ACO Whistleblower Alleges Cruelty at Baytown Animal Shelter

Warning:  Some images at the second link and some material in this post is disturbing.

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When Fox 26 reported on July 9 that police were investigating the Baytown Animal Shelter in Texas, Mike Lester, the Baytown health director in charge of the facility, said police hadn’t yet interviewed him for the investigation.  He also said no employees had come to him with allegations of wrongdoing at the pound.

Yesterday Lauren Hartis, a former ACO at the pound, went public with her whistleblowing evidence which prompted the police investigation.  Former ACO Hartis “says she saw fellow employees commit animal cruelty on a daily basis.”  And she states she had met with Mike Lester to discuss her concerns:

“I did go to Mike Lester,” Hartis said. “I sat in Mike Lester’s office for more than an hour and he wrote down everything I said on a pad of paper.”

[…] Hartis says Lester reviewed shelter videos and told her euthanasia laws were indeed being broken.

Former ACO Hartis says she resigned after 15 months on the job because she could not stand it any longer.  Among the allegations being made against the Baytown Animal Shelter:

  • Dogs and cats were routinely killed in full view of other pets, sometimes in stacked cages, other times in a large group cage.
  • Cats were ensnared in chokepoles, slammed to the ground and strangled to death by employees.
  • Trapped cats were drowned in a pond on the pound’s property, their bodies left floating.
  • Botched injections of euthanasia solution resulted in animals crying out in pain and terror.

Earlier this month, animal advocates attended a city council meeting to ask for new management at the pound:

One angry volunteer told city council, “You don’t have an animal shelter gentlemen you have a death camp.”

No argument there.

If substantiated by the police investigation, these allegations appear to violate state law so hopefully all involved will be prosecuted.  At the very least, I would think the Baytown city council would suspend the staff for the duration of the investigation due to the heinous nature of the allegations.  Let the volunteers run the place for now.  I think it’s reasonable to make the case that the animals at the pound are in extreme danger if even one of these allegations is true.  Local residents must demand city leaders take immediate action to protect the animals.

(Thanks Nathan for sending me this story.)

Dog Owner Alleges Severe Neglect at Detroit Pound

Major and his person, as shown on the Motor City Muckraker website.

Major and his person, as shown on the Motor City Muckraker website.

Veronica Seward’s dog Major was seized by the city of Detroit last month following a bite incident.  Motor City Muckraker chronicles “a series of blunders” by the city regarding the case:

Instead of seizing the dog on the day of the bites – June 25 – Animal Control officers waited until June 29. Although they planned to euthanize Major, “the dog was released in error by Animal Control” on July 7, according to the press release issued by the police department but attributed to Animal Control.

“Once the error was recognized, the dog was picked up again by AnimalControl officers the next day,” the press release read.

No warrant was issued.

When AC seized Major from the owner the second time, she was reportedly told that he must be held at the pound until a judge rendered a decision on the case.  Ms. Seward visited her dog on July 9  and was concerned about his unusual behavior.  She returned the next afternoon with her cell phone on to record video (later uploaded to YouTube) and found Major lying in his own waste and a pool of blood which was running down the front of the cage into a drain.  She says the cage was too small for him to stand up, he had no water in his bowl and the pound vet, who saw Major while Ms. Seward was there, “refused to provide care”.

The owner took Major to a veterinarian who diagnosed him with parvo.  The dog was also reportedly suffering from urine scald and pressure sores.  Despite treatment, he died the next day.

On July 12, Ms. Seward and local animal advocates held a press conference outside Detroit AC.  Pound staff hid:

During the Sunday morning news conference, workers could be seen inside the Detroit Animal Control center. Once media crews arrived, they put up a “closed” sign, shut off the lights and did not answer the door. Calls to the center during business hours, which was open Sunday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., were not answered and messages could not be left.

On Monday, the Detroit Police Department, which oversees Detroit Animal Control, issued a statement, saying animal control staff and a veterinarian found no symptoms with Major during daily morning rounds on July 10.

“By the afternoon, the staff checked on the dog with the owner and determined he was ill,” said Sgt. Cassandra Lewis.

