Soul searching, regret, reform after animal shelter allegations

ST.GEORGE – On Wednesday, the St. George City Council held an open house session in which residents were welcomed to speak before the council, mayor, and other city officials about any issues they would like to see addressed. The pressing topic at the meeting was the future of the city animal shelter.

As reported on Saturday, city officials are currently investigating allegations that the management at the shelter had been neglecting and mistreating stray dogs and cats for years. While the findings of the investigation have yet to be released, shelter supervisor David Vane was placed on administrative leave over the weekend and city officials have confirmed that he will no longer be in charge at the shelter.

Wednesday’s open house council meeting took an introspective tone. Both attendees as well as city officials wondered how the conditions at the shelter could have been as poor as they were for so long without the city council or the mayor knowing about it.

“Somebody alluded to the fact that, how did we not know already,” Councilman Gil Almquist said. “Part of the changes that happen in a city are because citizens find something out on their own.”

Bringing important problems to the attention of the city council, such as the poor conditions at the animal shelter, is key to helping the council deal with problems as they arise, he said.

Lynn Burger, operational director of P.A.W.S. pet adoption shelter, said that she and other citizens should have told the council about the troubled municipal shelter much earlier. However, Burger asked why the shelter was never visited by the mayor and city council before the allegations of mistreatment and poor conditions became public. Council members routinely inspect city facilities throughout the year, yet the shelter had not been inspected by city officials in over 10 years, Burger said.

“I’d like to see that change,” she said.

One of the allegations under investigation is that those who knew about the mistreatment were intimidated into silence by Vane, the former director of the animal shelter. St. George resident Randy Fields told the council that Vane threatened to harm the animals if rescue workers came forward with what they knew. However, Fields said he believes that the current leadership at the police department can be trusted to act on complaints.

“Now we have a whole different environment,” Fields said. Fields has met with Police Chief Marlon Stratton, as well as Deputy Chief Richard Farnsworth and Captain Gordon McCracken, who directly oversees the animal shelter, and Fields assured those in attendance that the St. George Police Department takes the allegations very seriously. “I promise you that they care,” he said.

The leadership of the police force is honest, and that they are moving as fast as they can to investigate and address the allegations, Fields said.

Chief Stratton expressed personal regret and took full responsibility for the situation, admitting that mistakes were made in the past. “I understand where they are coming from and we haven’t been as receptive as we should have been,” he said.

The Police Department is listening now, Stratton said, and they are already implementing many of the ideas suggested by the rescue workers. “They understand a lot about the animals and they are helping us in that regard,” he said.

At the meeting, Mayor Dan McArthur announced policy changes in regards to the operation of the shelter. Among those changes, McArthur pledged that, when possible, animals will now be removed from their kennels before cleaning and that they will be allowed more time to exercise outside of their kennels. McArthur also said that the shelter will ensure the animals will be fed appropriate pet food, that beds will be installed in the dog kennels, and that euthanasia services will now be performed by licensed veterinarians.

These changes are expected to be adopted as a formal resolution in Thursday’s city council meeting; however, following the recent revelations about the animal shelter, many of the citizens in attendance have said that they would like to see the city council to adopt a permanent standard of humane animal treatment into the city code.

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Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

St. George Animal Shelter, St. George, Utah, July 22, 2013 | Photo by Michael Flynn, St. George News

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  • Deborah August 1, 2013 at 2:49 pm

    when my sister had her rescue, that shelter had a goal that NO animals be euthenized.. they were in constant contact with all the rescues.. carols, rene’s and others.. if it was getting close to an animals death date they panicked and called the rescues. we even got a call once that a baby wild bunny was brought it.. had been winded by a car on the side of the road.. off we went allllll the way to st. george to get that bunny. sometimes we had to wait, because the kennel was busy with all the other rescues there that were signing up to take dogs out for walks (something i had NEVER seen at any of the pounds in florida).. as a matter of fact i’d never seen a pound try so hard in all my life for animals.. they put up signs for the rescues about their huge yard sales to raise money and adoptathons.. and they would participate in various dog related things around town. no i do not remember seeing fluffy pillows in the kennels.. though, i never thought it a must.. BECAUSE of germs being spread while animals are in quarentine, i suspected linens could possibly spread contaminations.. even when the best of precautions are taken.. sounds harsh i know.. anyways.. i wonder how the pound was affected if the rescues just stopped going to walk the dogs? it sounds like they did? i guess they shoulda implemented it.. and i thought it was illegal to euthenize a dog unless done by a vet? all in all.. i haven’t been to that pound in the last 3 years.. or more.. so i guess it could’ve went down hill.. but wow.. to hear all this was so weird.. it sounded like a with hunt to me.. i hope every gets the satisfaction they need.. and i hope if someone was stabbing dogs in the chest to euthenize.. i hope God deals with them directly..

