Rowan Co ACO Accused of Abusing Then Gassing Injured Pet

Bandit (photo by Jennifer Ridgell)

Bandit (photo by Jennifer Ridgell)

On January 9, a Good Samaritan in NC came across a dog who had been severely injured after being hit by a car and called 911.  Dispatchers called an ACO from the Rowan Co pet killing facility.  By the time the ACO arrived on scene, owner Jennifer Ridgell had been located and was crying over her dying pet who had accidentally escaped from the house earlier that day.  Bandit had been rescued 6 years ago and was a beloved family member.  But the Rowan Co ACO treated the badly injured dog like he was highway trash:

“He went to his truck, got a pole that had what looked like noose on the end of it, put it around his neck, jerked Bandit up — he was yelping — and threw him in the back of the truck,” Ridgell said. “There was no compassion.”

In addition to the cruel treatment Bandit received as he lay dying, the ACO further tortured the pet by placing him in the gas chamber after returning to the pound.  NC state law specifically prohibits the gassing of animals who are near death.

The Good Sam, Keisha Woodward, complained to Rowan Co officials by sending this letter:

To whom it my concern:
I have a Rowan County Animal Shelter complaint. I tried to leave a message for Officer Staton but he has yet to return my call.
January 9th, 2014 around 7:30 or 8 on 52 in Granite Quarry near Sides Auto I stopped to help a medium sized black/white male dog that had been hit by a car. He was partially laying in the road so I turned around, blocked him from oncoming traffic and applied my flashers. A passerby stopped to help me as I looked for the owners in the surrounding houses. In the mean time I called 911, they called animal control and he then called me to find out my location. The only thing he did right was show up promptly nothing else from that point was ok in my opinion!
The dog was unable to move his back end, the right eye was hanging out of the socket and he had blood coming out of his mouth but still seem to be calm. I petted him and talked to him until his owners could come down. When they arrived I told them I had called animal control and he was on the way. I assured them if they did not feel like they would be able to care for the dog that the officer would put him down.
The lady was pretty shaken up after seeing the condition of the dog. Shortly the officer pulled up. The only thing he said is are y’all the owners? They replied. He said do you want the dog or not? No more than she got out of her mouth I don’t think there is anything that can be done for him, the officer took that pole with the loop and yanked that poor dog up off the asphalt and slung him into the cage! The dog was hollering, the lady started screaming and crying, her husband was trying to get her turned around to get her in the truck so she didn’t have to witness anything further. The Officer acted as if was doing them a favor by not charging them to put the dog down… Are you kidding me!!
When he arrived and seen the condition of the dog and with their consent that poor animal should have been euthanized on the spot with an injection!!
I was completely traumatized by what I had just witnessed. He gave them no warning as to you may not want to watch this or anything! I can guarantee if they had known that was going to take place they would have taken him home and took care of it themselves and I can tell you if I would have known that was going to take place I would have called someone with a gun and would have taken care of it right then and there!
NO one should have to watch their animal be treated in this manner and that was NO way to handle and already traumatized, mangled animal that was in pain!
This has haunted my mind since January 9th and I think something should be done about this so it’s not to happen to another poor helpless animal nor and animal owner. There needs to be an injection taken and the animal needs to be put down on the spot in such cases as this.
If you’d like to contact me please do so.
Thank you,
Keisha Woodward

When contacted by the media about the incident, a county commissioner appears to acknowledge that Bandit was abused by the ACO:

“We’re sorry the family had to witness their animal suffering like that,” said Rowan County Commission vice chair Craig Pierce.

But when confronted about the apparent illegality of gassing a pet who was near death, Mr. Pierce offered:

“We are aware of it,” Pierce said.

Advocates say animal control should have used euthanasia by injection. Rowan County doesn’t have it yet, but Pierce said they soon will.

“If we have that on site, then we’re going to be able to give that animal a more humane ending,” he said.
[...]
The commission says they hope to transition to euthanasia by injection this year.

Rowan Co in fact does have euthanasia by injection on site, and has for some time as illustrated by county records (partially redacted by me) showing kittens who were killed via injection last year:

rowan co kitten
rowan co kitten 2
rowan co kitten 3

Jane Felts of the shelter pet advocacy group Fix Rowan followed up with her own complaint to county officials, demanding the termination of the ACO:

To Whom It May Concern,

I have reviewed the letter below from Keisha Woodward and frankly I am disgusted by her description of this incident. Actions such as those by Animal Control Officer Yaninas are unconscionable and in my opinion (and will be in the opinion of every other animal lover in Rowan County) not repairable by any disciplinary action less than termination. Incidents such as these cause people in the county to not call animal control in situations of neglect and cruelty where they need to be notified. THIS is a situation of cruelty perpetrated by a county employee. What she and this dog’s owners witnessed will stay in their minds forever. As if it were not bad enough to see their dog in such a bad state after being hit by a car what ACO Yaninas did to further this animal’s suffering and that of his owners is truly horrible. Is this the type of person that you want working for Rowan County? Frankly, I believe he should be prosecuted for what he did. This is also, sadly, not the first time that I have heard of such actions by this officer.

Further, Ms. Dee Lazenby was told by your ACO Thomas Staton that this animal had to be put in the gas chamber because you only had one employee available. Please explain that in light of the following section of the NC Animal Welfare Code which states that you must have two adults present to use the gas chamber:

02 NCAC 52J .0609 PERSONS REQUIRED TO BE PRESENT
A euthanasia chamber in a certified facility shall not be operated unless a Certified Euthanasia Technician or a veterinarian licensed in North Carolina and one other adult are present at the time of its use.