So no charges for anyone at the pound because apparently in the morning Major was all butterfly stickers and glitter but by the time the owner got there in the afternoon his cage was filled with blood, feces and urine and he was on death’s door.  Sounds legit.

Lewis said of the other 179 dogs at Animal Control as of Friday, “none had exhibited symptoms of parvo.”

“As a precaution, animal control staff are closely monitoring each dog and will be testing all 179 dogs for the parvovirus,” she said.

Closely monitoring – uh, lol?

Aaaaaaanyway, DAC probably isn’t overly worried about disease or dogs suffering in their cages or anything like that since the place doesn’t adopt out dogs and kills roughly 3 out of 4 pets in its care every year.  I mean how closely do Dead Dogs Walking need to be monitored, amirite?

Detroit taxpayers need to demand humane care, transparency and accountability at their municipal shelter.  And they need to keep demanding it, louder and more frequently, until someone in a position of leadership takes meaningful action to remedy the situation.  The status quo is unacceptable.

(Thank you to everyone who sent me links on this story.)

AL Shelter Under Investigation by Police

In February, the Lawrence Co Commission in Alabama awarded an $80,000 annual AC contract to Bobbie Taylor, whom the county had previously been paying $15 per animal for sheltering services. The controversial decision included an agreement that Ms. Taylor purchase and operate a new shelter within 6 months. She is currently using private property to house animals, many of them outdoors, for the county. Her shelter’s website states:

She has the backing of the community, local officials and AVRAL (Alabama Voters for Responsible Animal Legislation), a grassroots political action committee dedicated to helping pass animal-friendly legislation. It is run by Dr. Rhonda Parker.

I’ve blogged about AVRAL before.

In April, pictures from the Lawrence Co shelter were reportedly circulated on social media and claims were made that the conditions were sub-standard. The local paper ran an article and Ms. Taylor denied the allegations, stating basically that she was doing the best she could and that her intention was to buy an actual building:

Taylor said she is purchasing the former Liberty Woodworks building on Ala. 24 as the location for the new shelter, which she said will be the first county no-kill shelter in Alabama.

Yesterday WHNT aired a story centered around video and photos taken by Caleb Scott, a recent volunteer at the Lawrence Co shelter who said he quit after two days because he could not stand it any longer. The video shows a person identified by Mr. Scott as Bobbie Taylor whacking a dog on the head repeatedly. The pictures are also disturbing:

Scott provided us with additional images from the shelter showing dogs lying in their own waste, and at least one emaciated dog lying in a pen too small for it to turn around in. Scott claims several of the animals are obviously sick and in need of care.

“Sick animals, they can’t even get up to walk, just laying there, laying there in their own waste,” Scott says.

Screengrab from the WHNT website showing an emaciated dog in a metal crate at the Lawrence Co shelter.

Screengrab from the WHNT website showing an emaciated dog in a metal crate at the Lawrence Co shelter.

Mr. Scott says he brought his concerns to law enforcement and the police chief confirmed there is an investigation being conducted.  I get the impression that politics run deep here.

WHNT describes Ms. Taylor as “an outspoken advocate for no-kill animal shelters”. As many readers know, pet killing groups such as PETA enjoy exploiting any opportunity to condemn no kill sheltering and further an agenda of killing by falsely claiming no kill is about warehousing and neglecting animals. I don’t know if PETA or any other anti-pet groups have yet commented on the Lawrence Co situation but I want to make my position clear.

The Lawrence Co shelter’s “no kill” claim is irrelevant. If the allegations of abuse and neglect are true then in fact the shelter has more in common with high kill pounds and the leadership and staff who run them: the idea that animal life is cheap. Animal abuse, filth, neglect and suffering do not represent the no kill movement.

As Nathan Winograd writes:

No Kill does not mean poor care, hostile and abusive treatment, and warehousing animals without the intentional killing. It means modernizing shelter operations so that animals are well cared for and kept moving efficiently and effectively through the shelter and into homes. The No Kill movement puts action behind the words of every shelter’s mission statement: “All life is precious.” No Kill is about valuing animals, which means not only saving their lives but also giving them good quality care. It means vaccination on intake, nutritious food, daily socialization and exercise, fresh clean water, medical care, and a system that finds loving, new homes.

