Appomattox leaders release results of dog euthanasia investigation

Animal advocates raised concerns after "Sam," a three-year-old spring mix, was put down in September.
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APPOMATTOX, Va. (WDBJ7) Appomattox County leaders have released the results of their investigation into a dog euthanasia case, which captured widespread attention last month.

County administration has been looking into the death of a dog named Sam, who was put down in September. Volunteers had arranged for Sam to be adopted and animal advocates say there was no reason for him to be euthanized.

A full statement from Appomattox County detailing the results of its investigation is posted below:

Appomattox County Releases Findings from the Animal Control Investigation

We respectfully appreciate the public’s patience as we thoroughly investigated the allegations against the Appomattox County Animal Shelter and the Animal Control Officer (ACO). An accurate, fair, and impartial investigation requires that all parties be contacted, pertinent data collected, and all policies, procedures, and laws reviewed for compliance. Often, this takes more time than some would like, but it is imperative for all concerned that any investigation be given the amount of time necessary to be conducted properly. It is our responsibility to work within the confines of the law, to be responsive to our citizens, to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, and ultimately to provide for the humane care and treatment of the animals that come into our possession. We strive to act with Integrity, Trustworthiness, Cooperation, and dedication to public service, therefore this report is presented based on the facts assembled during our internal investigation and not anyone’s personal opinion.

On Monday, September 19, 2016 concerns were expressed through Social Media pertaining to the euthanasia of “Sam”, a bird dog mix that was owner surrendered to the Appomattox County Shelter on February 16, 2016. The County Administrator immediately contacted the Animal Control Officer and Shelter Manager to verify the information and was told that the Animal Control Officer had transported Sam to a veterinarian on Friday, September 16, 2016 to be euthanized.

The ACO was scheduled to pick up another dog that had been receiving extensive medical treatment and had been boarded at a veterinarian’s office in Lynchburg, Virginia on September 16, 2016. The ACO expressed concerns that she and the Shelter Manager had with the length of time Sam had been at the shelter, how he cowered to the back of the run when anyone approached him, and how he had recently growled at a citizen who was visiting the shelter. They also shared concerns about his quality of life, having spent over seven months in the shelter and his diminishing social skills. Since the ACO was scheduled to pick up the dog that had been boarded at the vet, she asked the receptionist, who put her on hold to ask either the vet tech or vet, if it would be OK to bring an animal to be euthanized, explaining the reasons stated above and was told yes. The County Administrator confirmed that three (3) runs were available at the shelter when Sam was transported to the vet’s office in Lynchburg and the euthanasia procedure was performed by a licensed Vet.

An inquiry of potential adoption visits for Sam since he arrived at the shelter in February was made to the current Animal Shelter Manager who worked as a part-time employee at the shelter in February. “Although I was part-time working 28 hours/week, I don’t recall anyone interested in adopting Sam. A lady came to the shelter several weeks ago who thought that she may want to adopt Sam and when she approached his run, Sam growled at her. She stated that she had other dogs at home and she would need to talk to her husband prior to making a decision.” The shelter staff did not receive any additional communications from the lady.

On Wednesday, September 21, 2016, the County Attorney issued the following statement: “On Friday, September 16, 2016, at the Appomattox County Animal Shelter the euthanasia of an animal

occurred. Since then, this event has received extensive news media coverage and individuals have expressed concerns to County Officials. The County considers the welfare and safety of the animals at its shelter to be a high priority. Accordingly, since Monday, September 19, 2016, the County Administrator has been actively investigating the details related to the euthanasia. Preliminarily, it appears that the matter was handled properly and in accordance with State law. Once the investigation is complete, the County Administrator will issue a Press Release as to her conclusion.”

Subsequently, a staff vet from the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services was contacted by the County Administrator to see if the Animal Control Officer had acted in compliance with the law and if in her opinion the ACO had acted inappropriately. Response: “My personal opinion doesn’t necessary agree with of the Code of Virginia, Section 3.2-6546 where Authority is given to the localities, but no illegal actions took place and the euthanasia was well within the Code regulations. In fact, the time well exceeded the mandatory holding period.”

Additionally, allegations were made concerning staff’s knowledge of a “potential” adoption for Sam, the County Administrator started an official investigation to determine if staff had acted inappropriately.