If this employee is not removed from his duties as an Animal Control Officer for the County of Rowan, what is now a private incident will quickly become public. Ms. Woodward and this animal’s owners are both willing to come forward and the media will be contacted.

I expect to receive a copy of the letter that is required to be sent to the state of NC when a certified euthanasia technician is terminated by next Friday, January 31st, 2014. This type of callous action towards animals should not and will not be tolerated. And if it is tolerated by the County of Rowan, then all citizens deserve to know that information.

02 NCAC 52J .0415 NOTICE OF TERMINATION
A certified facility shall notify the Animal Welfare Section in writing, no later than 10 days from the date of the termination of a Certified Euthanasia Technician’s employment or volunteer status at that certified facility.

Sincerely,
Jane Felts

If you want to contact Rowan Co commissioners regarding Bandit, please remember that respectful letters are far more effective at forcing transparency and reform. Threats of any kind are never acceptable.

I’m sorry our broken shelter system failed you Bandit. We need systemic reform now.

(Thanks Jane for sending me info and docs on this story.)

UPDATED: Someone Buy Me Medina County’s Gas Chamber

The killing apologists in charge of Medina Co, OH were finally publicly shamed into giving up the gas chamber at the pound.  Now the county is planning to sell the torture device to the highest bidder.

If I had the money, I would buy this gas chamber myself and send it to the car squashing machine at the junkyard.  It’s the only way to be sure this barbaric equipment will never again be used to inflict pain and suffering on animals.  The county says someone could possibly buy it for scrap metal.  Yeah that’s possible but sorry, I’m not willing to take any chances.  The stakes are too high.

Unfortunately I don’t have the money.  But if you are part of an animal welfare group with millions in the bank and you want to prevent any animals from ever being killed in the Medina Co gas chamber again, buy this gas chamber and destroy it.  Because Medina Co won’t do the right thing.  I’m hoping we can find someone to do it for them.

(Thanks Casey for the link.)

UPDATE, added 5pm EasternThe Plain Dealer reports at Cleveland.com:

An anonymous donor has offered $10,000 to Medina County if officials agree to turn the county animal shelter’s gas chamber over to the Medina County SPCA to be destroyed instead of being offered on an Internet auction.

F-star-dollar sign-percent YEAH.  Anonymous Donor, you can be my friend.

In Which Randolph Co Clings to its Gas Chamber

When HSUS gave Randolph Co, NC $3000 in December 2011 to send its gas chamber to the landfill, Randolph Co was all, “Yay, put that fat check straight into our bank account!”  Then they kept right on merrily stuffing dogs and cats into the gas chamber.  Of the 6705 dogs and cats who came through the Randolph Co pound’s front door in 2012, 5395 of them were killed by the staff.

Portion of the state's public animal shelter report for 2012 showing Randolph Co, NC

Portion of the state’s public animal shelter report for 2012 showing Randolph Co, NC

In 2013, Randolph Co pound staff continued gassing animals instead of doing their jobs (although the state hasn’t yet released the 2013 numbers). After 2 years of continued gassing with no end in sight, HSUS finally got up the nerve to ask the county to either stop putting animals into the gas chamber or give back the $3000. The county decided it would be less painful to part with the cash so that they could hang on to their beloved torture machine.

Kim Alboum, the NC director for HSUS, issued a statement in response which reads, in part:

It is shocking that a North Carolina county would return desperately needed funding for their animal shelter because they would rather continue a practice that has been denounced by every national humane organization. This does nothing but hurt the animals of Randolph County, for absolutely no reason.

It certainly is a head-scratcher.  Unless… maybe we didn’t bring the Randolph Co pet killers enough cupcakes?

For those not inclined to reward animal gassers with dessert, Fix NC has the info you need to take meaningful action.

(Thanks Clarice for the link.)

Shelter Reform Advocacy in Medina Co, OH: Success!

Regular readers know that I have been posting about shelter pet advocate Casey Post’s efforts to reform her local shelter in Medina Co, OH.  This week, Ms. Post again addressed her county commissioners but was forced to improvise a speech due to last minute developments on the reform front.  I asked her to talk about what happened at the meeting, provide details on the deal made to save cats in Medina Co to the best of her knowledge, and discuss her plans for the future.

Ms. Post writes:

I got to the meeting room early, as usual. I had planned to deliver an open letter to the Commissioners from a euthanasia expert who certifies techs and vets in our state. His letter listed all kinds of methods for killing that were used in the past (horrific) and then indicated that the gas chamber was among those we’ve advanced beyond. He encouraged the Board to “be leaders” and embrace the newer method of euthanasia by injection and assured them that anyone who is certified is capable of handling even feral cats both safely and humanely. I was then going to discuss the benefits of neutered/vaccinated feral cats and ask for a change in shelter policy of immediately killing ALL ferals, regardless of their neutered/vaccinated status. I knew that Commissioner Hambley had just seen a low cost s/n operation in our county and was now aware that the public was spending their own money to get these cats neutered and vaccinated, so I had hope that he would at least consider the private effort going on there.

