On August 26 , a 3 year old Florida dog named Cowgirl got lost while the owner, Danielle Riggens, and her roommate were at work. The two women searched for Cowgirl, learning 2 days later that she’d been impounded by the Escambia County Animal Shelter. The pound is only open for 6 hours per day, 5 days a week and Ms. Riggens was unable to get off work before the facility closed. The owner’s roommate, Brittany Ann Meade, went to redeem Cowgirl. Pound staff refused to release the pet to Ms. Meade so Ms. Riggens repeatedly phoned the pound to make sure they knew she would come in personally to redeem the dog on Saturday. She asked what the redemption fee would be so she’d be sure to have the right amount of money with her when she arrived. But the day before Ms. Riggens was to reclaim her pet, the Escambia Co pound killed Cowgirl. Oops.
The issue behind the “mistake” was a system of cards used to identify pets at the Escambia Co pound. Pets who were being reclaimed were supposed to have an arrow drawn on the right hand corner of their cards with the word “over” to alert staff that the owner is coming to claim the pet. Someone forgot to draw the arrow on Cowgirl’s card and instead placed her card into the pile of cards for animals to be killed that day.
“It was an accident that never should have happened,” said Director Marilyn Wesley of the Escambia County Community Affairs Department, which oversees the animal shelter.
“It was just an unfortunate mistake that the card accidentally did not have the marking on it, but it also got mixed in with another batch of animals,” she said.
Cowgirl’s owner and the roommate who lived with them were both devastated:
“It’s heartbreaking. She had her for so many years,” Meade said. “Our dogs are our children.”
“The life and death of an animal should not be as simple as turning over a piece of paper,” Meade said.
The two women spoke at length with Marilyn Wesley, asking for a major overhaul in the way the pound does business. Ms. Wesley indicated the county was “redesigning and revamping that card” but Ms. Riggens and Ms. Meade clearly saw that was not enough:
Riggens and Meade said they would like to see even bigger steps taken such as computerizing the entire animal card system. Riggens said she also plans to challenge the state’s policy regarding killing pets taken in without identification after three days and those with identification after five.
A couple of weeks later, the director of the Escambia Co pound was replaced.
This week, Leslie Reeder’s dog Maggie escaped her yard while the owner was napping inside the house. Maggie was reportedly barking at some kids at a bus stop. An ACO picked Maggie up and knocked on Ms. Reeder’s door, waking her. The ACO advised Ms. Reeder that Maggie was on the AC truck, sedated, that she was receiving 2 citations which she must sign and that she could come to the Escambia Co pound to redeem her pet. Ms. Reeder signed the paperwork without reading it.
In fact, what the ACO told Ms. Reeder and the paperwork provided to her were conflicting in nature. One of the forms Ms. Reeder signed included a surrender paragraph, giving Escambia Co permission to dispose of Maggie as it saw fit. Maggie was driven to the Escambia Co pound and immediately killed. Ms. Reeder says that if she had any idea of the true contents of the form, she never would have signed it.
Although details are scarce in this news report, some obvious questions come to mind:
- Why did the ACO take the dog to the pound when he knew where she lived and in fact had spoken with the owner in person? Is it because Escambia County likes to punish owners whose dogs get loose, just as they punished Danielle Riggens by not allowing her roommate to redeem Cowgirl?
- Why did the ACO tell the owner she could come to the pound to reclaim her pet while giving her a surrender form to sign?
- Why did the Escambia Co pound immediately kill a sedated dog who could not possibly have been evaluated in any meaningful way?
- Is barking considered to be an imminent public safety threat in Escambia Co that requires lethal force?
Marilyn Wesley admitted no mistake and in fact defended Maggie’s killing, stating the owner signed her right to the pet away. She also told the local news she’s “investigating” to make sure shelter protocols were “thoroughly followed”. Word to the wise: If the shelter’s policies were thoroughly followed and the result is the immediate killing of a sedated, owned dog who barked, I’d say the shelter’s policies need a complete rewrite. And does the county really want anyone who would follow such barbaric polices on the payroll? If the policies weren’t followed, which would seem to be the only logical conclusion here, I guess it will be just another oops for the Escambia Co pound.
I hope local advocates are pushing for reform at the Escambia Co pound. Clearly killing is the default for this facility even when the staff knows pets in their care have owners. It’s time to get some compassionate people in there who will do their jobs and actually shelter animals in need.
(Thanks Clarice for posting about Maggie in yesterday’s Open Thread.)