Volunteer Banned From Florence Animal Shelter

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Debbie Rappuhn / File

FLORENCE, Ala. (WHNT) – The founding member of the Heart of Alabama Rescue, Save and Adopt group, who works with the Florence-Lauderdale Animal Shelter has been banned from entering the facility for 30 days.

Debbie Rappuhn said the shelter’s leaders turned their back on her and her group’s mission on Friday.

Rappuhn described her notification.

“‘Give me your badge, you’re banned from the shelter. Remove this van from the property,'” she said.  “And I said for what? And she said for leaving the bags in the floor.”

Debbie Rappuhn has worked for five years as a lead volunteer at the Florence-Lauderdale Animal Shelter.  On Friday she was suspended from the shelter by order of Police Chief Ron Tyler, who oversees its operations.

“Her being disciplined was not the result of a single incident. It was a series of incidents that she was warned about that led to that,” said Chief Tyler.

Chief Tyler said he has spoken with Rappuhn several times about insubordinate actions toward supervisors at the shelter.

“It’s important for volunteers to understand the structure. They are not the ones who drive the ship. The employees drive the ship, and they are there to support us,” said Tyler.

Visibly distraught, Rappuhn said she just wants her group to get back to its original goal of saving animals.

“My whole mission, H.A.S.R.A.’s whole mission, is to take care of those animals. That’s it,” said Rappuhn. “I’m not concerned with helping the employees do their job. I’m not concerned with that. All I want to do is save those animals.”

Chief Tyler said he commends the efforts of H.A.S.R.A. and credits Rappuhn and her group for bringing the euthanasia rate down to 12% in the last five years.

According to Tyler, he will sit down with Rappuhn in February to discuss the long-range goals of the shelter, and he hopes she will be on board with them.


  • Skip

    Was this supervisor that she had trouble with the same one that botched the Gas Chamber on the little dog that survived?..Wasnt this the lady that found the dog a new home in New Jersey

  • bubba

    This lady is a volunteer, she should be treated with greater respect. She volunteers her time where as the employees are paid to be there. Chief Tyler needs to give the volunteers more respect than this. How would he feel if he lost all of the volunteers! I believe I would check a Little more into the so called supervisor, maybe she is the problem.

  • Leogirl

    Just because someone volunteers doesn’t exempt them from following the rules. Rules and regulations are in place for a reason. If you can’t follow them, then there needs to be some consequences.

  • gail

    I smell a rat. Anyone who knows Rapphun understands she works unselfishly for those animals. She cares more than any paid employee ever has. I hope someone gets to the bottom of this.

  • carol bland


  • carol bland


  • Marsha Mascaro

    SHAME ON THE City of Florence,Al . As they say no good deed goes unpunished. I smell more than one rat running around. I am thankfull that Debbie put me and my Lily together she gives me purpose at a time when I needed someone. Hey!!! Debbie Lily & I are doing good!!

  • Denise Rednour

    I am in the process of adopting a beautiful dog from this facility. I am concerned about the policies and procedures there. Debbie and her organization is the reason I learned of my pet and I pray they rethink this action. After all, Debbie IS a VOLUNTEER, not an employee.

  • animal lover

    I’m sure other agencies would accept her time and affiliation without being powerhungry ‘officers.’

  • Red

    Wow. It just goes to show that you can rub somebody wrong just about anywhere by disrespecting their authority in a place that they control like their own personal domain. Make certain people angry, and they will NOT refrain from retaliating, no matter how ridiculous it may be to do so.

    • Vicki Rikard

      This only show’s how some people with what they call AUTH.. Does nothing to help these animal’s!! I’t take’s a Volunteer to make the % go down!! an u banned her.. Get off yourself. An start doing what you were hired to do??? These Animal’s are at risk because someone has an attitude? Wonder who u are??

  • Thelma

    I just hope all of this gets worked out so everyone can continue working on the main goal to help with low kill/no kill status! Everyone at this facility volunteers and employees all have their hearts in the right place ! I hate it so bad for everyone including animals involved!

  • scrappy

    Looks like the chief should have left this one along and the supervisor should have worked things out bc that puts it out on the internet. All the animalloves will stop going to florence and looked else wwere. This isnt good at all the payed workers dont care. Like the volunteers care more bc their here with heart and soul …, i have 3 shelter. Dogs Im not going to this shelter any more

    • Melanie Orseske

      It’s not true that the paid employees don’t care! Don’t lump all of them together. I know at least two empolyees, one used to take care of my animals. They love the animals and work closely with Debbie. It is a new Supervisor that came in, and where the problems occured. If you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t make blanket statements!