The Clerk of the Board (she’s very nice, VERY professional, and a cat owner) walked in and asked me if I was happy with the deal that was made. I told her that no one had informed me of a deal! She tried to find a copy of the article in the paper that had just come out that morning for me, but someone had taken hers. Thank goodness for wifi and smartphones. I searched for the news on what had gone down and found that there was a tentative deal with the Medina County SPCA where THEY would take all friendly strays and owner surrender cats for the county, but would not be accepting feral cats.  [Ed. note:  Reader Lisa submitted this link which reports on the deal.] Ferals would be referred to the low cost s/n clinic (I’m assuming at the trappers’ own cost – $25, but they do have a “pay it forward” program for people who can’t afford it that others donate to) so that the cats can be TNR’d. The only segment of the public NOT being served in this deal would be the people who want ferals just GONE, who don’t want to TNR. But, the MSCPA intends to apply for a grant to do TNR in 2014 for the county and they may be able to include relocation in that program for those who demand it.

So this deal would get the cats out of the hands of the Medina County Animal Shelter (and their amazing less-than-50% survival rate) and away from any possibility of a gas chamber (MSPCA euthanizes by injection with an actual veterinarian and they say that they do it as little as possible – not sure how they’re going to work the space issue, but I do know that they use volunteers and fosters, which puts them light years ahead of the shelter which allows neither and there is talk of keeping a waiting list if needed). This deal has potential to address the issue of the feral population in a humane and sensible way. It also has the potential to get our gas chamber designated as “surplus equipment” to be dispensed with as is best for the county (I vote scrap metal!). Bonus – all the Kuranda cat beds that I donated to the shelter would end up at MSCPA, where they will be needed. So hell yes, I’m pleased with the deal.

By now, the meeting room is packed (no, not with anti-gas chamber people, alas, but with people there to discuss transportation funding) and the time is coming up for me to speak and I’m not sure what to say – all I have is questions and the letter I was going to read out was no longer needed! I got up to speak first (because hey, why not?) and tried asking some questions of the Board, but they will not answer questions during the public comment bit, so instead I asked for the shelter to stop killing vaccinated/neutered ferals. I explained that this policy was both counterproductive to the effort to control the feral population and it also removed the rabies buffer between people and wildlife that these cats provide. I figured since the county suddenly seemed to be embracing the idea of TNR, I would try to save the ear-tipped or microchipped ferals that are still going straight into the gas chamber at the shelter (and will continue to do so until the MSPCA takes over cat duties). One of the commissioners made a note, so hopefully something will happen there.

After me, a woman got up to speak to ask about the gas chamber – would it be removed? When? She was nervous to speak too, but also determined. She wants that gas chamber GONE. I spoke with her and apparently, she’s been trying to make one of these meetings for weeks now and told me that I’m “her hero” for fighting this and she is in until the gas chamber is on the scrap pile. She’s another one of us who had NO IDEA what was going on at the shelter and she’s been a frequent visitor and has adopted cats from there, so she too feels betrayed.

The discussion session was interesting because of the money – the MSPCA wants $13K to take the county’s non-feral cats. A commissioner asked how much money is in “the kennel fund” (this is the money used to fund the dog part of the shelter via licensing fees – it could not by law go to caring for cats at the shelter, but CAN be given to a “humane society” for the purposes of caring for cats, so that’s where the $13K would come from). The County Administrator stated that the kennel fund has “in excess of $300,000”. The collective gasp, then silence in the room was a thing of beauty. All I could think was, “I had to DONATE dog beds and pet safe salt to them because they didn’t have THE MONEY???” At this point, one commissioner said, “Well then. I have no problem taking thirteen thousand dollars from there.” There was a question about how the shelter staff felt about this plan – apparently, they’re fine with it. The commissioners then voted to proceed with the deal.

Now, the deal is not yet completed and could still fall apart. The MSPCA and the county have to sign off on it – I’m told that this will occur some time next week. How soon after that the MSPCA will be accepting cats, I do not know, but we all hope it will be sooner, rather than later. In the meantime, we are trying to get the current cats out of the shelter and away from the gas chamber (which they will keep using until they have no more cats to stuff into it, apparently). Two cats (that we know of – there were more that we don’t know about because of the kill-anything-we-think-is-feral-whether-it-actually-is-or-not policy) were gassed last week and it would be fantastic if we could make them the last.

The woman who spoke after me asked me if I was going to the next meeting. I told her that I didn’t think so, that I wouldn’t know what to say since the deal-signing would happen AFTER the meeting. She vows to go to the next one to continue to press them on the removal of the gas chamber. She’s feisty and I like her a lot.

Do I completely trust that everything will be sunshine and rainbows from here on out? Absolutely not. But I will definitely be keeping an eye on things – not just at MSPCA, but also at the shelter. And if I need to keep advocating for change, I will. If the MSPCA goes wrong with it, then it wouldn’t be the weekly meetings – it would have to be the MSPCA board that I would have to petition for change as they are their own entity. Fortunately, they don’t seem to be the sort of people who would be ok with killing more than 50% of the cats that come in.

I’m backing off the meetings while the deal goes through because it seems like a very good deal. Laura (the other speaker) is going to spearhead the “destroy that filthy gas chamber” movement and that I’m backing her up in that. I’ll be keeping an eye on how things go from here on out both at the MSCPA and at the shelter, but I have reason to be cautiously optimistic for the future of Medina’s cats.

