Helmetta Pound Raided and Locked Down by NJ Authorities

Photo posted on Facebook, described as living and dead kittens in the Helmetta pound's isolation room.

Photo posted on Facebook, described as living and dead kittens in the Helmetta pound’s isolation room.

Authorities have finally taken decisive action to protect the animals suffering at the troubled Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter in NJ.  Tragically, that action came too late for many animals.

Fifteen officers from the NJ SPCA along with a veterinarian and Middlesex County health officials arrived unannounced at the Helmetta pound yesterday to conduct follow up inspections and determine if the facility had been brought into compliance regarding previously issued warnings.  Those issues included mixing sick animals in with healthy ones, animals living in filthy cages, and importing dogs from the south without health clearances.  The pound director reportedly locked the doors upon their arrival, refusing to allow them inside, but ultimately relented.

Inside the facility, officials found 230 animals, mostly cats – the overwhelming majority of whom had no water in their cages.  Some animals were dying:

Three cats and one dog were removed from the shelter because they were in critical condition, [NJ SPCA chief Frank] Rizzo said. One cat died on the way to the veterinarian office in nearby Jamesburg. One animal had to be euthanized at the vet’s office. The animals that died have been taken as evidence, he said.

The county health department placed the pound on quarantine with no animals being allowed in or out until further notice.  The borough was given 24 hours to have a veterinarian assess all the animals, many of whom are sick:

“Disease control is basically nonexistent in this facility, and healthy animals are becoming unhealthy, and sickness just transfers just back and forth, so there’s just a lot of sick animals in that building,” said Rick Yocum, President of the NJ SPCA.

Gee, I wonder why the director initially locked the inspectors out.

In the wake of complaints from animal advocates who have documented neglect at the pound and made their concerns public, two communities have recently terminated their animal control agreements with Helmetta.  Helmetta mayor Nancy Martin hid from the media yesterday but last month, she clearly had zero fucks to give about the animals suffering at the pound:

“We have a vet that comes in two hours a week,” she said. “I don’t understand why people are saying things that are not true, or totally blown out of proportion.”

The mayor will have to address the issue now since there are still many communities who contract with Helmetta for AC services and they will undoubtedly be seeking answers.

Continuing updates are being posted by animal advocates on the Reform Helmetta Regional Animal Shelter page on Facebook.

(Thank you Clarice for the link.)

Van Wert County Dog Warden Indicted on Felony Cruelty Charges

One year ago, the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Department in Ohio was assigned supervision of the county pound due to concerns about the lack of response to calls.  On July 20, 2014, the sheriff’s office received a complaint from a concerned citizen that pets were being neglected and starved to death at the pound. An investigation was opened and Rich Strunkenburg, the county dog warden and the sole humane law enforcement agent, was placed on paid leave. County commissioners voted to fire Mr. Strunkenburg on July 31 and last week, a grand jury indicted him on 4 felony counts of animal cruelty.

Mr. Strunkenburg, who has been living rent-free in a home next to the pound, was allegedly tossing animals into cages and leaving them there with no veterinary care, food, or water, to suffer and die in their own waste.

Sheriff Tom Riggenbach said an investigation found three dogs and six kittens dead in their kennels. He said some kennels appeared not to have been cleaned in weeks, others in several days. The deceased animals, some of whom may have been dead for two or three days, had not been removed from their kennels.

It took officers four days to sufficiently clean the pound.

Mr. Strunkenburg is scheduled to be arraigned on Wednesday:

If he’s convicted, each count of a fifth-degree felony carries a jail term of six months to a year, with a fine of up to $2500.

The prosecutor says the severity of the crimes against these animals could certainly warrant arguing that if there’s a conviction, the judge stack the sentences on top of each other instead of combining them into one, meaning a potential of up to four years behind bars and a $10,000 fine.

Talk is cheap.  And crimes against animals are typically not prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, especially when police would be testifying against one of their own.  It sounds as if Sheriff Tom Riggenbach is already making excuses for the horrifying conduct of Mr. Strunkenburg:

“We do know that an attempt was made to contact the company that is used to dispose of dead animals from the kennel, and they were not able to respond that week,” the sheriff said.

