described her undisclosed observation of three employees compassionately working with and bathing a timid dog, convincing evidence for her assessment.

The shelter manager said full-time employees had been harassed by some volunteers and she had been threatened. Nonetheless, after welcoming the exoneration of the animal shelter, the freeholder director expressly encouraged any county resident to bring to the freeholders any complaint or concern about county government or facilities.

That should have been the end to it, but in mid-March, three volunteers sued the animal shelter for removing their complaints and allegations about the shelter from the shelter’s own social media internet page.

The anti-shelter campaigners, now litigants, claim in their federal lawsuit they have a First Amendment right to publish their accusations on the shelter’s online page.

We sure hope not. Our dedication to free speech is nearly absolute, but this isn’t such speech. There are plenty of places online where people can say anything they want, no matter how objectionable, and they routinely do. But the right to speak freely doesn’t include the requirement that others help you do so. These activists can’t demand, for example, that a publisher print a book of their complaints. Only if a government agency maintained a website explicitly for anyone to make any comment would someone have a possibly legitimate complaint about being excluded.

The sad thing is that the animal-rights activists are trying to undermine the important work of the shelter to help animals in Atlantic County. That’s against the public’s clear interest in what’s good for the animals and the good government their tax dollars support.

The activists should stop or, failing that, be ignored unless they reasonably present a new and credible allegation … or an apology.


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