Critics have questioned the shelter’s euthanasia procedures, as well as the facility’s hold policy on dogs and cats.
The controversy began when a dog named Jackson was euthanized in late January before pet rescue advocates could retrieve the dog from the shelter. Since the conversation went viral, the county has been inundated with calls and emails from pet advocates, county officials said.
“We understand that they’re passionate. But there’s a rational explanation for what was done,” Catoosa County manager Mike Helton said.
Tennessee Death Row Dogs, Inc. founder Jamie Hawkins tried to coordinate a rescue of Jackson after she saw the dog’s photo posted on Petfinder, a pet adoption website. Hawkins admits the page was not always up-to-date. Her group primarily conducts rescues of “dogs in danger of euthanasia” in middle Tennessee.
“Many of the dogs and puppies shown (on Petfinder) were no longer at the shelter,” she said.
Helton confirmed the county recently took the Petfinder listings down because of the lag time between having the photos taken and posting them to the site. The county was unable to access the website to make necessary corrections or changes, he said.
“It does no good to have inaccurate information out there,” Helton said. Helton said by the time many of the shelter’s adoptable pets’ photos appeared on Petfinder the animals had been adopted, pulled by a rescue group or euthanized. The county manager said animal control is working with a local pet advocate group to develop an adoption web page, one that would provide timely information.
Hawkins contacted the shelter on Jan. 25 to confirm Jackson was still there. Because Hawkins’ group was not yet registered as a 501c3, the shelter would not release Jackson to her, she said. So Hawkins asked several other people to go by the shelter to pull the 4-6 month old pit-bull mix from the shelter.
“The shelter staff told my contact that was there (at the shelter) that they only euthanized on Wednesday and so it would be another week before any dogs were put down,” Hawkins recounted on yesbiscuit.wordpress.com. “I sent someone down Friday (Jan. 27) to get this puppy out and she arrived at 12:30 p.m. Apparently the shelter had chosen to close at 12 p.m. that day, despite the fact that they are closed all weekend.”
Hawkins said the shelter’s limited hours don’t give working people or rescue groups enough opportunity to pull pets from the shelter.
The animal control shelter is open from 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. The facility closes for lunch from noon to 12:30 p.m.
However, on Jan. 27 the facility closed from noon to 3 p.m. The state Department of Natural Resources conducted nuisance wildlife training for shelter staff that afternoon, Helton said. Helton said the training was scheduled several weeks in advance.
Shelter interim director Sheree Horton said the shelter reopened to the public an hour earlier than planned, as the training was scheduled to end at 4 p.m.
Hawkins then asked another friend to go by the shelter for Jackson on Monday, Jan. 30. She said that person was told the dog was no longer there. Hawkins said when she called to follow up, the shelter employee she spoke to “talked in circles.” She said she was told the dog was sent “up north” with another rescue group.
Horton gave a different account. The shelter director said a man, whom she assumes was Hawkins’ contact, came to the shelter on Jan. 30 asking to retrieve a female dog, not Jackson. The little female had bitten someone and could not be released, Horton said. She said a shelter employee spoke by phone to an unidentified woman – presumably Hawkins – who had inquired after Jackson. The shelter employee did not tell the woman Jackson had been rescued, according to Horton. The staffer told the woman he had been out in the field on nuisance calls and wasn’t sure if a rescue group had come through the shelter, Horton said.
Horton confirmed Jackson was at the shelter for nine days, and was euthanized the 10th day he was there. Pet advocates who criticized the shelter online maintained Jackson was put down after just two days at the shelter.
The shelter can house up to 60 dogs and a maximum of about 22 cats, according to Horton. The state has a mandatory three-day hold, but the shelter holds dogs for at least five days, she said. The hold period can be cut short if an animal is sick or injured beyond recovery, Horton said. The shelter sometimes holds animals longer, but usually no more than 10 days, she said. Most recently the shelter housed four dogs for two months pending a Superior Court case.
Horton also explained that Jackson was a pit-bull mix and therefore could not be adopted in Catoosa County. Rescue groups and individuals outside of the county may adopt pit-bull mixes, she said. She said rescue groups wishing to transfer pets to another agency must be registered as a 501c3 and be licensed through the state. Licensed rescues are required to provide the shelter a list of individuals permitted to pull dogs for their group.
“If they’re not on the list, they can’t pull (a dog or cat),” Horton said.
Hawkins, upset over Jackson’s failed rescue, filed a Freedom of Information Act requesting the shelter’s euthanasia records for Jan. 25-27.
She shared the information with yesbiscuit.wordpress.com, igniting a passionate debate about the shelter’s alleged improper euthanasia practices. Critics alleged through social media that animals at the county shelter were not properly sedated before receiving a final lethal injection.
Following the heated online exchange a complaint was filed with the Georgia Department of Agriculture’s animal protection division.
Three inspectors from the state investigated the shelter’s euthanasia procedures on Feb. 16. The inspectors checked the facility’s euthanasia records dated Dec. 1, 2011 to Dec. 21, 2011. No violations were found.
“They opened every cabinet, every drawer,” Helton said.
Inspector #32601 wrote, “It appears all animals’ first injections were humane lethal doses. It appears pets that received an IC (intracardiac) injection were in a comatose state due to the initial IP (intraperitoneal) or IV (intravenous) injection.”
Helton maintains the shelter staff is properly trained in euthanasia procedures. Shelter veterinarian Dr. Daniel Nepp signs off on shelter employees’ training, Horton said.
“Our folks receive no pleasure in putting any animal down,” Helton said. “They don’t like that practice. It’s just something they have to do.”
“We pour our heart and soul into taking care of these animals,” Horton said.
Helton said shelter employees try to give as many animals as they can a chance at adoption.
Horton said the shelter works with numerous rescue groups and holds adoption events twice a year at Wal-Mart in Fort Oglethorpe, usually in the spring and fall.
Horton became interim director in August 2011 after more than six years as the shelter’s office manager. Horton said she has performed “every job there is” at the shelter, from going on calls to cleaning kennels.
She said the shelter recently hired a second full-time animal control officer and is taking applications to hire a third. Shelter staff also includes a part-time administrative assistant, Helton said. A trustee comes in to help clean the facility during the week, Horton said.
Helton said the shelter’s critics are well-meaning people with unrealistic expectations.
“I honestly feel they’re expecting us to be a rescue facility,” he said.
Several pet advocates, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Catoosa County News that the shelter has a reputation of being difficult to work with. One alleged that the county harassed residents in the past who spoke out against what they considered shelter abuses.
Helton said he is attempting to arrange a meeting with some of the shelter’s outspoken critics to address their concerns.
Catoosa County Animal Shelter
· The shelter is at 101 Allmond Trail off Oak Tree Road in Ringgold.
· The shelter is operated by county animal control. Call 706-935-2454 for more information.
· Hours are 8 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. The facility closes for lunch from noon to 12:30 p.m.
· Animal control provides adoption services for dogs and cats and handles complaints about stray or nuisance animals.
· A $60 adoption fee covers spay/neutering and a free wellness check for a pet.