The animals appeared to have been ill when they arrived at the shelter and died of those illnesses, though the sheriff said they were not provided with medical care.

Did the sheriff go to vet school and did he conduct full necropsies on these animals?  Because if he didn’t, I don’t see how in PonyLand he is qualified to eyeball a pile of dead pets that happened on his watch and determine that they were sick upon impound and died of their ailments.  Oh and yes let’s make careful note that the indicted dog warden called the disposal company to haul off the evidence of his crimes but they couldn’t come out fast enough.  Still, full credit for mashing the buttons on the phone in the right order.

Although would-be volunteers have been turned away when they offered to help care for the animals at the pound in past, the county says they will now be allowed in.  Gee, how bold.

Has the county kicked the indicted dog warden out of the rent-free house yet?  I’d like to see him on the streets and relying upon the county system to make sure he is sheltered during his time of need.  See if he ends up in the hands of a kindred spirit.

(Thanks Clarice and Arlene for sending me this story.)

Odessa’s Multi-Tiered Failure Results in Dog’s Death

The police department in Odessa, Texas runs the pound.  Thousands of animals are impounded and killed each year, with the police department claiming most of them are “unadoptable”.   One dog impounded on February 15 for quarantine was definitely not “unadoptable” – he had a family who loved him and wanted him back.  Instead, he is now dead:

OPD says on Saturday, the dog pushed up a water bowl, escaped from the opening and out of exterior doors, which were open for ventilation.

The dog was found dead in the street later that day.

When municipalities insist that dogs be quarantined at the pound instead of at home, it’s purportedly being done in order to provide the highest level of safety to the public.  That is, Odessa apparently doesn’t trust owners to quarantine their own dogs at home following a bite report and requires dogs be sent to the pet killing facility for the duration of the quarantine.

Pro tip:  If your quarantine cages are such that all a dog has to do is push aside a bowl in order to escape not only the cage but the entire building, you aren’t protecting the public very well.  I think a reasonable argument could be made that in fact you aren’t doing your jobs at all.  But with a cited kill rate of 85% at Odessa’s so-called shelter, I guess everybody already knows that.

The Odessa police department will investigate itself in the case.

(Thank you Clarice for the link.)

Discussion: When It’s Freezing Out, Bring Your Pets In

My news feed runneth over this week with stories of freezing temperatures and the effect on pets. There are lots of articles talking about state laws and giving recommendations on what to do with pets during extremely cold weather. While obvious exceptions must be made for some animals including feral cats (who can be provided with homemade outdoor shelters) and sled dogs (who are purpose bred for outdoor living as part of their work), the general message should be: Bring your pets indoors. All of us involved in animal advocacy should be repeating this message as a means of education and increasing awareness.

When an ACO in Longview, TX was interviewed about a frozen dog found chained to a fence, he provided this disappointing quote:

“Bring your dogs in when the temperature drops down to these conditions so that you don’t end up with a dead animal. Because if we come out and your animal has died because of the environment that it’s in, if it’s died because it’s frozen, it’s cold, we will file charges,” said Longview animal control officer Chris Kemper.

The message should be “Bring your dogs in,” with no hint from authorities that as long as your pet hasn’t frozen to death, you won’t be charged.

There appears to be some confusion about what state law requires in Texas so I looked it up. A violation of the following is a misdemeanor:

Texas Penal Code: Sec. 42.092. CRUELTY TO NONLIVESTOCK ANIMALS. includes the following:

(7) “Necessary food, water, care, or shelter” includes food, water, care, or shelter provided to the extent required to maintain the animal in a state of good health.

(8) “Torture” includes any act that causes unjustifiable pain or suffering.