At the open admission No Kill shelter I oversaw, the average length of stay for animals was eight days, we had a return rate of less than two percent, we reduced the disease rate by 90 percent from the prior administration, we reduced the killing rate by 75 percent, no animal ever celebrated an anniversary in the facility, and we saved 93 percent of all impounded animals. In short, we brought sheltering into the 21st century.

The difference between true no kill advocates and those who embrace pet killing facilities is that we will not hesitate to condemn neglect and abuse of animals regardless of what label the group attaches to itself: AC shelter, no kill shelter, rescue group, etc. We speak only for the animals. By contrast, no kill’s detractors will generally ignore or even defend abuse, so long as the facility also intentionally kills the animals and does so by falsely claiming there are too many animals, not enough homes and the public is irresponsible.

I hope there is a fair and thorough investigation of the Lawrence Co shelter that rises above political interests and truly protects the animals.  Regardless of the results of that investigation, it’s important to be clear that animal abuse and neglect – wherever it occurs and whoever is responsible – is unacceptable.

(Thanks to Clarice and another reader for the links.)

Columbus Co Pound Fined by State for Illegal Pet Killing

In NC, a pet owner filed a lawsuit alleging that the Columbus Co pound killed one of his two impounded dogs before the state mandated 72 hour holding period had expired.  He also filed a complaint with the NC Department of Agriculture, responsible for overseeing animal shelters in the state.  County Manager Bill Clark defended the killing to a local reporter:

“Our side of that story is that the dogs were aggressive and dangerous,” Clark said. “The gentleman who released the dog to us signed a release, basically giving us control of the animal and when he did that, we have the ability to put down a dangerous dog.”

Clark said safeguards are in place to prevent the accidental euthanasia of an adoptable pet, but in this instance, because the animal was “dangerous” the county was within its legal rights to destroy it.

As it turns out, the NC Department of Agriculture disagreed with the county.  Totally.  In a letter to the Columbus Co pound dated June 18, the state says that the two dogs were impounded as owner surrenders on May 19 but no proof of ownership was obtained.  Further, the impound papers state the dogs will be held until 2pm on May 22.  The owner came to reclaim both dogs on May 21, only to find one had been killed that same day.  The state says that records for that dog do not indicate any serious illness or injury – the only exceptions legally allowed for killing an animal during the mandated holding period.

As a result, the state fined the Columbus Co pound $5000 for violating the law while noting that the pound had previously been fined $6500 in 2013 for the same violation.  That fine also occurred under the current manager who appears to kill at will, regardless of any dumb laws.

Gosh, I wonder how many shelter animals could be saved for $11,500?  I guess that’s not something Columbus Co is interested in finding out.

The county has 60 days to either file an appeal or pay up.  The lawsuit is, I presume, going forward.  And as far as I know, the county is standing by their man at the pound.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

State Finds Person Co Pound in Violation of Law

In 2014, the Person Co pound in NC took in nearly 1800 dogs and cats, killing 62% of them. The county’s website provides a link to Petfinder to see adoptable animals. Today on Petfinder, Person Co has 11 animals listed.  They’re doing the best they can, probably.

Or not.

Twice in recent days, representatives from the NC Department of Agriculture, which oversees animal shelters in the state, called the Person Co pound manager who they say admitted that the pound does not provide veterinary care to its animals nor does it hold them for at least 72 hours before killing – both of which constitute violations of state law.  The representatives apparently asked the manager if at any point she might like to try following the law and doing her job which, based upon the warning letter from the state, she appears to have nah’d:

PCAS’ shelter manager has stated her intention to willfully disregard or violate [both provisions of state law] in the future.

Wow.  I’ve heard of being confident in your feeling of job security but this is extraordinary.  I really want to try this “conflict resolution” approach on my boss but I’m hoping one of you will try it first and let me know how it goes.

WNCN reports:

According to notes taken by the Department of Agriculture, Kellie Oakley with Person County Animal Services said, “The shelter does not provide veterinary care. If the animal is not going to a rescue, it is euthanized.”