Advice for others trying to advocate? Attack policies, not people. I didn’t want to get into a position where the commissioners felt backed up against a wall to defend shelter employees (which was why I explained that they were victims of this shelter model, too). Also, listen to what it is that they’re really saying – in my case, it was, “We’re not really concerned with the gas chamber itself because we think it’s humane. We just don’t want to be swimming in cats.” It took me a while to understand that while I was talking shelter policies, they were talking shelter-as-population-control. If you truly believe that the gas chamber is humane, and that your shelter killing over 50% of the incoming cats is doing the community a “service”, you would be resistant to the one lady standing up and saying that you’re wrong. That’s where even a little physical back up really helps. Mark stood up and said, “I think she’s right. This is bad for Medina and I don’t want it.” Suddenly, I’m not the lone voice. Combine it with the letters and emails that came in to the commissioners and now they start to think maybe something needs to change, after all.

***

Read how Ms. Post became motivated to advocate for shelter reform.

Read her previous speeches to the county commissioners:

An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Ms. Post and her reform efforts which appeared after her second speech to the county.

The Rest of the Country Disdains the South Because of Places Like Union Co, NC

Wanda Sue Larson, a Union Co Department of Social Services child-protection investigations supervisor, and Dorian Lee Harper, an emergency room nurse, had 4 adopted children and a foster child living at their North Carolina home:

[Union Co] Sheriff Cathey said all five children in the home slept on the floor in a single bedroom, where the foster child was regularly handcuffed to a piece of railroad to keep him from running away.

But the foster child, a boy, escaped in December 2012 and ran to a neighbor’s home, begging for food and claiming he did not know where he lived.  The neighbor called 911 and the deputy responding to the call filed a complaint with DSS:

Less than a week later, the deputy received a letter from DSS investigator Lisa Kawyn, saying that the deputy’s complaint “does not meet statutory definition of abuse, neglect or dependency,” and the matter was closed, the sheriff said.

In mid-November 2013, a neighbor called animal control, run by the Union Co sheriff’s office, regarding a missing pig being sought by one of the children at the home.  When the deputy arrived, he found the shivering 11 year old foster child handcuffed to the front porch rail by the ankle with a dead chicken tied around his neck with twine.  Authorities removed all 5 children from the home as well as 103 animals, who were described as living in deplorable conditions:

Here’s the breakdown: 56 chickens and turkeys, 10 ducks, 10 dogs, eight geese, four donkeys, three horses, three guinea hens, two llamas, two cats, two finches, one cockatiel, one peacock and a pot-bellied pig named “Wilbur.”

Rescue groups, neighbors and area farmers took in the livestock.  Nine dogs were taken to the Union Co pound where workers quickly stuffed five of them into the gas chamber.  Three were gassed because they were old and two because they were aggressive.

Age is not an excuse to kill a pet and there is no possible way any gas chamber enthusiasts could determine a dog was so dangerous he required killing within a matter of days.  But then, this is what Union Co does.  Despite operating expenses of more than $1.2 million in 2012, Union Co killed more than 75% of the dogs and cats in its care.

But you know, they’re not monsters.

[Lt. Michelle Starnes, who oversees pound operations for the Union Co sheriff's office] said the smallest dog, a terrier mix named “Max,” was returned to the children who lived at the Austin Road home because he was their favorite.

Union County, you blew it when you let one of your own child-protection investigations supervisors abuse children at her home.  She was clearly not held to the same standards and protocols as other parents who adopt and foster kids in your county.  You bombed again in December 2012 when you failed to investigate in any way the matter of a starving, abused child who escaped his captors and cried out to you for help.  When this month’s incident forced you to stop looking the other way, you sick degenerates pulled old and malnourished dogs from the home and tortured them to death in your barbaric gas chamber.  And finally, you twisted smackoffs forced a Sophie’s Choice upon the child victims you failed in this case by having them pick a “favorite” dog to save from your pet killing facility.

Mercifully, Larson and Harper have finally been “charged with intentional child abuse inflicting serious injury, false imprisonment, and animal cruelty, because of the conditions of animals found at the home.” No word on charges against any of the good ol’ boys in the Union Co sheriff’s office or DSS, nor do I expect any.  Inflicting misery on sentient beings seems to be the job description for Union Co officials – and they’re very good at what they do.  We should probably bring them cupcakes.

(Thanks Lisa for sending me this story.)

Shelter Reform Advocacy in Medina Co, OH – Week 4

Medina County animal advocate Casey Post once again addressed the public meeting of her county commissioners this week.  Her comments, along with the text of her speech, are below.  I have been sharing them each week so that readers can see shelter reform advocacy in action, as it unfolds.  I hope it may inspire others to speak to their local commissioners about bringing no kill to their own community.

Ms. Post writes:

This speech was my “Captain Longfellow” speech. You see, Captain Longfellow is the name of the cat that the shelter failed on Christmas Eve last year. He was the only animal left in the shelter and they made zero effort to get him out alive. They never took his picture and never called a rescue group. I will always regret leaving Captain Longfellow behind that day, but that was back when I thought that their 92% live release rate was for ALL of the animals, not just the dogs. Now I know that their live release rate for cats is 45%. So I felt that I owed Captain Longfellow at least some acknowledgement. His story is representative of the failings at Medina County Animal Shelter.

But the part of the speech that seemed to surprise at least one of the Board members was the part about how gas chambers are being phased out around the country. This was apparently new information for some. Commissioner Hambley seems to think that it’s some kind of nutty movement by animal rights activists with too much time on their hands. He is still convinced that it’s completely humane and that the shelter workers are telling the truth about how the animals “just go to sleep” and they’ve never ever seen any sort of struggle or thrashing or heard any howling or vocalizations and how cats are too dangerous to handle. Poor Commissioner Hambley doesn’t seem to realize that in trying to make things nice and easy for the shelter workers, they are actually throwing his political career under a bus for him. I don’t think he realizes that he’s truly on the losing end of this argument and that holding on to the gas chamber is not helping his image at all. For a man who wants to run for state representative, this is not a good idea.