(b) A person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:


(3) fails unreasonably to provide necessary food, water, care, or shelter for an animal in the person’s custody;

In the Longview case, authorities indicated the dog’s owner had failed to provide food, water and shelter while the pet suffered and died. Authorities could have – and should have – intervened before the dog froze to death. Being left on a chain with no food, water or shelter in freezing temperatures appears to qualify under the law as torture and cruelty since most pets could not possibly be maintained in good health under these conditions.  But the ACO’s statement implies that action will only be taken if the pet dies as a result of the torture.

Do better with your messaging, Longview. And definitely do better with your intervention on behalf of suffering pets.

What, if anything, does the law say about providing shelter to animals during the cold in your state?  Are you working to get your state’s cruelty laws amended to better protect animals?  Do you do any advocacy work, such as social media outreach, about bringing pets inside during extreme weather?  What information do you include in your message?

Case Update: Allegations of Neglect at AZ Pound

After veterinarian Carol Burke filed a complaint with the city accusing the Bisbee Animal Shelter of “a pattern of criminal neglect” in August, city manager Steve Pauken asked the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office to investigate.  In September, Pauken was quoted as saying, “There is no imminent danger involved here.”

This week, KGUN9-TV has an update on the story:

[W]e found that there are a string of complaints dating back to 2005, when the Bisbee Police Department took over the shelter.

Among the worst of those complaints, improper euthanasia, which the City denies.

In addition, KGUN reports that the city recently lost a spay-neuter grant due to its failure to maintain communication and records. City manager Steve Pauken told the station he doesn’t believe there is any neglect occurring at the shelter.

But at the Bisbee City Council meeting on Tuesday, the council voted to move the shelter out from under the police department:

The control of the shelter is now in the city’s Community Development Department, which is overseen by the City Manager.

City manager Pauken told the council he didn’t think that was a good idea. After the council voted against his wishes, he quit. The sheriff’s office investigation is ongoing.

It remains to be seen if these developments will translate to any improvements for the animals at the Bisbee pound.  I would suggest that hinges on whether the next city manager considers the vet’s report of a pattern of criminal neglect to indicate any “imminent danger”.  If so, I imagine prompt action will be taken to reform the pound.  If not, it will be business as usual in Bisbee I guess.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Veterinarian Accuses AZ Shelter of Criminal Neglect

The police department for the city of Bisbee, AZ runs the animal shelter.  In August, local veterinarian Carol Burke submitted an official complaint to city officials detailing what she describes as “a pattern of criminal neglect” at the shelter.  She begins by sharing the story of an arthritic 85 pound dog named Phoebe whom Dr. Burke indicates was impounded by the Bisbee Animal Shelter as a stray on July 11, 2013.  The timeline of events as outlined in Dr. Burke’s complaint:

July 18:  Bisbee Animal Shelter sends Phoebe to a groomer.  Phoebe returns dripping blood from her back and feet.  The groomer advises the shelter that Phoebe has urine scalding down the length of her back (?!?) and recommends an herbal spray for the dog.  The shelter takes no action.

July 22:  Phoebe is seen by a local vet who prescribes an antibiotic for her skin infection.  Volunteers raid another dog’s pain medication and begin administering it to Phoebe without veterinary supervision.  Records are not kept of medications administered.

July 28:  Dr. Burke sees Phoebe for the first time.  She is told the dog has been lethargic since returning from the groomer’s, seemed to be in pain and “was laying on the concrete at the shelter covered with flies.” The fur had not been clipped away from Phoebe’s burns so Dr. Burke got a groomer to do that.

Shaving revealed third degree burns on Phoebe’s back from the nape of her neck to the base of her tail with multiple areas of charred black leather curling up from raw open tissue. This type of burn is caused by heat or caustic chemical and the distribution of lesions on Phoebe was a typical pattern we see when boiling water, candle wax, etc. accidentally spills on the patient or if someone uses a solvent based chemical to clean an animal or “treat” parasites, odor, etc.

Dr. Burke placed Phoebe on an IV and began daily treatment to help her recover.  She noted Phoebe refused to eat but since records of feeding are not kept at the Bisbee Animal Shelter, was unsure if this was new behavior.  Phoebe was in a lot of pain from her burns so possibly her lack of appetite was related to that.