  • RN2

    I know that soo many people are outraged and confused on this situation… I personally had a horrible experience that involved Debbie and many I the volunteers and employees of the shelter back in October … To the poin that my dog I had reported missing to the shelter and Debbie was adopted out with in 24 hours after they recieved her at the shelter and 1 week later after I reported her missing… They had no recollection of my dog being at shelter… I was treated like trash and have a huge run around by specifically Debbie and some of the supervisors… I thankfully was able to contact the lady that was allowed to adopt my dog.. Through the poor management and communication at te shelter… I did et my dog back but it was with alot of hard work from a great neighbor…a sheriff deputy and myself… And no help from the shelter … Laws and policies were broken then and almost cost me to lose a dog that I had since 2002 who I rescued then and she is 15 years old mostly blind and deaf… I paid the lady $130 which between shelter and vet bills is what she had in her… A situation that Gould have never happened had rules and policies not been broken!!! Soo I personally hope that this will open eyes and that management will get it together ad shelter will run and operate better not only for the animals but all of us pet owners too!!

  • lala

    I think they are just jealous because she does their job better than they do. She actually saves the animals when they can’t. As a tax payer of this city I’d like to see the supervisor fired and Debbie put in charge.

  • Karen Anderson

    Debbie was the recipient of the 2011 “SHOALS WOMAN OF THE YEAR” for her dedication to the shelter and the animals. She is still the heart and soul of this operation. Debbie’s mission hasn’t changed. What has?

  • Sue Curtis

    Thank you WHNT News 19, I appreciate you following this story. I felt it would be a long shot but you did it. Thanks to your report the PEOPLE will now be informed. I thank you for every little life that is saved. I personally thank you for listening to your community.

  • Lennie Gamble

    How does a volunteer have so many bosses? Sounds like to many chiefs and not “enough” Indians. They should be grateful for anything a volunteer does. I understand that dogs get out and get lost, its happened to me. If it happens often you are not being a responsible dog owner. Geez, I feel bad for someone that tries to do the right thing only to be picked on. I used to try to get my kids to volunteer at the animal shelter. I wouldn’t encourage that now.

  • Shoals gal

    I’m sure there is more to this story than we know. Volunteers are just that, volunteers. They are not in control and they do not have authority to make or break policy and procedures. I am a volunteer for multiple organizations and I have to adhere to their rules. If a volunteer’s purpose is genuine, there shouldn’t be any issues with following protocol. If employees/supervisors are not following protocol, Chief Tyler should be taking care of them as well. Sad that this had to be handled in this manner. Someone should have done a better job of management to prevent this situation from coming to this. The animals will be the ones to suffer.

  • Beth

    Obviously she wasn’t doing what she should have been doing or she wouldn’t have gotten banned. I have seen this lady be a completely unprofessional with people and other volunteers on face book and in person. She acted like she was the boss of the place. And in five years if she hasn’t done enough to get hired on there then she obviously wasn’t management material. I have seen her bash people on face book that were volunteers as well. Sounds like they should have run her off along time ago

    • Debbie A Richmond

      She is a volunteer, that means she doesn`t get paid and she doesn`t want to “work” there. Its not an internship where you get trained, then accepted if she does enough. She is a wonderful person,and just because some say she has done things they are upset about, does not mean she isn`t worthy of being there. She saves lives and THATS what it should be about…

  • Kim

    This is so Sad!! I have know of all the amazing work Debbie does for this shelter & all the animals – she is a selfless, amazing woman!! I have a friend that was banned from this shelter a few months back & the shelter wouldn’t give her a reason! I believe the ones in charge have a major problem & they should be investigated!! Just think for a minute, all the volunteers give their time & love for FREE & don’t expect anything in return, but the workers that have banned Debbie & others they Expect something for their time spent at the shelter – MONEY!! So you tell me who had the heart of Gold?? This should be looked into & by someone that will be bias!!

  • Jamie Beth

    Oh scary banned for 30 days. Debbie should just send someone on her behalf and next time follow the rules. Rules are there for a reason and some if broken can get the whole shelter shut down or get someone injured.
    Its great to help animals but unless you keep people on side its incredibly hard.
    The good news is the pound is still willing to work with her in the future so as long as she sits the next 30 days which will allow her to work on other projects it will be all good.

  • Cynthia

    DUMB DUMB DUMB…. Who will volunteer at a shelter where they are treated so poorly? Sounds like the shelter is doing a cover-up of something….

  • Rebecca McCallister Spencer

    She admits herself that she has problems working with the staff. I could volunteer to work in my child’s school. That doesn’t mean that I should go in with my own agenda (Let’s just TEACH these kids) and do my own thing. This attitude of her stinks. Boo.

  • Janet Stratman

    We have problems working with state agencies too. North Alabama Wildlife Rehabilitators volunteer for the animals. People whom treat us poorly mean nothing, we are in this strictly for the wildilife. I do not know Debbie, however we understand the commitment she has regarding the animals.

  • Julie Tanner

    I think a lot of people aren’t understanding just how much this woman does!! Someone can’t just “fill in” for her for 30 days. She has contacts all over the US with rescue groups and other agencies that help save the lives of animals. Do you know how many lives can be lost in 30 days without the right people in there to get these animals out? Or maybe you forget just how unimportant the life of an animal was at this place just five years ago. There was no going above and beyond for a dog or cat (even whole litters)!! They were all shoved into a box and gassed to death in droves. She single handedly formed a network of people to stop this madness.

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