But how do you know a rescue isn’t going to pull the animal if you aren’t even waiting the 72 hours mandated by the state?  Oh right, because nobody rescues dead animals.  I see what you did there.  Another victory for the Cats Don’t Need Holding Periods crowd, I guess.

The state has given the Person Co pound 14 days to bring its written protocols and practices into compliance with the law.  If the pound fails to comply, disciplinary action may be taken which might include the suspension or revocation of the pound’s license to operate.  The animals should be so lucky.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

San Diego Co Shelter Vet Files Whistleblower Retaliation Lawsuit

Dr. Bruce Cauble, a California veterinarian who worked at San Diego County’s three shelters since 2002, has filed a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the county.  Named in the lawsuit is deputy director and medical operations manager David Johnson, a registered veterinary technician who oversees the medical portion of the three county shelters.  The lawsuit alleges that Johnson’s mismanagement resulted in a number of serious issues and when the three county vets, including Dr. Cauble, spoke out about the problems, they were each transferred to the shelter farthest from their homes.  The allegations include:

  • Dogs housed in unheated concrete kennels where the temperature sometimes dropped below 50 degrees.  A boiler that was supposed to provide heat for the floors was often broken and management failed to have it repaired in a timely manner.  Staff referred to these chronically cold dogs as “ice puppies”.
  • Staff hosed down the ice puppies’ kennels with the dogs still inside, wetting down the pets and any towels that had been given to them for warmth.
  • Management failed to provide an adequate supply of pain medications and food for the animals in the medical ward and Dr. Cauble witnessed suffering as a result.
  • None of the three shelters’ x-ray machines were properly inspected or licensed, as required by law.  The staff did not have radiation monitoring badges.  When Dr. Cauble brought these issues to the attention of Mr. Johnson, he responded by threatening to shut down all x-ray activity but in fact, directed staff to continue using the unlicensed machines.
  • Two of the county’s three shelters lacked premise permits and were operating illegally.  As a result the state veterinary board advised that some animals had to be transferred to the only shelter with the required permit for treatment.  This caused animals to suffer because their veterinary care, including pain medication, was delayed.
  • Mr. Johnson stopped pain medications on animals who had been prescribed them by county vets.
  • After complaints were filed regarding the above issues by the veterinarians, all three were transferred to inconvenient work locations by Mr. Johnson.  As a result, none of the three veterinarians remained on the job and shelter animals suffered from lack of qualified and consistent veterinary care.

In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune, Dr. Cauble expressed his frustrations with the county bureaucracy:

Cauble said non-veterinarian bureaucrats often prescribe medications or perform other tasks that are required to be performed by veterinarians. He said more than once, he was told to stay away while television news crews interviewed administrators who portrayed themselves as licensed veterinarians.

“We do have a number of animals die from secondary pneumonia and respiratory diseases” that are preventable, Cauble said. “The problem is, we have six or seven paper pushers-who make $700,000-plus between them, but they can’t seem to find $30 to replace a simple boiler part.”

Dr. Cauble also spoke with 10News about the ice puppies:

Cauble said five years ago he started complaining about the boiler to his bosses, but they refused to get a new one, instead making repairs. He said the boiler broke down about five times every year, leaving animals in the cold for at least a week.

“The dogs would get hypothermic. We would wrap them in towels, but the towel would get wet. The dryer was sometimes broken, so we’d run out of towels,” said Cauble. “The conditions left them susceptible to more problems, like kennel cough, pneumonia and distemper.”

San Diego Co’s official response to the lawsuit:

The Department of Animal Services’ number one priority is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the animals in its care. The County is reviewing the claim that has been filed and isn’t able to comment on pending litigation but will continue to provide the best care possible for all of the animals in our shelters.

Raise your icy paw if you feel reassured.

(Thank you Clarice for the links.)