August 1:  Dr. Burke’s concern over Phoebe’s refusal to eat prompts her to take abdominal x-rays which revealed a tumor.  She sends the x-rays to 2 specialists for their opinions and they agree.

August 2:  Dr. Burke euthanizes Phoebe to end her suffering.

Dr. Burke also mentions two other dogs she treated from the Bisbee Animal Shelter. The first was a female Boxer seen in 2012 who had been diagnosed with a leg abscess and put on an antibiotic by a local vet. Dr. Burke describes seeing the dog emerge from the car:

Her entire left foreleg was twice its normal size and she was in such pain the memory still brings tears to my eyes a year later.

Dr. Burke took x-rays which confirmed her suspicion that the dog was suffering from osteosarcoma which had spread to other organs. She euthanized the dog immediately to end her suffering.

The second dog’s story is equally tragic:

The second case was a young male chocolate Pit Bull who had been vomiting for a week. I saw this dog 9/21 /2012. He was in shock from sepsis and dehydration, also in unspeakable pain, and had not one but two blockages from intussusception (a telescoping of the bowel upon itself which occurs with relentless vomiting).

This dog was also put to sleep immediately.

Dr. Burke states that all 3 dogs were brought to her by the same worker who is “apparently the only person affiliated with the shelter with a conscience.”

When reached for comment by a local media outlet who had obtained a copy of her complaint via FOIA, Dr. Burke replied:

I had previously voiced my concerns about the shelter to Sgt. Maddux and sent him a copy of the NHI Shelter Guidelines where I yellow highlighted the paragraph indicating that budgetary constraints did not excuse neglect. I subsequently learned that prior complaints had resulted in punitive action against hard working, dedicated volunteer “whistleblowers.”

Last week, action was finally taken regarding the shelter:

At the request of Bisbee City Manager Steve Pauken, the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office is conducting an investigation into any potential wrongdoing at the Bisbee Animal Shelter after a dog was euthanized.

But before anyone gets too excited:

“There is no imminent danger involved here,” Pauken said Friday, urging patience to allow the sheriff’s office to complete its investigation.

No imminent danger. Just a pattern of criminal neglect, pets needlessly suffering in pain and retaliation against any volunteer who dares speak the truth.  Be patient.  No need for anyone to break a sweat.

(Thanks Clarice for the links.)

Mama Dog in Memphis Out of the Frying Pan

WREG reports that last week, Memphis police arrested dog owner Migel Martinez and charged him with aggravated animal cruelty.  Mr. Martinez allegedly neglected his pregnant female dog to the point where she became emaciated and was unable to produce milk for her 11 puppies after they were born.  The newborn puppies starved to death and a neighbor filmed the mama dog attempting to bury them.

The neighbor also attempted to intervene by feeding and watering the mama dog and offering to take all the dogs himself.  He called animal cruelty investigators and police, providing police with the video he took on his cellphone.  MAS impounded the mama dog.  The article doesn’t provide a definitive timeline regarding the neighbor’s actions other than a reference to “nearly three days” so its unclear to me why neither cruelty investigators nor police took action sooner.

Local advocates report the mama dog is being held as a court case animal and MAS is not allowing visitors.  It would be logical to believe this dog is not only in physical pain from neglect and starvation but deep emotional pain due to the death of her pups and impoundment at a pet killing facility.  MAS has a notorious track record on neglecting and starving dogs in their care, including court case dogs.  I know many of us remember the mama dog whom MAS photographed with her dead puppy then posted the photo on PetHarbor.

It makes me shudder to think that this dog only has MAS staff to meet her physical and emotional needs at this time and for the foreseeable future.  I’m glad she is no longer in the hands of an alleged animal abuser.  I’m sorry she is now at MAS.