The good news is that after I spoke, a local man named Mark spoke after me, saying that he was there to support me and that he wants the gas chamber eliminated. He was very straightforward and matter of fact and said that even if you didn’t care about cats at all, you have to think about what this does to our county’s reputation. We’re a growing community and it’s time we joined the 21st century with the rest of the world.

I had only communicated with Mark briefly by email and did not know he was going to show up for the meeting, so it was a fantastic surprise to have him there. Mark has two rescue cats he loves and is very active in the community (unlike me, who is a hermit), so he is perfect for this.

The discussion session after the meeting was … active. The shelter apparently has been too generous with their resources, taking in all and sundry cats from all over the county. Now they will limit themselves to 14 cats at any given time. Owner surrenders get a photo online and have seven days to find a home. Friendly strays get a photo online and three day stray hold and then may get four more days to find a home. Unfriendly strays/ferals/anything else they don’t feel like dealing with get no stray hold, no photo, and straight into the gas chamber (or may be refused at the door – not really sure how that’s supposed to work with the 14 cat limit – does it really count for space if you’re only taking up space in the gas chamber? Don’t know).

It has been decided that the shelter will continue to use the gas chamber on cats because apparently, cats are sharp and the safety of the employees is paramount. This was followed by reassurances that the employees are fully trained and qualified, it’s just that they cannot safely handle the cats for euthanasia by injection. I said that it was amazing that so many other shelters in the nation somehow manage to handle cats without a gas chamber. The representative from the Medina County SPCA was there to explain how her board was going to put together a proposal for what it would cost the county for the MSPCA to take in some of the county’s cats. When she was done, I asked her if the MSPCA had a method for dealing with fractious cats that didn’t involve a gas chamber. She said, “Yes, we do.” To which I said, “Good. Maybe you can teach the shelter, then.” The room was already contentious since Mark asked the Board straight out if they intend to continue gassing cats and finding that the answer was, “Yes.”  Things broke up after that.

The Board seems to understand that the tide of history is against them on the gas chamber, but they still aren’t keen to move forward on the issue. I had really hoped to prevent this from escalating to an unpleasant social media campaign, but that seems like it’s going to have to be the next step. If we have to fill that meeting room with angry people, then that is what we’ll do. Shouldn’t be hard…it’s not that big a room.

Speech text:

Around this time last year, a man in the Weatherstone development in Wadsworth found a cat.

This cat was friendly, neutered, and declawed. The man thought that the cat must belong to someone nearby, but because it seemed hungry, he fed the cat. He thought that the cat would eventually go home, but three weeks later, he’s still feeding this cat. It’s now getting very cold at night and he’s worried about the cat. He calls the Medina County Animal Shelter to ask what to do.

Knowing that this is a person concerned for the safety of an apparently healthy animal and knowing that this person has been feeding this animal for a period of time, they had the opportunity to prevent this cat from ever entering the shelter.  They could have asked the man to send them a photo of the cat, so that they can post it online and get it networked in case an owner was looking for the cat. They could have told the man about how if he brings the cat to the nearest vet, the vet will scan the cat for a microchip for free. They could have told him how to build an insulated shelter for the cat that would cost him less than the $10 surrender fee and would keep the cat safe until the owner could be found or until online networking got the cat to a new home.

But they missed this opportunity and simply said, “Bring him in”.

Now the shelter has the cat.

At this point, they have an opportunity to market a highly desirable animal, especially to renters who must have declawed cats to comply with their rental agreements. All they had to do was take a nice picture of this cat and post it online.

But they missed this opportunity and they did nothing.

A few days go by and now it’s Christmas Eve and this cat is the ONLY animal left in the shelter. There are three workers on duty, two hours to closing, and one cat who needs a home on Christmas Eve. At this point, the shelter had an opportunity to get this cat a home for Christmas.

All they needed to do was take his picture, post it online with an urgent plea –

TWO HOURS to closing and just one cat left! Will you please give him the gift of a home? He’s already neutered, declawed, and doesn’t want to spent his Christmas stuck in a cage. Hurry to the shelter and be this lonely cat’s Christmas miracle!

But they missed this opportunity and instead, they did…nothing. Then, they killed the cat.

Time and time again, the shelter fails to seize the opportunities to do better.  This lack of vision, lack of innovation has been pervasive at the shelter for a very long time, now. And that is why the shelter insists on continuing to use the gas chamber on cats, despite the fact that there are cheaper, and more humane methods immediately available to them. Despite the fact that it gives Medina the shameful reputation as the cat gassing capital of Ohio.

What we have here, is an opportunity.

An opportunity to finally shake off the dark ages of the gas chamber.

An opportunity to reform the shelter so that it that functions as shelter and is a source of pride for the community.

An opportunity to change.

Because change is inevitable. Medina County will get rid of its gas chamber. Gas chambers are being phased out all over the country, now. Seventeen states have already made it illegal to use on dogs and cats. Even Ohio is down to only a handful of counties that still use it at all.

So the REAL question is, “How hard do you want to fight to keep an antiquated piece of equipment left over from a less civilized time?”

Medina County deserves better.

Take this opportunity. Get rid of the gas chamber. Reform the shelter. Do Medina proud.

***

Read how Ms. Post became motivated to advocate for shelter reform.

