ST. GEORGE – On Friday morning, St. George City Councilman Jon Pike confirmed that the city had launched an inquiry into allegations of abuse and neglect at the St. George Animal Shelter.
The allegations stem primarily from complaints made by pet-rescue workers and residents about the management of the shelter. Among the accusations of mistreatment are:
- Allegations that dogs and cats have been put-down inhumanely by a process known as an intercardiac injection or “heart shot,” in which pentobarbital sodium is administered via injection, directly to the heart, without first sedating the animals.
- Allegations that dogs in the shelter are not regularly allowed to go outside and are left to urinate and defecate within their kennels.
- Allegations that dogs are not removed from their kennels for cleaning and that the kennels are hosed clean by the staff with the dogs still inside.
- Allegations that dogs are not regularly supplied with bedding during their stay at the shelter.
- Allegations that there is no funding for immediate medical care, and that sick and injured dogs are left untreated during the mandatory five-day-waiting period for owners to retrieve pets that have been collected by animal control and brought to the shelter.
The inquiry follows closely on the heels of Thursday’s city council meeting, which was crowded with residents hoping to discuss conditions at the shelter. Because Thursday’s meeting was a work meeting rather than a public meeting, the council had not planned to allow public discussion about the shelter, but rather they had scheduled the time to talk about the progress of the city’s community cat program and to hear a report from Best Friends’ Animal Society. Mayor Dan McArthur briefly addressed some of the concerns of the crowd, but did not open the floor for public discussion.
The Mayor did invite local resident Randy Fields to speak about some of the concerns of the crowd. Fields did not specifically address any particular accusations publicly, instead he spoke to the council in a more general way about the allegations.
“I think I’ve had conversations with most of you,” Fields said, addressing the council, “I think all of you were surprised to hear some of the stories about the shelter,” he said. “I wish they weren’t true.”
Fields called for a review of the operational procedures at the shelter and said that inhumane and neglectful activities have gone on for a long time.
“It’s not just no-kill,” Fields said, referring to a growing movement to convert the shelter into a no-kill facility. “If they are treated in an inhumane way, maybe dying is not the worst thing.”
After the meeting, Fields and others remained in the council chamber and spoke more candidly about the allegations of mistreatment.
Lynn Burger, operational director of P.A.W.S., a privately-funded no-kill animal shelter in St. George, discussed what she described as neglectful treatment by shelter management. The big issue to Burger is the method allegedly used to put down dogs and cats at the St. George shelter.
“They do it illegally, actually,” Burger said, “they do what’s called a heart shot, where they take the needle and just stab them in the heart, and maybe they die and maybe they don’t die.”
Burger said that she had spoken with several eyewitnesses to the procedure; however, she said, none of them are yet willing to come forward for fear of reprisal.
“This is what we’re trying to confirm (to the city),” Burger said, “Because we know it’s happening and we can’t get anybody to confirm it.”
Fields described the allegations of neglect in the dog kennels in more detail after the meeting.“There are several key issues that have come out,” he said. “The first is the treatment of the animals; and the second is that they are not treating the animals while they are there.”
Dogs in the shelter are not regularly allowed to leave their kennels, said Fields, and are forced to urinate and defecate in them. These practices make the dogs poor candidates for adoption because being forced to mess in their kennels makes them more likely to mess indoors. The method the shelter uses for cleaning the kennels makes the dogs mean and afraid of humans, said Fields.
Kris Neal, who runs the city’s Trap-Neuter-Release program for feral cats, was careful to distinguish between the city’s animal-control officers, whom she said she believes do a good job, and the management of the animal shelter.
“The city does have very good animal control officers who are responsible for (animal) complaints, animals at large, and levying fines,” she said.
Neal said that the problem lies, not with the animal control officers, but with the shelter management, who are responsible for the health and well-being of the animals.
In many other cities, shelters are not managed by animal control. “In some cases, shelter management is even privatized,” Neal said.
Jon Pike spoke last week about the possibility of an impending review of operations and infrastructure at the animal shelter. Pike said he had heard about the allegations from concerned citizens. “I don’t want to prejudge,” he said. Pike had recently taken a tour of the shelter and said he was unhappy with what he saw there. He pointed to the lack of bedding and the presence of defecation in the kennels. “I would like to see a review done,” he said.
Friday morning, Pike confirmed that an inquiry into practices at the kennel was underway.
“There is and will be, starting immediately, a review process, and it will be comprehensive,” Pike said. “It is beginning today, at least in regards to gathering information.”
The city council and the mayor are very interested in the matter, Pike said and went on to outline changes he would already like to see take place at the shelter. Pike said he had heard that the kennels were being hosed with the animals locked inside. “I want that changed immediately.” He said he would also like to see raised bedding areas in the kennels, and possibly renovation to improve ventilation to deal with the odors.
Pike also addressed the allegations of improper euthanizing techniques, ensuring that, in the future, when euthanizing is necessary, it will accord with the law. According to current city code, animals must be euthanized in a painless and humane manner. The Utah Animal Welfare act also stipulates that animal shelters must follow local ordinances when euthanizing strays.
“It pains me to think of someone doing that,” Pike said of the “heart-shot” method of euthanizing, “whether it was legal or not, to me it is unthinkable and unethical. I hope we get to the bottom of that particular allegation very quickly.”
Pike isn’t permitted to discuss personnel issues with the public at this time, however he made it clear that he was not prepared to tolerate unethical behavior from city employees. “These animals are people’s pets,” Pike said, “we should do everything we can to take care of our animals. They’re our friends.
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