Hendricks Co Shelter Pet Advocates Not Giving Up, Despite Setbacks

Local advocates have been publicly opposing the needless killing at the Hendricks Co pound in Indiana for at least a year.  In 2011, the pound had a 61% kill rate and in 2012, advocates went to the local TV news with their concerns:  limited hours, no foster program, not allowing pets outdoors and not naming the animals in order to increase marketability.  Chief ACO Mary Anne Lewis had explanations for all that which basically amount to blah.  But specifically she mentioned that many of the pets are killed by request of the owners and:

As for why the shelter does not give animals names, Lewis told [the reporter] it’s too stressful on the staff when euthanizing the animal[.]

See how that makes sense?  Me either.  I guess the fact that any animals who get adopted would not be killed is irrelevant to this argument.

The county has made gestures to placate pet advocates since then but it doesn’t seem to have amounted to more than that.  The latest gesture is a reshuffling of leadership after advocates pointed out some serious discrepancies in pound records:

“I documented, using time sheets, animals left unattended for up to 67 consecutive hours,” said Tia Fox, an accountant and advocate with the Indiana Pet Welfare Project. “It disgusted me. That’s cruel.”

Fox, along with Allies for All Animals, also raised concerns about missing records for owner-requested euthanasia.


“(Lewis’s) cash transactions have no internal controls that would provide any assurance money’s not being misdirected,” said Fox. “That has resulted in 1,100 unaccounted for animals since 2001.”

Neither the failure of the county to adequately address the ongoing issues at the pound nor the failure of the chief ACO to do her job is unusual per se.  What makes Hendricks Co different is that the community dogs and cats there actually have a committed voice in the form of advocates working together for reform.  Well done, local hellraisers.  Keep going.

(Thanks Clarice for alerting me to this story.)

Former ACO Charged with Animal Cruelty in MA

Sometimes people find it hard to relate statistics and reports to needless pet suffering and killing but a photo of a single mistreated animal will stir their blood.  In some cases, these photos are too disturbing to post on the blog.  (Warning:  all the links below contain disturbing images of a dog who appears to be deeply suffering and on the brink of death.)

Anna Nelson is the former ACO for Wareham, MA.  An anonymous tip led the current ACO to her home and her senior dog:

The 10-year-old terrier mix could hardly stand and was diseased and jaundiced.

“It was incredibly malnourished, had parasites — internal and external — and in fact, too ill to be saved. It had to be euthanized,” said Rob Halpin of the MSPCA.

Ms. Nelson is facing a felony animal cruelty charge.  She was a no show for her arraignment, forcing authorities to issue a warrant and send police to arrest her.  Although she allegedly neglected her suffering pet for months, when her own ass was in hot water she promptly posted bail to get herself out of jail.  Ms. Nelson is due in court today.

Case Update: ‘Purple Hearted Puppies’ Owners Forced Dogs to Resort to Cannibalism to Survive, Received Fine

Regular readers may remember the cruelty case against the owners of Purple Hearted Puppies in AL (see the original post, update #1 and update #2).  This was a private “shelter” operated out of the home of mother and daughter Roberta and Sharon Dueitt.  In January 2012, the Dueitts reportedly left town for 2 weeks while 200 animals were left starving on their property.  Having solicited donations from the public, they had the means to care for the animals, they just left them to suffer and die in cages, surrounded by bags of food they could see but not touch.  At the time of their arrest, authorities indicated there would be hundreds of felony and misdemeanor charges filed against the Dueitts.

Yesterday the Dueitts pleaded guilty to one felony and one misdemeanor count of animal cruelty.  They received a year’s probation and a $100,000 fine payable to a local HS.  They have never spent a day in jail and never will, at least for these crimes.  They can start up their “shelter” again in 5 years.

I will never forget the video taken during the raid which showed officers frantically pouring food into the cages and cats desperately reaching their front legs out the bars and mewing.  Purple Hearts are medals awarded to soldiers who are wounded or killed in the line of duty.  The Dueitts wounded or killed many.  They were rewarded with a monetary fine.  Shame on the Baldwin County District Attorney’s Office for agreeing to this unjust plea deal.


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