Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Animal shelter draws criticism from state over euthanized dog

NORTH CAROLINA -- Gaston County Animal Control’s swift decision to euthanize a dog with a limp has drawn a reprimand from the state.

But even before the criticism, the department took measures to have injured or sick animals more immediately seen by a veterinarian, an animal control official said.

The state Veterinary Division’s Animal Welfare Section issued a Notice of Warning on Friday after reviewing a complaint from the owner of a Chihuahua-dachshund mix put down by lethal injection.

The dog, Acey, was not wearing a collar or tags when he escaped a backyard enclosure and was picked up as a stray in May. He was put down at the Gaston County Animal Shelter in Dallas within approximately 24 hours, despite the owner’s efforts to contact the shelter over the weekend and locate his pet.

Acey was put to sleep after a Gaston Animal Control officer
 failed to distinguish the dog’s chronic hip problem from an acute injury

Owner Brian Humphries

Authorities still insist they were only following state guidelines pertaining to strays that are picked up and deemed unadoptable due to injury or sickness. Dogs and cats typically must be held 72 hours before being euthanized, but severely injured or ill animals may be put down sooner.

Dr. Steven Wells, interim state veterinarian for the N.C. Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, determined the shelter may have violated the state’s Animal Welfare Act. A Gaston Animal Control officer failed to distinguish the dog’s chronic hip problem from an acute injury, Wells wrote in a letter to the county.

“Had the shelter held this dog pending an evaluation of its hip condition until Monday and placed a photograph of the dog on its website, its owner would likely have been able to recover it from the shelter,” Wells wrote.

New measures
Wells advised the shelter to change its procedure in order to prevent a reoccurrence.

One suggestion was to contract with a veterinarian who could visit the shelter at least twice a week to evaluate the health of animals. Current staff are not qualified to determine the severity of animal injuries or illness, he said.

Gaston County Police Capt. Bill Melton, interim supervisor for Animal Control, said the office has already taken steps to address the situation. As of May, any animals that appear injured or sick upon being picked up are taken to an emergency veterinarian in Gastonia for assessment — before being considered for euthanasia, he said.

“Prior to this complaint, our Animal Control division was following state statutes concerning the euthanasia of seriously sick or injured animals,” Melton said. “Since this complaint was filed, we went a step further by requiring that all seriously sick and injured animals be evaluated by a veterinarian prior to euthanasia.”

For the last 18 years, the shelter has solicited local veterinarians to inspect its facility and animals regularly, Melton said. Veterinary inspections are conducted an average of two to three times per month, and the last one took place Sept. 15, he said.

Gaston County Animal Control must send a written reply to the state in response to the warning. Wells emphasized that future violations of the Animal Welfare Act could prompt fines of $5,000 per occurrence.

Owner still upset
Penny Page, an official with the Veterinary Division’s Animal Welfare Section, said it’s hard to specify how frequently warnings are issued to public shelters.

“It’s relatively typical, but it’s not so common that every shelter has violations and warning letters,” she said.

The warning is considered a disciplinary course of action, Page said.

Brian Humphries, of south Gastonia, was the owner of Acey — a small dog who was 8 to 10 years old — and said he and his children were heartbroken by what happened. Acey walked with a limp as a result of a handicap he had from birth, but “could run faster on three legs than two of my other dogs can on four,” Humphries said.

Humphries said he has yet to receive any type of apology from anyone with Gaston County Animal Control. He has since adopted a new dog from a rescue group in York, S.C., but feels the local shelter should have offered to let him adopt another pet without charging him the standard fees.

“If they want to make it right, I think they ought to reimburse me for the money I paid for a new dog,” he said.

Melton said the county is considering and planning further measures to enhance the shelter.

“Our ultimate goal is not just to follow state statutes, but to provide the best care for the animals that are in our shelter, to find homes for all our shelter animals, and to reunite as many pets as possible with their owners,” he said.

(Gaston Gazette - Sept 29, 2014)

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