On September 21, 2016, the County Administrator spoke with the Potential Adopter of Sam who stated that she had been contacted by an AWAG volunteer through a Facebook Private Messenger post to see if she would be interested in adopting Sam. She had worked through this same volunteer in 2013 when she adopted her dog, Rosie, and had remained in contact with her. The potential adopter was not “in the market for another dog” and said that she was not currently interested. The volunteer suggested that she review a video of Sam and to please let her know if she reconsidered her decision and would like to schedule an appointment to visit Sam at the Appomattox Shelter. After watching the video several times and seeing the posts on Facebook about Sam, the potential adopter became fond of him and realized that “his time in the shelter was at the critical point” and decided to send the volunteer a message through the Facebook Private Messenger post to let her know that she was interested in scheduling a visit to see Sam. On September 6, 2016, the volunteer sent a text message to the Shelter Manager stating “Becky Marsh may come by to see Sam…she has a lot of experience with extra shy dogs…she even uses a mobile vet for them”. The Shelter Manager responded, “Ok, good”. There are no findings of any further communications concerning the potential adopter scheduling an appointment to visit the shelter. The County Administrator asked the potential adopter a specific question: “Did you communicate directly with any Appomattox County staff member? Response: “I had no direct contact with any of the employees from the shelter. I was told that the volunteers would be communicating my visit to the shelter staff”. The potential adopter thought that it was unusual when she didn’t receive communication from a shelter staff employee. During the adoption process of Rosie in 2013, she followed the same procedure, through the same volunteer, who then contacted the shelter staff. The Animal Control Officer contacted the potential adopter in 2013 to make the adoption arrangements and scheduled a time to pick up Rosie at the Appomattox County Animal Shelter.

The County Administrator contacted the volunteer who verified the statements made by the potential adopter. The AWAG volunteer communicated the information to a second volunteer who affirmed that she had communicated the message to the shelter manager. The shelter manager stated that the only

information that had been communicated to her was the September 6th text stating that Ms. Marsh may be coming to see Sam. The County Administrator contacted the second volunteer and inquired if additional conversations had occurred between her and shelter staff. The second volunteer stated that she had frequent discussions with the staff but could not verify any specific conversations or discussions. The written response received from the first AWAG volunteer who participated in discussions with the potential adopter: “no, there was no scheduled appointment. We just told Becky to go during open weekend hours, which was what she was going to do this past Saturday”. No additional information of communications between the volunteer and shelter staff could be confirmed.

Another concern that we heard is that we need to be open additional hours during the week to provide more opportunities for animal adoptions to our citizenry. In August, we extended the hours that the shelter is open to the public to adopt and surrender their animals by an additional three (3) hours during the week, Wednesdays 12pm-3pm. Effective October 18, 2016, the County is further extending hours for public access to include Tuesdays and Thursdays 1:30 pm – 5:30 pm.

Volunteers assisting with the animals are valued resources to the shelter and we could not offer the services we currently provide without their help. However, without written volunteer policies, there has not been a clear understanding of the responsibilities of the volunteers, their permitted access areas, and expected standards of conduct. Therefore, in an attempt to prevent future confusion, we have developed a volunteer policy and agreement that will be reviewed and signed by the volunteers to be submitted with their application. The County encourages individuals who are interested in volunteering at the shelter to contact the Shelter Manager, ACO or County Administrator.

The County realized last year, September 2015, a need to develop policies, operating procedures, and associated protocol for sheltering of animals at the Appomattox County Animal shelter. The Board and County Administrator determined a need to hire a full-time Animal Shelter Manager who would be tasked with developing a Standards of Operations of Checklist, Intake Checklist, and other policies and procedures including volunteer training to ensure quality of care as deemed necessary. As stated by Mr. Carter during the Press Conference last week, the County’s priority is to ensure that these policies be developed and are in place so that a clear understanding exists to guide future decisions and to prohibit undesirable outcomes.

Appomattox County was preparing to release a statement last Thursday when new questions were presented during an unplanned Press Conference Wednesday evening that the County felt necessitated additional investigation prior to closing out the investigation. A citizen was concerned about the observance of a camera that was located in the shelter that had supposedly been turned off. The County Administrator confirmed that the camera was turned off and had been off since the first of August. Installation of the cameras was prompted by a request from the Shelter Manager several months ago because citizens were “dumping” their animals at the shelter during the hours that the shelter was not open and there were times when a staff member was there alone cleaning the runs and felt unsafe. The cameras were installed around the perimeter of the building and one inside the animal runs area. A staff concern was brought to the County Administrator during the first of August that animal records were missing and items may have been removed from the office area. Due to the concern, the County Administrator and staff members decided that the camera should be relocated to a location that would

encompass the office area. In preparation to move the camera, it had been turned off but the coordination of the relocation had not occurred because of scheduling issues.

Other findings identified an inconsistency of interview reports that were communicated through the media from individuals who were not residents of Appomattox County and who posed to be volunteers at the Appomattox County Shelter.

We appreciate your patience as we have tried to take every comment and/or allegation seriously and provide you with an adequate response. Our Animal Control Department will continue to work to maintain the highest quality of service to the community through sheltering, adoption, and education. The animal adoption, transfer and euthanasia numbers so far in 2016 (January-August) exhibit a concerted effort on behalf of County staff to save and not destroy the lives of the animals that are surrendered to the Appomattox County Shelter. There were 51 dogs adopted, 81 cats adopted, 92 dogs transferred, 22 cats transferred, 46 dogs reclaimed, 3 cats reclaimed, 18 cats euthanized, and 2 dogs euthanized. We feel that compared to similar localities throughout Virginia that have not been proactive as Appomattox in opening their animal shelters to volunteers and adoptions, our numbers reflect an exemplary snapshot of the County’s efforts.