State Investigation Determines Two Injured Cats Left to Suffer at Columbus Co Pound

The troubled Columbus Co pound has received a warning letter from the state of North Carolina indicating that the pound “may be in violation of the North Carolina Animal Welfare Act”.  After receiving a letter of complaint from rescuers, the state investigated and determined that Columbus Co may have violated the portion of the law which requires pounds to either seek veterinary care for sick/injured animals or kill them.  The findings pertain to two cats pulled by rescue groups – one who was left without veterinary care for a week at the pound while suffering from two fractured ribs, a draining abscess, bite wounds all over the body and blood in the lungs:

Portion of warning letter from the state of NC to the Columbus pound.

Portion of warning letter from the state of NC to the Columbus pound.

The second cat was a kitten who was left for several days without treatment at the pound despite having open wounds on his legs and part of his face falling off.  Pound workers characterized the extent of the kitten’s injuries to rescuers as “an old scab” on the leg:

Portion of warning letter from the state of NC to the Columbus pound.

Portion of warning letter from the state of NC to the Columbus pound.

The state is requiring the Columbus Co pound to provide written protocols and additional training to workers regarding veterinary care and assessment of animals. This isn’t the pound’s first rodeo and it hardly seems reasonable to hope that meaningful change will result from the current warning letter. Reform, as usual, is left up to local citizens to force.

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

Newkirk, OK: Shotgun Pound

The city of Newkirk, OK used taxpayer money to build a pound on property belonging to a veterinarian.  The facility is under the police department and is not open to the public.  Pets without collars are held for 3 days and, if unclaimed, are blasted with a shotgun, leaving behind a “bloody mess” according to the former city manager.

The only way for Newkirk residents to see if a lost pet has been impounded is to get hold of the ACO and make an appointment to look at the animals.  Brenda O’Neill, a local animal advocate, tried for a year to talk to the ACO and the police chief about being let in to the facility to photograph the animals for networking online.  She’s still trying.

And if that all sounds depressing, the new city manager says changes might be coming.  Not because Newkirk is doing anything wrong mind you, but just because some modern day people are kind of whiny:

“What we’ve done for the past couple of decades isn’t exactly accepted now,” said Jason Orr, the Newkirk City Manager.  Orr said many people living in rural Oklahoma accept the practice of shooting unwanted animals.  “People have their different opinions especially in rural Oklahoma still view shooting animals a humane way to dispose of animals but however moving forward in the modern day and age there are a lot of people that don’t agree with that,” Orr said.

Some modern day people at the local news station wanted to see the animals and conditions at the pound but no:

The animal control officer told Fox 25 the building’s owner did not want anyone new to visit the shelter and we were denied a look at the conditions of the animals being held at the shelter.

I think they must mean the property’s owner because if taxpayers paid for the building, the city owns it and the public should not be locked out of a facility it financed.  Plus what kind of creepy vet is so ok with pets being shot to death on his property that he’s willing to hide the bodies for the city?

Ms. O’Neill would like to see a new shelter built on one of the many vacant lots already owned by the city.  The city manager is all, you go somewhere away from me and get that done:

“I would rather see citizens come together to initiate projects of this nature because I think that’s where it is handled the best is at that grass roots level,” Orr told Fox 25.

In the absence of city employees actually doing their jobs, Ms. O’Neill is trying to get some dogs out of the pound and adopted into homes but is extremely limited in how much she can help due to the city’s 3 dog limit.  Add that to the list of outrageous city policies which need to be smote in Newkirk.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Adopters at Miami-Dade Shelter Say They Witnessed Workers Abusing Dog

Lisa Merkin and her son were at Miami-Dade Animal Services last week looking for a dog to adopt.  She says they saw a worker outside with a dog on a chokepole.  When the dog refused to move, she says a second worker began ramming him repeatedly with a cart, bloodying the dog’s face.  She screamed at the workers to stop and whipped out her cell phone to film what was going on.  That seemed to shut things down.  Ms. Merkin says she pleaded for the dog’s life, offering to adopt him on the spot but workers killed the dog for “aggression”.

Ms. Merkin contacted the local news and a reporter went to the shelter manager who offered a rather different version of events:

“The dog was never struck with the cart,” said Kathleen Labrada, the Miami-Dade Animal Service manager. “The cart was used inappropriately to encourage the dog to move forward.”

