Zoo critic fired from McKamey job for talking to press

Zoo critic fired from McKamey job for talking to press

January 27th, 2011 by Pam Sohn in News

The gate at the Chattanooga Zoo features zoo animals.

The gate at the Chattanooga Zoo features zoo...

McKamey Center officials fired a former zookeeper Wednesday for speaking to the media about conditions at the Chattanooga Zoo at Warner Park, her former employer.

"I was told only Karen [Walsh] was allowed to talk to the media," said Deborah Bond, who took a job with McKamey when her city job ended after Chattanooga officials transferred operation of the zoo to Friends of the Zoo.

McKamey Executive Director Karen Walsh confirmed that Bond was fired for talking to the Chattanooga Times Free Press, but said it was the second time Bond had broken the rule. Walsh said McKamey policy states employees, other than her, may not talk to the media.

"Our name is out there. It's all over the Internet and all that stuff that we're attacking the zoo because the fact that she worked here was linked with her complaint," Walsh said. "I think because it was said that she was a McKamey employee that it seemed McKamey had some involvement in trying to do something to the zoo, and that's not the case at all."

McKamey is a nonprofit contracted by the city to run the animal shelter, just as Friends of the Zoo is contracted by the city to operate the zoo.

"We're getting commentary [in public forums] about how we're throwing our weight around in the community and trying to attack other animal organizations. ... We have no involvement with zoo animals."

Bond was quoted in Tuesday's newspaper about her concern for the seven zoo animals that have died in recent weeks.

"For me, that's too many animals in the course of a few weeks," she said in the newspaper article.

As for why the problems are occurring, Bond said she is hearing "two different sides of every story."

"I honestly don't know what to believe, but a lot of staff there now don't have prior experience with large animals," she told the newspaper.

On Wednesday, Bond was upbeat about her firing, although she said she does find it confusing.

Several days prior to talking to a reporter about the zoo -- as a former zoo employee -- a call to McKamey Center from a different Times Free Press reporter had been transferred to her, Bond said. A reporter was seeking information for a pet-care story.

After that story was published, Bond said she was counseled by a McKamey official that only Walsh could talk to reporters.

She said when another reporter called her a day or two later on her personal phone asking about the zoo, she thought it wouldn't be a problem. "I assumed [if it had nothing to do with Mc-Kamey] we were allowed to talk as concerned citizens to the media," she said. "But, you know, life goes on."

Bond, who went to work in the zoo's gift shop and as a zoo camp counselor right out of high school, said she plans to apply at other local and regional animal businesses.

"I was the lead keeper for the chimps for two years, a lead keeper for the South American [zoo] section for about three years and then a swing keeper [all over the zoo] for another two years," she said.