  • Phyllis August 1, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Maybe the St. George City Animal Shelter could ask the Ivins City Shelter for some help & guidance. They have wonderful people doing a wonderful job in and a “:No Kill” policy. These kinds of places should be run by people who truly love and care about animals. Apparently this has not been the case at the St. George Shelter and we may never know how many innocent animals suffered needlessly. Just a thought.

  • Richard August 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    Mr Vane was paid over 70k and it seems he either couldn’t do the job or didn’t care! I also have a real problem with Mr Vane’s supervisor who it would seem couldn’t do the job or didn’t care either. Why if this has been going on for years is only Mr Vane being punished? The supervisor should also be held accountable. The only reason for changes is because the public found out otherwise this could have gone on forever.

  • Dixie Dan August 1, 2013 at 3:59 pm

    The animal shelter is a mess because your mayor and city council made it that way. People are upset and suddenly they’re doing the Dixie Dan song and dance to fix the mess they created,

  • Kristin Schwiermann August 1, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    I am so sicked by this. Where was all the City Officials in all this? I’m so sick of hearing about people like Mr. Vane. How do people like this live with themselves? We pay and vote for higher ups to treat people and animals like crap!

  • William August 1, 2013 at 5:19 pm

    I appreciate that this article did not take on the effect of a witch hunt, but focused on the issues rather than personalities or personnel matters of the city.

  • deb August 1, 2013 at 8:47 pm

    Again… this makes no sense.. I saw different period… sounds to me like the relationship with all the rescues went south.. they… the st. George shelter was so good to animals by working with the shelters… saw it with my own two eyes…

  • Beth Griffin August 1, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    My heart breaks for those little helpless creatures. I want to help in any way I can!! DO they let volunteers come and play with the animals or walk them or help out with the cleaning or anything? I would be up there every day after work if I would be allowed to. Just to soothe them and let them know they are loved and give them treats. I would make them soft beds too. AND I would protect them from harm. Please call me if there is something you will let me do to help. I don’t expect to get paid. I just want to make it a good environment for the animals and the people who come to visit. My cell phone number is 435-632-8914.

  • san August 1, 2013 at 10:24 pm

    There’s a clear line between recognizing the abandonment of professional obligation, especially in a position of trust, and participating in a witch hunt. Another source quoted that shelter pups, born on cement, were known to have been washed down the drains during cell cleaning…I could have gone a lifetime without knowing that something so devoid of either rationale or humanity could happen, anywhere…Here? By shelter staff? I thought you were the good guys…been ready to puke all day. Please report when the shelter manager’s career has also been flushed with the excrement. For all that rescues else and volunteers try to do….what a sickening act of depravity on the part of ‘the pros’. Whoever did that horrific thing needs to be criminally prosecuted.

  • Crazydoglady August 2, 2013 at 3:22 am

    Its about time the Mayor and the City Counsel members took the complaints about the Animal Shelter seriously. I know Lynn Burger said, “We should have address these concerns to the counsel members sooner;” however, she’s not the only voice in the rescue world. I know these concerns have been addressed to the management, the Mayor, and the City Counsel and its fallen on deaf ears. As far as, Dave Vane I couldn’t personally be happier that he’s no longer in charge and hopefullly is paid administrative leave will turn into his dismissal. I think he’s a big part of the horrible treatment of the animals and the good ole-boy culture, that has no place in a position of authority.

  • suzy pearson August 2, 2013 at 7:32 am

    I don’t know about this shelter, but from what I have read in the article, seems to me alot of people are at fault. those poor animals who have suffered due to the threat to workers by Vane, that if they talked, he would harml the animals, well, guess he has killed some of the animals with the conditions being so bad. Why has the mayor & city council not been at the shelter in 10 yrs. Alot can go on in that lenght of time. thanks to those who kept pursuing & getting officials to look at the situation, & glad Vane is not there. He is a danger to the animals for sure. Hope now the shelter will be run by a qualified person who loves & wants the best for the animals & shelter. GOOD LUCK!!!