Read her previous speeches to the county commissioners:

An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Ms. Post and her reform efforts which appeared after her second speech to the county.

Nobody WANTS to Kill Animals – Medina Co Edition

The Medina County Animal Shelter in Ohio gasses cats. Apparently they don’t have enough cats to gas already so the staff is actively getting more – by setting traps in the shelter parking lot. Here is a portion of the MCAS kill log for July 2013, obtained via FOIA request:

mcas records headerMCAS trapped cats

Neither of these cats were held so that their owners, if they had any, could reclaim them. Neither of these cats were offered for adoption or to rescue groups. They were trapped by the agency that is supposed to be sheltering them and then taken directly to the gas chamber.  The MCAS staff is battling local animal advocates who want the gas chamber dismantled.  But nobody WANTS to kill animals.

***

mcas good kids cat

This cat was found by someone in Medina Co (identifying information redacted by me) and brought to the shelter. The finder indicated the cat was good with children and paid the shelter $10 to take care of the cat.  Instead of advertising this cat online or reaching out to rescue groups, MCAS took this friendly cat to the gas chamber, claiming the cat was “wild”.  But nobody WANTS to kill animals.

***

In December 2012, MCAS impounded a cat named Lou and another named Skinner from the County Home.

mcas county home cat2
mcas county home cat

The Medina County Home has a website which states:

Situated on approximately 80 acres of scenic rural property, the Medina County Home is a 60-bed facility which provides primary custodial, rest-home-type care. It is owned and operated by the Medina County Board of Commissioners with funding provided through the County’s General Fund.

MCAS gassed Skinner and Lou to death instead of advertising them online or reaching out to rescue groups. The Medina County Board of Commissioners is directly supplying cats for the MCAS gas chamber via their County Home and, unlike caring members of the public, the commissioners are not charged the $10 fee to surrender cats. The Medina County Board of Commissioners is currently being lobbied for shelter reform and an end to the gas chamber.  So far, they have been resistant to change.  But nobody WANTS to kill animals.

Shelter Reform Advocacy in Medina Co, OH – Week 3

Medina County animal advocate Casey Post once again addressed the public meeting of her county commissioners this week, this time with visual aids – enlarged, mounted photographs which she held up during her speech.

Ms. Post writes:

People who gather for these meetings regularly are starting to recognize me and I’m getting some nods and smiles from them. Before the meeting started, one of them turned around and spoke to me this week, telling me that he had to euthanize his old dog and it was very, very hard on him and he could understand how the compassion fatigue I spoke about last week could affect a man. But he cautioned me that “the powers that be” tend to be ok with “someone doing the dirty work” as long as it isn’t them. I assured him that there doesn’t have to BE dirty work if the shelter is run properly.

I was a little less nervous this time and highly recommend blasting your favorite “brave heart” music in the car or headphones just before you go in. Keep it playing in your head while you walk up to the podium. I also had a “relax word” that I started my speech with. I have to give my name and address before I start speaking, so I did that, took a breath, and said, “Okay.” That not only reminded me to unclench my buttocks, but also gives me a moment to take a breath before I launch into it. I think it helped with the timing of my delivery, too because in my head, it’s “Okay, let me explain this to you in small words with pictures…”.

Having photos worked out well. They were a decent size for the room (16×20, I think) and mounted on foam board, so easy to hold up and show around. Everyone had to look at them – even if they didn’t want to, they seemed compelled to look, so that may be helpful for anyone who is looking for ideas to help avoid being ignored during a presentation like this. Pleasant photos of cats seem to go over well. If the room were bigger or if the podium were bigger, I would have had bigger photos (OfficeMax does a nice job of printing and mounting), but these were plenty fine for the purpose. I had a copy of my speech taped to the back of each one, so I didn’t have to worry about keeping it in front of me, it was always there.

I couldn’t get any feedback from Commissioner Hambley, as he had to leave early in the discussion session for some appointment. But Commissioner Geissman informed me that “the shelter issue” is already a planned topic for next week. I think she meant next week’s discussion session, not the actual meeting (where things are voted on), but at least it’s some kind of starting point. I thanked her and assured her that I’ll be there.

Another reporter asked for my phone number and one of the local tiny papers has picked up the story. They didn’t contact me, but they did have a nice picture of a cat in the article, so I think that’s helpful. One of the reporters took photos of me during this speech, too. I guess they’re starting to realize that I’m not going away.

My concern right now is that the commissioners may be seeing this from the “every stray is a feral, every feral is a nuisance, all nuisances must die” point of view. I’m working to keep the focus on “how our animal shelter fails the community”. As far as I’m concerned, feral cat management is a different discussion entirely.

Speech text, including photos:

This is Percy.  Percy is my cat.

Percy is a vaccinated, neutered male, indoor-only cat.  Percy has a medical condition that means that he not only has his regular vet, but he also has an internal medicine specialist.  I have poured thousands of dollars into Percy.

I have a painter coming to the house today.  If the painter drops his ladder in the doorway and scares Percy out the door, he may panic at being outside and run away.  If my neighbor, being a good Christian man who is terribly allergic to cats finds him, he will want to do the right thing.  He will take Percy to the shelter and wanting to keep him safe, he pays the ten dollar surrender fee and signs the paper.

Now the shelter owns my cat.

They may or may not scan him for a microchip with a scanner that may or may not detect certain types of chips.  They will not take his picture and put it up on the web.  They will not hold him for a period of time so that I can reclaim him.

They will sell him to the next person who walks through the door.