As evidence, the reporter was shown surveillance video showing the worker making one pass at the dog with the cart.  No contact is made during that one pass.  But that video snippet does not show what happened before or after that one pass and does not mesh with Ms. Merkin’s account:

“I took my camera out for a reason, and the reason was they were ramming (the) cart into the dog,” Merkin said.

In addition to Ms. Merkin and her son, there was another witness who says he saw the same thing:

“We were looking at the dogs — the big dogs — and we turn around and we see the people hitting and ramming the dog with the cart,” said Tyler Visnich, a witness to the alleged abuse.

[…]

The Merkin family and Visnich are adamant that the dog was hit with the cart six times and suffered a bloody face.

The puzzling part:

“They didn’t strike the dog, but the manner in which they encouraged the dog to move is absolutely unacceptable,” Labrada said.

Labrada said the employees broke protocol simply by the way they were treating the dog. For that reason Jose Rodriguez, the man holding the pole, was terminated.

Yosmiel Rivero, the man with the cart, has been placed on administrative leave.

While I want to be clear that I am not in any way endorsing ramming a dog with a cart and that I would prefer to see a dog who refuses to move handled in a different manner from what’s shown in that surveillance video snippet, I would add that I don’t consider the one pass shown on that video to be a firing offense.  I consider it to be more along the lines of an opportunity for improvement.  If the manager’s version of events is true – that the worker made one pass at the dog with the cart without making contact in an effort to encourage the dog to move – it seems to me that both workers should be offered guidance on how to better handle similar situations in future.  Taking them off the job seems extreme, which is why it’s hard for me to believe that the manager’s version of events is accurate.

If there is surveillance video that shows the complete period of time the dog was on that chokepole, that should obviously have been made public in order to address the abuse allegations.  The brief snippet of video and the manager’s statement do not seem to jive with the disciplinary action taken.  If the rest of the video shows what the eyewitnesses say they saw – the dog being rammed with the cart until he bled – then criminal charges would seem to be in order.

Anyone at the Miami-Dade shelter interested in getting to the truth and seeking justice?  If not, it will once again be up to taxpayers to demand transparency and accountability from their public servants.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Chicago Pound Leaves Dog in a Van for 5 Days

"Waaaaaateeer" Missy, as pictured on the NBC Chicago website.

“Waaaaaateeer”
Missy, as pictured on the NBC Chicago website.

That pillar of animal care and control, the Chicago pound, is once again pillaring all over the animals.  Pound staff brought 14 dogs to the Chicago Wolves hockey game for an adoption event on Saturday, April 18.  A dog called Missy was reportedly “having problems” at the event and was taken out to a cage in a city vehicle.  Missy was left unattended in the cage for the remainder of the adoption event and for the next five days.  A volunteer found Missy on Thursday night, April 23, “barely alive” and still caged in the van which was parked in a city lot a mile from the pound.  Someone called the police, who immediately went into corrupt enabler mode:

Police said they do not know specifically how many days the dog was left inside the van.

[…]

Police say it was an accident and they do not expect any criminal charges.

We don’t know how many days the dog was left in the van because math is hard and also a very inexact science.  But we don’t need to know how many days it was because even if it was 5 or 3 or 53, we know it was just an oopsie.  And oopsies are not crimes when committed by city employees I guess.

Pound spokesmen describe Missy as “playful” and suffering “no health issues” after being neglected for 5 days.  Which totally gels with the “barely alive” thing.  Maybe she was too weak to stand and had to be carried and they figured she was “playing dead”, I don’t know.

Anyhoo the pound will investigate itself in the matter and depending on the findings, may go so far as to take disciplinary action against someone.  Which is exactly the same punishment as would be doled out to a regular citizen who neglected a dog so egregiously no doubt.

In addition to determining who left Missy in the van instead of returning her to the pound after the adoption event, I have more questions.  Who signed off on feeding Missy every day from April 18 through April 23?  Who signed off on walking her?  Who made the daily notations in her records about her general well-being?  Are any of those people going to face the dreaded disciplinary action?

Chicago taxpayers need to demand that pound employees do their jobs and be held accountable when they don’t.  For whatever that demand might be worth.

(Thank you to everyone who sent me links on this story.)

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