  • Jon R. Cocktoasten August 2, 2013 at 8:27 am

    I feel I must weigh in on this issue. First & foremost Dave Vane has become a scapegoat for the Police Dept. Dave has worked for well over 20 years fro the city and he does as he is instructed to. If the chief says he takes full responsibility, then why is he not on paid administrative leave? Hmmmm, good question. Over the years they have had several certified police officers as supervisor over Mr.Vane, not one of them is responsible? The Chief knew all along what was going on in the shelter, it was ultimately under his command. I think you would be surprised to know that the animal carcasses were sold to a company that runs an animal food processing plant. Do you really think the city would give up that bit of revenue? No way! Now that they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, they immediately point the finger at Mr. Vane and drag him through the mud. The responsibility for this entire mess belongs squarely on the Chief of Police! This was HIS shelter, in HIS City and it all happened under HIS watch!

  • Cathy August 2, 2013 at 9:08 am

    The shelter staff was not given the resources they needed to make the shelter a better facility. It has been run the same way for 20 years, and everyone was ‘comfortable’ with it, so even as the city grew, the shelter stayed the same, It is outdated, too small, and understaffed.
    The general public has no idea what goes on inside the shelter on a daily basis. The general public is not there every day when people file into the shelter to dump their family pets, WILLINGLY leaving them in the very kennels that have caused this outcry, with no beds, no toys, and little exercise. Dave did not put those dogs there… their owners did.
    I am glad that there is reform happening. I am glad for the changes in policy. I am saddened that it ended up being a witch hunt, with blame centered on Dave. Where is the blame for the owners who let their dogs breed unwanted litters and dump them at the shelter? Where is the blame for owners who dump their untrained outdoor only dog because it is hyper and no one wants it? Where is the blame for the city officials who didn’t allocate enough money to the shelter to allow for more staff to do the necessary care of the animals? After 20 years of cleaning up other people’s messes, I’m sure that an ACO becomes desensitized by the sheer hopelessness of the situation. I am not making excuses for him, I am simply asking people to realize that the blame does not rest solely on his shoulders.
    Dave was a great ACO. He needed some work in the shelter management department and people skills, but he was a great animal control officer. He worked with the rescues in the area to help get cats/dogs out to breed specific rescues, as well as adoption events etc. I disagree with the statement in the article about rescues being intimidated by Dave. We had a fantastic working relationship with him, and in no way were we intimidated at any time.
    There was good going on at the shelter as well, but it has been overshadowed by the allegations. If the allegations are proven to be true, then there will be punishment involved, as it should be. But we must remember at this point, that they are allegations.
    I am looking forward to working with the new shelter staff, and to see the changes that are being made with new volunteers giving the dogs the exercise that they need, as well as getting beds in the kennels. Thank you to the city officials for taking note of the changes that needed to be made and acting quickly.

    • DoubleTap August 2, 2013 at 9:49 am

      Mr. Vane was known for intimidating staff/volunteers and the public as well. How could he justify extracting “fees” from the public for turning in their dogs??? He may not bear ALL the blame…but a good portion of it, is his. Being a facility supervisor, did he not have superiors to report to?? And if he did, then those superiors also need to held responsible for the manner in which the shelter was run, even if it leads to all the way up to the council and the Mayor.

      • San August 2, 2013 at 1:10 pm

        Why wouldn’t a surrendering owner expect to pay fees? Maybe it will deter responsible people from using the shelter as a first option for rehoming. Also, that fee is expected in EVERY city that I can think of in this county, probably statewide at this point. He bears no blame there. Dog food is $18 a 12lbs bag…and they probably go through 20lbs a day.

  • DoubleTap August 2, 2013 at 9:42 am

    If Chief Stratton was ultimately responsible for Mr. Vane’s direct supervision, then Mr. Stratton also needs to held accountable and be terminated as well as Mr. Vane. I have no doubt that the entire leadership of the City was aware of what had been occurring at the shelter. Seeing that this an election year, it is no wonder to see all the leadership scrambling to do something about the shelter mess. Any one surprised at this?? If they really wanted to do something meaningful, they would make it a no-kill shelter immediately. What is there to look into? Why take the time to continue do “research”? Dan McArthur as the City Mayor, has ultimate responsibility for ALL the departments of the City. If he were really responsible, he would quit immediately his pursuit of another term as Mayor. Lets hear you sing “Are you from Dixie” now Mayor McArthur.

    • Kristin Schwiermann August 2, 2013 at 3:20 pm

      I so agree with your comments double tap!

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