Or they may try to put him in a cage, not knowing that his medical condition causes pain – pain that may make him lash out at being handled.  Now he’s labeled “aggressive” and is gassed to death.

My cat, my expensive, wanted cat, is now either living with someone who does not know about his medical needs or he is dead.  Because that is how our shelter operates.

This is Jack.

Jack is an ugly, battle scarred feral cat.  But Jack has a caretaker who has made certain that he is neutered, vaccinated, and microchipped.

This is Jack’s little yellow house that his caretaker built to protect him from the weather.  In the winter, the caretaker puts an insulated box in it with a deep bed of clean straw so Jack will stay warm and dry.

But Jack is no freeloader – he’s a working feral.  Jack earns his keep the old fashioned way as rodent control.  Jack’s caretaker values both his mousing skills and his quiet company.

Two teenage boys screwing around, throw firecrackers onto the caretaker’s property.  Jack panics and runs away.  He ends up in a trap that had been set out for a skunk.  The man who set the trap doesn’t check it until two days later.  He then throws the trap into the back of his pickup truck and drives it to the shelter.  Unsecured, the trap is bouncing and sliding around in the back.

Arriving at the shelter, normally quiet Jack is now out of his mind, lunging and snarling.  Shelter staff take one look at him and label him aggressive.

They do not put him in a quiet room and cover the trap to give him time to calm down.  They do not use a trap divider to keep him still so they can safely scan him for a microchip through the bars.  They do not use a pole syringe to sedate him so that they can safely take his photo and put him in a darkened cage with food and water.  They stick him in the gas chamber and they kill him.

We will never know how many wanted, owned cats ended up in the gas chamber at Medina County Animal Shelter, but as a cat owner I say that ONE is too many.  I want MY animal shelter to function as a safety net for our community’s cats.

I want proactive redemption policies in place.

I want the shelter to use scanners that pick up all three frequencies of microchips.

I want every, single cat scanned for a microchip on intake and I want that scan documented.

I want a photo taken of every, single cat on intake and I want that photo posted online.

I want every, single stray cat to have a stray hold of three business days, starting after the photo is posted.

I want every sick or injured cat immediately sent to the Medina County SPCA or taken to a vet for evaluation and appropriate treatment.

I want the shelter to physically accommodate the needs of the pregnant, the very young, the very stressed, and feral cats and to post these with a designation of URGENT and allow such animals to be transferred to a qualified rescue group within the stray hold period and to keep documentation of such.

If these VERY BASIC protocols are beyond the resources of the Medina County Animal Shelter, then they need to get out of the cat business.

Finally, I want the gas chamber dismantled and destroyed.  It is a blight on Medina County and a symbol of regressive policies.  It is offensive that this board tolerates its continued use.

***

Read how Ms. Post became motivated to advocate for shelter reform.

Read her previous speeches to the county commissioners:

An article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer about Ms. Post and her reform efforts which appeared after her second speech to the county.

Shelter Reform Advocacy in Medina Co, Ohio – Week 2

Medina County animal advocate Casey Post once again addressed the public meeting of her county commissioners this week.  She graciously agreed to my request to publish the text of her comments.  I hope others might be inspired to consider public speaking on behalf of animals being needlessly killed at their local pounds.

Today, I’d like to advocate for the workers at Medina County Animal Shelter.

It has been said here that the American Veterinary Medical Association approves of using the gas chamber to euthanize cats. That’s… almost true.  What they actually said is this –

“Carbon monoxide can be used effectively for euthanasia when required conditions for administration can be met. These conditions can be challenging and costly to meet on a practical basis, and there is substantial risk to personnel if safety precautions are not observed.”

And they do remind you that a shelter worker in Tennessee was killed when the gas chamber at his shelter malfunctioned not too long ago.

They go on to say, “Consequently, carbon monoxide is acceptable with conditions for use in institutional situations where appropriately designed and maintained equipment and trained and monitored personnel are available to administer it, but it is not recommended for routine euthanasia of cats and dogs.”

Not recommended.

One of the many listed conditions for safe and humane operation of the gas chamber is – and I quote –

“The chamber must be well lighted and must allow personnel direct observation of animals.”

Direct observation.  Why is that?  Because staff are supposed to WATCH as the cats die to ensure that the gas chamber is working properly.

The employees of Medina County Animal Shelter have been expected to take a cat entrusted to their care, feed him, water him, and make certain that he has clean bedding every day for seven days.  In the course of this, they handle the cat every single day, picking him up, holding him against their chest, moving him from his old cage to a clean one.  Maybe giving him a little scritch by his ear to reassure him.

At the end of those seven days, they are expected to take that cat out of his cage, place him in the gas chamber, and watch him die.  Then, they are expected to pick up his limp body, bring it to the incinerator, and burn it… and do this over, and over, and over again.

What kind of effect does this have on a man?  To watch animals that were in his care only moments ago, struggle for air, gasp their last breath and fall lifeless on the floor?  What does this DO to a man’s heart?  To his soul?  To his MIND?

The American Veterinary Medical Association comments on this, too and reminds you that shelter workers who kill animals on a regular basis are at risk for what’s called compassion fatigue.

Symptoms of compassion fatigue are inability to concentrate, sleep disturbance, anxiety, emotional withdrawal, avoidance of certain tasks, isolation from coworkers, irritability, feelings of helplessness, denial, blaming others, anger, nightmares, and even flashbacks.  It can lead to excessive drinking, drug abuse, and other self-destructive behaviors.  Compassion fatigue can cause physical health issues and burnout.

