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Beth Vesco-Mock

Beth Vesco-Mock, who manages the St. Louis County Pet Adoption Center, consults with her lawyer, Edwin C. Ernst IV, at a hearing on Feb. 27, 2018, about allegations of problems with animal control in St. Louis County. Photo by Jeremy Kohler

ST. LOUIS COUNTY • The manager of the county pet shelter has been fired following public hearings over complaints about the shelter’s conditions and accusations she made racist comments.

In a statement, St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said his office has begun termination proceedings for Beth Vesco-Mock and will seek someone to replace her at the St. Louis County Pet Adoption Center. Spokesmen for Stenger declined to comment on the cause of the firing, saying only that it was a “personnel matter.”

“A number of matters relating to the current management of the shelter were recently brought to my attention,” Stenger said in the statement. “Because we cannot tolerate inappropriate conduct or activities, we immediately began an investigation. As a result of our findings, we have initiated termination proceedings for the shelter director and will look for new leadership in this important position.”

County Council members have heard from activists and volunteers at public meetings in recent weeks who complained about conditions at the shelter and Vesco-Mock’s conduct and called into question her qualifications; she has said she is a veterinarian but she is not licensed. Volunteers said there weren’t enough animal control officers working the streets and claimed shelter dogs aren’t being walked enough.

They also described Vesco-Mock as a bully who had driven out more than a dozen employees and who has made racist comments in public.

When County Council Vice Chairwoman Hazel Erby asked Vesco-Mock during her testimony at a public meeting in February if she had called black people “gang bangers” and expressed a preference for “crackers,” her lawyer whispered into her ear and she refused to answer.

Officials also heard from supporters of Vesco-Mock, including two board members of the county’s Animal Care and Control Board, who said she drastically reduced the shelter’s kill rate and had connections to animal welfare agencies that helped more pets find homes.

Vesco-Mock moved to St. Louis in July and started as the pet shelter’s manager in August after resigning her position as director of a pet shelter in New Mexico, where she was charged in 2015 with three misdemeanor counts connected to the shelter’s handling of two dogs suspected of killing livestock in a case that prosecutors dropped at trial. She sued the sheriff’s office for malicious abuse of process and defamation of character; the case was settled for $90,000.

Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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Reporter covering breaking news and crime by night. Born in Algeria but grew up in St. Louis. Previously reported for The Associated Press in Jackson, Mississippi and at the Wichita Eagle in Wichita, Kansas.