I contend that the avoidable killing of over 250 cats per year is highly detrimental to the health and well-being of the people at Medina County Animal Shelter.  The fact that alternatives to the killing existed, yet were never explored, makes the human cost here all the more tragic.  Our shelter workers deserve better than to risk their safety with a gas chamber while conducting an avoidable task that will eat away at their mental health.

For the sake of the people who work there, I ask that the Medina County Animal Shelter stop accepting cats immediately.

This simple step will reduce the killing and the stress that comes with it by 85%.

Because the gas chamber is used exclusively for cats, it will reduce any risk associated with using a gas chamber by 100%.

It is wrong to continue to unnecessarily risk the mental and physical health of the shelter employees.

Right now, the Medina County Animal Shelter needs to function as a dog only shelter for the sake of the people who work there.

Read how Ms. Post became motivated to speak publicly here.

Read her first speech to the county commissioners here.

Medina Co Animal Shelter is Proud of Gassing Cats

Warning:  Bad language ahead.

These words are featured prominently on the Medina County Animal Shelter brochure:

We are proud of our department and want to keep up our good image and public relations.

The Ohio shelter has indeed been very public about its better than 90% save rate for dogs.  But the shelter’s “good image” and “public relations” have both been on the ropes recently.

Local pet advocate Casey Post wrote the county commissioners in July about the disappearance of the shelter’s Facebook page where people had been clamoring for photos of cats – the majority of whom are killed at the Medina Co facility – so they could network them.  She received a response from county commissioner Steve Hambley in which he indicated he had spoken with dog warden Del Saffle about the yanked Facebook page.  Mr. Saffle advised that using Petfinder alone is sufficient as far as online marketing goes and “that our successful adoption rate provides evidence that is is still a very efficient and effective tool for encouraging placements.”  In other words, killing more than half of the cats who come through the front door is so fabulous, why try harder?  In fact, why even maintain the current level of effort?  Let’s yoink the Facebook page and get rid of all those comments from pesky animal advocates in one stroke.

Then on September 23, Plain Dealer reporter Donna Miller showed up at the county commissioners’ meeting to ask for specifics about the pound’s little known gas chamber.  Mr. Hambley admitted the county had modified the killing protocols for dogs to allow for injection only but that cats were still being killed in the gas chamber.  He used the go-to excuse relied upon by every gasser in the country – the fact that the AVMA still endorses it as a killing method.  He touted the county’s high adoption rate – which is for dogs, though he failed to mention that.  And in typical killing apologist fashion, Mr. Hambley attempted to turn the tables on the person questioning the killing by asking if she had ever handled feral cats.  Not only is that question irrelevant, it implies that every cat killed in the gas chamber is feral which is baseless and unjustifiable even if it was accurate.  Most importantly, the question is nothing more than a diversion tactic used by those who know what they’re doing is wrong.

Mr. Hambley noted that feral cats are going to be stressed out with any sort of handling.  So I guess what the heck, stuff them in the gas chamber, amirite?  He also pointed out that he has done some checking and that the only alternative for handling feral cats is to “take a giant fork and pin the cat down.”  So again, gas chamber, obviously.  And the coup de grace from Mr. Hambley:  He noted than many counties in Ohio won’t even accept cats so Medina is completely awesome for opening its (gas chamber) doors to the beasts.

Three days later. Donna Miller published an article in the Plain Dealer exposing Medina County’s filthy secret:  The animal shelter which brags about its canine save rate without ever mentioning what it does with cats is in fact stuffing more than half of its cats into a gas chamber:

The Medina County Animal Shelter used carbon monoxide to euthanize 247 cats last year and 221 cats so far this year, shelter records show. It is one of four county kennels in the state still using a gas chamber to kill unwanted pets.

The other 84 county kennels are using sodium pentobarbital injections, which is recommended by the American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society of the U.S., American SPCA, National Animal Control Association and Association of Shelter Veterinarians as the most humane way to euthanize pets.

And the money quote:

“The cats killed in Medina County’s gas chamber were healthy,” said Dog Warden Dell Saffle, who runs the kennel.

I swear to popsicles these people do not even hear themselves anymore.  Where is my giant fork?

After learning that her local shelter, the one she thought needed some assistance in cat marketing, was actually gassing the cats they were failing to market, advocate Casey Post again contacted county commissioner Hambley.  This time, she wasn’t encouraging him to reconsider networking pets on Facebook.  Ms. Post flat-out told the commissioner the pound needed to stop accepting cats immediately and that the gas chamber should be dismantled.  She suggested the Medina Co pound sell its cat cages and supplies, using the proceeds to fund lifesaving efforts as a dog-only shelter.  From her letter:

To continue to accept cats under current circumstances is both unethical and contrary to the will of the community.

Ms. Post, who has adopted from the Medina Co pound herself, wrote to me about her cat Clifford:

I see my sweet Clifford. My perfect little grey cat who gets along with everyone, who is super adaptable and completely inoffensive, who was described to me by the shelter worker as “doesn’t like to be held”…and knowing that if I hadn’t taken him that day, he would have been fucking stuffed in a fucking gas chamber?

I get it Casey.  We all do.  There are such things as monsters in this world.  But there are also compassionate people willing to put themselves into uncomfortable situations and fight for what is right.  There are more of us than there are of them.  And we have sweet souls like Clifford to motivate us.  That’s how I know we can’t lose.

Keep going.  Let us know if you need help.

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